Thursday, November 30, 2006

Reed Bingham Park Lake and New River, Adel, Georgia

This was a camping trip to Reed Bingham State Park near Adel, Georgia. I found out that they will be draining their (imaginatively named) lake on December 9th (to get rid of the “invasive vegetation,” which is indeed taking over the shoreline) and it will stay low until the end of January. So I decided to move this trip up to the top of the list.

It was very overcast almost all the time during the three days I was there; however, it only actually rained at night. Nonetheless, having to watch the sky and be aware of the distance back to the boat ramp can put a crimp on paddling. I will be returning to this park when their lake is refilled and there is a more favorable weather forecast.

I wanted to get a picture of the lake from the boat ramp and thought it would be very scenic in sunlight, perhaps with some blue sky reflecting in it. That was clearly not going to happen this trip, so I took one in the existing conditions. This is facing the place where the lake narrows down to be New River.

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I paddled on Tuesday after setting up camp, and again on Wednesday. Shortly after leaving the boat ramp on Tuesday, I came to a belted kingfisher in a tree. The thing I like about this picture is that it is the first reasonably clear picture I have gotten of a male—every other picture has been of a female. Another thing I like is that it is recognizable despite my having only the 200mm lens with me instead of the 300mm (I try not to think of how it would have appeared had I had the stronger lens along…).

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I paddled around the edge of the lake; I was the only boat on the water. When I reached the beginning of the river, I decided to take a chance that the rain would hold off and explore it a bit. This decision was helped by seeing this sign—are these words not a joy to every paddler?

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As with those on the corresponding camping blog entry, all of the pictures from this trip are a bit darker than usual due to the lack of sunshine.

The lake was fun to paddle and had an interesting shoreline but the river was beautiful. There are many islands in it, and the shoreline is woodsy, with some cypress trees and live oaks in some parts and small trees and lots of shrubbery in others. It was very quiet in there.

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This great blue heron was hanging out at the edge and was not at all disturbed by my presence.

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The river winds for a fairly long way. I passed a man fishing and asked how far it went and he said it went “all the way” to a bridge I have never heard of, but I got the gist of what he was saying—it goes a long way. However, shortly after passing him I encountered a lot of that invasive vegetation they want to get rid of and decided, given the weather and the lateness in the day, I would turn around and head back.

I passed these turtles sitting on a log. The one in the back doesn’t seem to have a fair share of log.

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I went out again the next day, under the same threatening gray clouds. Some coots escorted me for a short distance along the edge of the lake.

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I came to another great blue heron, this one hunkered down in the shoreline vegetation, looking a bit different from their usual posture.

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I went into the river again. If it’s this pretty on a dark day, I can only imagine what it must be like in sunshine under blue sky (I’ll plan the next trip for such a time).

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I passed this egret, who had been preening and scratching and had just fluffed:

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I went the same distance on this day as well before turning around. This time I thought I would try to circle the other side of the lake to get back to the boat ramp. I had only just started when I heard a kingfisher. It was another male (or the same one)—despite having the longer lens on this day, the pictures didn’t come out any better. I did get one as he flew away, though (this is my usual view of these birds…)

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The gray clouds were getting darker gray and I didn’t think I would make it all the way around the lake this time so, since I was the only boat in the lake area and didn’t have to worry about being invisible to power boaters, I cut straight across. This egret watched me approach the edge.

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I will get back here again in February or March. This lake is a popular water-skiing lake in summer, and seeing as it is only 375 acres, paddling it would be impossible then. It’s only an hour from where I live, though, so this could be done as a day trip. However, the camping was excellent, and the park has some very interesting hiking trails. More information on those aspects of the park can be found on the Camping Blog site.

Rain is in our forecast for the next several days so there will be no paddling trips in the immediate future. Stand by.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Kayak Demo Day on Lake Hall in Tallahassee, Florida

I’m qualifying this as a paddling tale since I did get out paddling and the results will most likely appear later in this blog.

We decided to go to Tallahassee to the kayak demo that was put on today at Maclay Gardens State Park by Wilderness Way outfitters. I’m not really in the market for a new kayak, but I figured they might have some models there that my email buddies who live elsewhere paddle and it would give me a chance to see what their boats are like. And it was a beautiful day—warm and windless.

Given that I so rarely see anyone else on any of the waterways around here (though that may be largely because I don’t go out on weekends…), I didn’t expect to see much of a turnout here. I was wrong about that! We got there at about 12:30 and they were going strong. Lots of boats, too.

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I walked the line of them and saw a couple of boats that indeed are owned and paddled by people I email with, so I went back to the car to change into proper paddling shoes and get my pfd. Of course they had pfd’s available for use there, but I have found from experience that a high-back pfd lets you take advantage of a high-back kayak seat since it doesn’t interfere with the seat back.

The boat I wanted to try was taken out about 5 seconds before I got to it, so I settled for another. It was ok, but not one I would choose to own and paddle (I’m purposely being vague on the models—my friends like their boats very much. I know I wouldn’t appreciate someone casting aspersions on my favorite kayak). I got back to the beach area and the one I had wanted to try was back. This is an extremely popular model and a consistent best-seller.

It felt like a barge to me. The cockpit was so long and wide that it bordered on simulating an SOT (sit-on-top). I’m of average size. Having paddled that boat, I’d like to take this opportunity to urge everyone to consider the fit of any kayak they plan to buy (that isn’t an SOT). There was a world of difference between paddling that one and the Mystic or Montauk (or even the Riot Stealth). It comes down in large part to control, which is much more easily attained if your body is in contact with your boat in places other than the seat. Even people (like me) who paddle only calm, flat water can occasionally get caught in a strong current that wants to sweep the kayak sideways, and that’s just plain easier to overcome (without capsizing) if you are in a boat that fits you. When I was contemplating purchasing the Mystic, a small boat, I came across several articles about boat selection that suggested that people tend to choose kayaks that are more boat than they need. Today I finally understood exactly what that means.

I was wandering the beach area and looking only at cockpits, to see if I could find anything less bathtub-like. A little red-orange boat caught my eye. Very nicely outfitted with a little day hatch in front of the seat that could replace the need for a deck bag, netted rigging on both bow and stern, and bow and stern hatches. It had a small cockpit and a low deck, which I greatly prefer to the high rounded decks that a lot of kayaks have. It was a Motion by Prijon.

I climbed into it and one of the people working at the event gave me a push off into the lake. I stopped the backward momentum and turned the kayak around to head out.

It took all of about 15 seconds to realize that this boat was nice. Very nice. Nice-to-own nice. I turned back around and signaled to the guy to come over. I told him I needed to know more about the boat before I took it out (since this boat had suddenly come under some serious consideration). I found out it’s a shade under 15’ long, which is a good length—right between my 14’ Mystic and 16’ Montauk. It’s 23.5” wide, which would give me the extra stability I want on lakes with submerged timber, which was the reason I bought the Stealth. It’s plastic instead of fiberglass, making it an ideal alternative boat for use at new boat ramps on rivers (since I keep forgetting the kayak cart and find myself having to drag a fiberglass boat across pavement and gravel…). The seat is comfortable.

So I took it for a fairly lengthy paddle around the lake. It turns well. It moved swiftly when I sped up my paddling. It’s a really fine kayak.

When I got back I wanted to get a picture of it on the beach to put in this blog post. However, a guy got into it before I could get the camera back down there. So I took a picture of him paddling it.

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(Yes, it’s true, I blurred his face… Hey—maybe he was supposed to be somewhere else other than paddling around at a demo day, and his face was pretty recognizable in the photo. In fact, while he was out, he spent some time on his cell phone…probably complaining about having to be inside his stuffy office on such a nice day… while he paddles around the lake in a Prijon.)

Christmas is coming. I suspect that before 2007 arrives, this blog will include a post about the new addition to my fleet. I haven’t decided whether to keep the Stealth if I add this boat, since the Motion will pretty much be replacing that one for all trips on which I don’t want to risk the fiberglass.

Camping trip coming up at a new place on a lake. Stand by for that.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Quick Chilly Trip to the Wacissa

It’s been awhile between paddling trips so I thought I would venture out into our unseasonably cold November weather to get in a little water time. I chose the Wacissa since it is the closest paddling place—didn’t want to invest a lot of time in driving since I suspected it would be a very short trip.

As it was. I’m sure that people in actual cold climates would consider this downright balmy, but we Florida wimps get easily chilled. This turtle was trying to soak up some warmth from the sun.

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I stayed out for only about an hour, if that. I passed this egret on my way back to the boat ramp.

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We are supposed to warm up a bit over the next few days, and if that happens, I have a new camping/paddling destination in mind for next week. We had an almost ideal summer for paddling—no hurricanes and very little rain; we may be facing the trade-off now with a colder-than-usual winter, which is cutting into my water time.

Nonetheless, stand by.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Suwannee River From Manatee Springs State Park

I put in at the boat ramp at Manatee Springs State Park. This boat ramp leads to the “spring run,” which is a short channel that leads from the spring to the Suwannee River. There are two things you need to know about this ramp. One is that, following a trend I have noticed in many Florida state parks that claim a boat ramp, you cannot drive directly to the ramp. The woman at the park entrance station indicated that it was about 8’ from the “unloading area” to the ramp. I asked if it was pavement, gravel, or grass. She said there was both pavement and grass. None of this turned out to be the case. It was a considerable distance from the unloading zone and over pavement and gravel—there was grass in the picnic area nearby, but I don’t recall any in the shortest route from the unloading zone to the ramp. So if you are alone and cannot hoist your boat onto your shoulder, take a cart. I left a long strip of white fiberglass over the pavement since I can’t carry my boat and did not think to take a cart. The second thing you need to know is that their brochure says that out of consideration for the manatees, the spring run is closed to all boat traffic from December 1 to March 31. If you are reading this or planning to go paddling in that area during that interval, you can use the public ramp about 3 miles from the park, which you can in fact drive onto and unload your boat into the water. I drove to it to check it out before heading for home. There’s lots of parking, it’s a good ramp.

The water was so still that I had asked someone earlier which way was upstream. He told me that it was high tide and that’s why it was so still (and that going to the right was upstream). I did not realize that this part of the river was affected by tide. This made me curious about what happened to the spring run, which was very shallow—looked to be about 3 or 4 feet deep. He said “Oh, it all goes underground.” So I said well, ok, if I go out paddling for four hours and low tide comes in, will I be able to get back to the boat ramp? Oh yes, he assured me, you can always get to the spring (the boat ramp is right next to the spring), the run stays 8 or 9 feet deep. At this point I decided this might not be my best source of information (he was not a park ranger, he seemed to be doing some maintenance work on the walkway that runs along the spring run) and that I wouldn’t be out that long anyway.

There were many, many buzzards flying around and perched in all the trees along the run and on a small island where the run meets the river. I have never seen so many in one place. They are not the most attractive bird, in my opinion.

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The water in the run is, of course, crystal clear and turquoise in color. It’s odd for me to be on the Suwannee and have it be as clear as the Wacissa and Wakulla, which it is for some distance from the spring. Our section of Suwannee is also filled with tannins and tea-colored, not clear as it is there. As I got farther from the spring it lost some clarity, but turned a really pretty lake-green. The shoreline is different as well—we have high banks on both sides of the river, while in this section the shoreline is level with the river. Lots of cypress knees.

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These limpkins were perched on a tangle of deadwood near where the spring run enters the river.

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Now I know why people from that part of the state look at me funny when I say the Suwannee has no wildlife. While it’s true that the part of the river near me, which is around where the Withlacoochee runs into it, is free of all wildlife except for the occasional turtle, the part of the Suwannee around the park is teeming with birds of all kinds, gators, and turtles.

This pileated woodpecker was working on a tree near the river’s edge.

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I paddled for a little over an hour upstream. It’s very pretty and I saw only two houses on the opposite shore—this is a nicely unpopulated section. I planned to do most of my paddling the next day and so I turned around and headed back (I wish I had known the next day would be too windy to paddle!). I saw a couple of ducks that I had never seen before—my bird book leads me to think they were hooded mergansers. Their head crest is not always raised. I got this picture (in abysmal lighting, if only it had been on the other side of me…) of one with the crest up.

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As they swam away from me I took another—the crest on the one in back is all the way down, and the one on the lead duck is at about half-mast. Strange birds.

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This egret came swooping across the river and landed not far from where I was drifting downstream.

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Having seen the mergansers, I thought this bird might be some kind of equally exotic-looking duck that was perched on a tree knot. No, no such luck….just another buzzard!

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I wish I had stayed out longer. I will be going back to this park again soon, but possibly not until after the spring run ramp is closed, so I don’t know when I will see this section again. It certainly gave me a whole new appreciation for this river, which had previously been pretty far down my list as a paddling destination.

The camping part of this trip and photos from that are posted, as always, on Camping Tent Tales.

Stand by for the next paddling report.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Do-Over on the Wacissa

While yesterday’s trip to the river produced some good pictures, it was less than ideal Too windy, and I was going in circles to stay near the boat ramp. When my friend Abby told me she was free to paddle today and suggested we go to the Wacissa, I jumped at the chance to have a do-over on this river.

I also had something new to show Abby. Few people realize that you can go to the right from the boat ramp if you cross the river first. You can’t go very far, but the little bit of river that extends in that direction is interesting and different from the rest. It’s populated; you will come to docks and boathouses, but you will also be close to the woods on either side. Also, there is a spring there. So I took Abby down there to show her.

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This egret was fishing as we passed by.

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After we explored that, we set out downriver. Today was many times better than yesterday as far as paddling conditions—no wind at all, and the current was mild.

Abby is on a quest to spot an Ivory Billed Woodpecker, and this river is a potential sighting spot. I noticed that her yellow kayak blended well with the shoreline wildflowers during one of her stops to check out the trees.

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While she covered the east side of the river, I paddled along the western edge, always hopeful to spot a wood duck where I have seen them before. I had no luck with wood ducks but this ibis was perched in a tree overhead.

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As we got closer to Cedar Island, I was absolutely amazed to see Bob The Tame Limpkin (limpkins are reportedly “growing rare” on Florida’s waterways but are on the Wacissa in abundance) in exactly the same spot as he was when he was previously featured on this blog. I parked in exactly the same spot as before, and could not resist taking a few pictures as he brought snail after snail up from the river bottom.

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We turned around at Cedar Island and paddled back upstream against a very mild current. This anhinga was drying its wings in a low tree.

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Abby (not only a bird magnet if she does say so herself, but also talented at spotting wildlife in trees) saw a raccoon sleeping fairly high up in the crook of a tree along the shoreline, where the limb met the trunk. Its back was to us and so it did not present its best side for a photograph. How nice it would be if it were to wake up and look at us. Of course there is the ethical consideration of how appropriate it is to wake a sleeping creature just to get a photo of it. Out of respect for that, we never raised our voices as we lingered below it saying things like “Look at those dogs! Are they coon hounds?” and “Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey” and the like. No luck, it was really sleeping soundly. So, no picture of the raccoon in the tree

There were lots of ibis out, a juvenile (the same one I saw yesterday?) and many adults. This one stood out as it watched us from a cypress tree.

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On our way back upstream we pulled into the channel that leads to Blue Spring—I was hoping to see that raccoon again. It was wonderful in there. We saw egrets and herons and of course ibis, but no mammals this time. The sun was getting low in the sky as we were leaving the channel.

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We were on the water for more than six hours—that might be a new record for me! Only one stop to get out, which came up early on when I had to remove a small pebble that was preventing my skeg from deploying. We both have comfortable kayaks, and the river itself brings such a feeling of relaxation that time just flows by like the current.

This was a fun trip, I’m glad I went back for the do-over. I’m still planning to go camping next week. Stand by.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Going in Circles on the Wacissa

Early on it seemed this would be a very short paddling trip. About 15 minutes after leaving the boat ramp a strong and steady downstream wind kicked up. The first mile of this river has very little current and so I thought I would just cover that and turn around—as paddlers of this river inevitably find out sooner or later, battling both a strong wind and the current in miles two and three can be pretty rough (it’s probably not much better in miles 4 and beyond, either). So I drifted/paddled downstream for about a mile. This juvenile ibis was doing some fishing in the middle of the river.

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I went in to the Blue Spring inlet for a little break from the wind on my way back upstream. A raccoon showed up at the water’s edge again, this time on the left side going in. No pictures this time (which would have been essentially identical to the one taken on the previous trip to this river).

When I finally emerged from the inlet, I discovered that the wind had died down. It was still early and so I decided to go back downstream a short way on the other side of the river. I was the only one on the water; in fact, my car had been the only one in the parking lot when I arrived, and was the only one when I left. The stillness, however, was shattered fairly regularly by the sound of gun shots—it’s hunting season. Sound really travels over water, doesn’t it? It sounded like they were using cannons, or maybe explosives.

I came to a duck similar to the one I recently saw on Lake Seminole—still don’t know what it is. Looks a little like a female merganser but the beak is the wrong color.

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It was hanging out with the coots, as the other one had been.

After awhile I turned around again (kind of going in circles today…) and headed back upstream (again). I hadn’t planned on taking any limpkin pictures, although they were out and about in numbers today. But this one just sat there as I passed close by, so I figured if it was so willing to pose, I should oblige by taking its picture. And showing it to you.

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As I approached the boat ramp area, I came to this juvenile little blue heron—haven’t had one of these in this blog for awhile.

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A mature little blue heron was perched on a log nearby so I paddled on over to see it.

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I had seen an otter near where I turned around, who seemed very put out at my presence and barked at me a few times before disappearing under the water. I know that there is another one that hangs out across the river from the boat ramp, and since the wind was still quiet, I decided to meander over that way. No luck with the otter, but this great blue heron was standing regally at the edge of the water.

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I circled around all the surface vegetation to get back to the channel that leads to the ramp. Those little sandpipers were gathered in groups along the right edge.

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It was an odd day, I ended up spending over 3 hours on the water but covered very little distance with my general circling and milling around within a mile of the ramp. Still, lots of birds, an otter, and a raccoon were part of the scenery, so it worked out okay!

Another camping trip near water is in the plans for next week and will likely be my next paddling trip. Stand by.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lake Seminole from Three Rivers State Recreation Area

First camping trip of the season! I went back to Three Rivers State Recreation Area, a personal favorite that is located on Lake Seminole near Sneads, Florida.

This park had the distinction of being the only state park I have camped in and never seen a single deer. The rangers have said they are there, and I’m sure they always have been—but I have never spotted even one. On this trip I spotted four within hours of arriving—all of them from the car while driving through the park. So I got up early on Wednesday morning and after breakfast I set out with my camera to walk the park and look for deer.

I did see two, finally, as they darted away after seeing me. This is not an overly-visited park and the deer are not accustomed to seeing humans walking around. It occurred to me that they were much less alarmed by a human in a car than a human on foot. It’s been my experience that deer are seldom frightened at the sight of a silent paddler on water…so clearly the way to find these deer is to get in the kayak and look from the lake.

This strategy worked.

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I was really pleased to have come upon a deer at the water’s edge so soon after leaving the boat ramp. The timing could have been better from a photography standpoint—it was about 10 a.m. and I was shooting into the sun. This also gave the deer a really good look at me as I passed nearby. But again, I don’t think they consider danger to come from the water, only the woods.

This great blue heron had been swooping around me for awhile—always flying away when I got too close. But for only a moment it stood still enough for me to get a picture.

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I heard a loud splashing ahead and first assumed that I had again startled a group of deer. But I couldn’t see them yet around a bend in the water, so they presumably couldn’t see me either. I slowly approached and saw that it was several young deer playing—chasing each other in and out of the water. They left before I caught up with them, and made their way through the woods only a few feet in from shore.

So I followed them. It was an adult female and three youngsters. I watched them play in the leaves and run around in the woods, always near the water. There were too many leaves still on the trees to get any pictures, but it was fun to watch them, knowing they had no idea I was there. And of course they finally came back down to the shoreline. The mother came first and spotted me. I had seen them approaching and stopped my forward momentum and was sitting still in the water. She peered out at me.

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I guess she thought it was safe to come down, and so they did.

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They played and drank water and wandered around for a while—the little ones paid no attention to me whatsoever.

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After a while they returned to the woods and headed back in the other direction, toward the park (interestingly, they made this direction change very near to the park boundary…can they possibly know where they are safe from hunters?). I continued on. It was early enough that I thought I could finally get farther along the shoreline than I had before.

However, this has been a very dry, still summer for this part of Florida. There was more underwater growth than I have ever seen on the lake, it broke the surface in many large areas along the shoreline. And then I came to a portion that had some kind of brown slime over it. It extended farther out into the lake than I cared to go, and it seemed to follow the shoreline for a long distance. After paddling through it for about 5-10 minutes and seeing no end to it, I decided to turn around and head back. Maybe I could catch up with the deer again.

I thought there were a lot of coots on the Wacissa a few days ago, but there were literally hundreds in groups on this lake. And then there were a few of these little ducks—I don’t know what they are. This one swam along with me trailing behind—it did not seem to want me to get beside it. I wanted to get next to it to get a picture, but decided to take this one from behind it just in case that didn’t work out.

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And sure enough, when I paddled faster than it could swim, it took off and tried to blend in with a nearby group of coots. Most of the ducks like this that I saw were alone. I did see one group of four, but that was the most in one place.

As I made my way back to the boat ramp and the campground, the belted kingfishers were of course swooping around and diving into the water. This one landed on a tree branch not too far overhead.

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There’s a grassy area near the ramp, and this great blue heron was fishing amongst the reeds.

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A great paddling day. As my dinner was cooking and the sun was setting, I took this picture of the pier near my site.

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I decided to take a stroll over there and got this picture.

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I’m planning to go back again soon. I only had one paddling day this time and that wasn’t enough to satisfy me! This camping trip was similar to previous ones, including my selection of site #9, and so there is no accompanying post in the camping blog since this campground has been well covered there.

Stand by for the next report.