Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Baby Day on the Wacissa River!

Spring is here and the Wacissa River was a perfect place to enjoy it! All the birds had their babies out today to introduce them to the world. So let’s start there! And of course the wood ducks are my favorite. I saw this mother with babies shortly after leaving the boat ramp.

Several hours later I decided to go upstream of the boat ramp and when I was about across the river from it, I spotted this mother wood duck. She didn’t seem overly concerned about my presence, though she did gather her babies around her.

And then off they went into the shoreline.

I paddled upstream from there and came to two fledgling barred owls in a tree. They were very cute and quite fuzzy.

The mother was nearby keeping an eye on them.

Earlier, after having turned around to come back upstream, I spotted a mother moorhen with babies. I’m afraid I harassed and stalked them. After I saw them, they disappeared into the shoreline, while the male stayed on the edge and sounded the alarm. I sat there for 15 minutes waiting for him to calm down and get used to my presence. He finally swam in front of me and they emerged from the edge and started making their way upstream—still somewhat wary of me, though.

So those were the babies of the day! In non-baby sightings, I saw a green heron shortly after launching—what a joy to see this, my second of 2007, first this year on this river.

There are many, many, many little blue herons and tri-colored herons on this river right now. This tri-colored was fishing in the greenery not too far from the boat ramp.

It watched me go by…

And decided to move a little farther away from me.

I was down near Bobville, letting the upstream wind push me slowly through the reeds there while I searched for baby moorhens (I had seen some in this area last time I was on this river). I spotted a female wood duck with babies following her and so I decided to paddle over to see if I could intersect her path and get a photo. I dipped my right paddle blade into the water and took a forward stroke. I then positioned the left paddle blade. However, a baby alligator stuck its head out of the water precisely where I was about to put the paddle. I held the paddle still above the water. The baby gator looked at me with its orange eyes. I looked back. It then ducked below the water and was gone. It was only about 18” long, if that. It occurred to me that there are places where this never happens during a paddling trip.

The mother and baby wood ducks were gone by then.

However, Bob was there, right where he used to always be! He watched me approach.

I went into Blue Springs inlet twice, once on the way downstream and again on the way back. On the first visit there, this pretty yellow bird landed on a branch nearby.

On the second visit there, Abby and Ken showed up and we talked briefly before I continued on upstream and they went into the spring area.

This was a wonderfully fun paddling trip, getting to see all the baby birds and photograph them.

No paddling plans for the rest of the week unless the predicted rain fails to show up. It was windy today, so plans to get long sound recordings were foiled yet again. Eventually this wind will quit…and then it will get hot and we will be wishing there were a breeze…

Stand by for the next trip report.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Wakulla River on a Busy Saturday

This was quite a day. It was the busiest on the river that I have ever seen it, but all in the lower half. So I moved quickly to the top half. The birds have returned to this river as well as to the Wacissa.

These little sandpiper-like birds were out in number today--I've never seen them here and not sure what they are. They are more compact and stouter than the similar birds on the Wacissa.

There were several manatees on the river today. We'll get to them later.

On my way downstream I went into the less-traveled route around the island under the power lines. What a bonanza! I followed and stalked a yellow crowned night heron that was there trying to hide in the trees.

I think it really wanted me to go away, but decided to stare me down instead of flying away.

In addition to that, I finally (finally!) saw my first green heron of 2007. It was also hiding in the trees but I was determined to get some sort of photo of it to commemorate this momentous event.

I drifted on downstream, once again getting into the more crowded area of the river. This juvenile little blue heron was hanging around the edges of the river (I had to cross twice in my pursuit of it--I was definitely pestering the birds today). You can see that its adult coloring is just starting to come in.

When I added the first sounds to this blog earlier this month, my brother said "Next you will be adding video." I said no, I didn't think so. I do, though, always carry my non-DSLR digital camera with me in the car and boat, and it takes video. When I came to several manatees near the top of the river, where there were few people, I decided to try getting them in a video. Here's the deal with this. The video looks very clear when viewed straight out of the camera. However, storage sites on the web tend to add their own compression, and that degrades the image considerably. I'm posting this video with apologies for its lack of clarity. On the other hand, this does give you some idea of their size in relation to the kayak (and explain why I try not to pass right over them...). This one was busy grazing along the bottom of the river.

While I wouldn’t always want to be paddling in such crowded conditions, it was fun to see so many people out enjoying the river. At one point I passed three paddlers, one of which was saying “it doesn’t get more perfect than this.”

Stand by for the next trip report. Hope you can play the video.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lake Seminole From Three Rivers State Park

I went on another camping trip to Three Rivers SP, again getting my favorite site, #9. They have changed some things and #9 is now a pull-through, which made it less cozy, but I still think it has the best view of the lake.

Abby joined me for the afternoon and dinner the first day. We had hoped to get out paddling but it was extremely windy and so we settled for a hike instead. Two of the campground volunteers/hosts, Sarah and Mary, stopped by and chatted for a while before dinner.

The next day was not as windy and so I was able to get out and paddle around. I went into the area across from the campground, which is grassier than the shoreline of the park. This egret was fishing in the grass. I get a lot of egret photos, but very few on grass—they are usually in the vegetation that line the rivers around here.

A little farther along I spotted this little blue heron—again, a common bird for me to photograph, but rarely in this setting.

It watched me go by.

Last month I posted a black-and-white photo (coincidentally taken at this same park) and stated that it was a first, and likely the last. One reader commented that I should never say never, and he was right. I went through this patch of lily pads (or lotus leaves, whichever they are) and noticed that several of them had droplets of water rolling around on top, which was a nice effect. I took a picture of one, but I wondered at the time how it would work out as a 2-dimensional image (or did you just have to be there). It occurred to me even then that it might be destined to be rendered black and white. And, having seen both versions, I like this one better—the drops show up better without the color of the leaf interfering. And so once again, a black-and-white photo appears here…

This wren landed in some reeds nearby and just sat there so of course I had to take a picture of it.

The sunset the evening before had been very impressive, so I had an early dinner and got in the kayak and paddled out into the lake with the idea of taking a photo of the sunset from the water. I had quite a bit of time before it went down so I moseyed along the shoreline, hoping to see a deer, but no such luck. I then positioned myself at some distance from the shore, with a good view of where the sun had set the night before. There were no other boats in sight, and I would be able to hear a power boat in plenty of time to get out of the way, so I just sat there and enjoyed the peace and quiet. I took this while I was waiting, looking across the lake in a northward direction.

Unfortunately, last night’s sunset was not nearly as spectacular as the night before. I kept waiting for the brilliant color but this was about as brilliant as it got.

I realized that if I waited till the sun actually set, I would then have to find my way back using a flashlight, so after taking the above photo I started paddling back to the campground. As I got close to it, the sun was very low, lighting up the water, and a coot swam across in front of me, so I took one more photo. The sky wasn’t all that impressive at the time (everything above the top of this photo was gray), but the water looked good!

It was a fun trip and I look forward to getting back to this campground. I have plans to return to the Crystal River area as soon as we get through this windy spell, and in the meantime will be paddling in my usual spots. Stand by for those reports. P.S. Thanks for all the positive feedback, via email and post comments, regarding the addition of sound! I’m glad you could hear it; I look forward to adding more.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Birds Are Back In Town!

I decided the best thing I can do for this cold (which is waning, thanks) is to take it out into the fresh air, so it was time to go back to the Wacissa. And what a joy to see the birds back! Now that’s more like it!

The snowy egrets line the channel leading from the boat ramp. This was an extremely windy day (and in the wrong direction—downstream), which works out well for seeing their breeding plumage.

I drifted downstream for perhaps two miles. As usual on paddling trips, most of the bird photos were taken in the second half. Before I turned around, though, I did come to these turtles.

As I’ve mentioned before, seeing one or more turtles on this rock next to this tree is so typical that they can be used in directions (“look to your right after you pass the turtle under the tree in the middle of the river”). That is, unless Abby has frightened it/them off the log. (Ok, I confess, I include that photo mostly to be able to tease Abby about that.)

This egret had really great plumage at its tail, so I was working my way around to where I could get it in the photo.

Until it decided it didn’t like me there and flew away…

I noticed that several normally-complacent birds were skittish today. Perhaps they have been hanging out where there are no paddlers and so they have to get used to us all over again now that they are back.

This female wood duck had two males following her. What’s going on here?

So then I came to this eagle in a tree—the same tree as in previous eagle photos.

What you can’t really tell from this picture is that this eagle is actually laughing its tail off at this woman in a kayak who has gotten herself mired in the seaweed while pointing the camera upward to get the photo. I finally extricated myself and paddled closer to try for a new perspective.

At which time the eagle looked down at me, seeming to be saying What is she doing NOW?

I got back to the boat ramp relatively early since I hadn’t gone far downstream, and so I decided to explore the area of river north of the boat ramp. It was quiet in there. I spotted this male woody perched on a fallen tree in amongst some branches (well hidden!).

I managed to get a little closer before he, as well as a female I hadn’t noticed, flew away.

I feel a little guilty when birds that are just sitting enjoying themselves or resting become frightened by my presence, but I doubt it happens all that often on this river (most people go right by them). I may have been the only person who stopped anywhere near them all day.

This great blue heron was standing regally along the shoreline.

Nearby, a limpkin was having some luck with snails.

And speaking of limpkins, I’m trying something new here this time! I decided a while ago that I would like to start making some recordings of various environment sounds that I encounter (this river, the frogs and crickets around our pond in summer, Gulf waves hitting the beach, etc.), which I can ultimately transfer to a CD to listen to when I am not in those environments (but wish I were). So I bought a digital recorder. I took it with me today. This was a really poor day to be trying this because of the strong and almost constant wind. I have a foam thingie to cover the microphones, which helped a lot but wind still got through, and it seemed to muffle the sound a bit. So this was less than an ideal trial—but I did end up with some usable sound files. A limpkin on the river was making a great deal of noise, and so I turned the recorder on. The limpkin was making its way upstream and if I stopped paddling, the wind and current would take me downstream, and so I secured the recorder in the bungees on my deck bag and paddled to keep up with the limpkin. I got quite a long recording of it, complete with paddling sounds. I copied a small section to attempt to post here. I have no idea if you will be able to play this, and if you can, if you can hear it. I amplified it many times to compensate for my distance from the bird and the foam that was cutting back on the wind sound. If you see a little box below with a file name in it, if you click on the file name (single click or double click—seems to vary by browser), supposedly it will play. It’s short, maybe 4-5 seconds. If this works, I can periodically add sounds to my posts. So let’s try this:

Did it work? (If it doesn’t, this whole section will shortly magically disappear, and I’ll try again another time…)

As I got back to the boat ramp, there was a snowy egret fishing in front of some greenery and it would have been a very pretty picture. Except that it started to fly away just as the shutter clicked. I’m posting it anyway.

I want to get back soon (possibly even tomorrow) when there is no wind to have to contend with as far as recording, just to see how it works. And of course to get back to the birds. Stand by.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Off the Water During the "Easter Snap"

I have been unable to get out paddling due to the double-whammy of our annual last gasp of winter (aka the "Easter snap," with daytime temps in the 50's, overnight lows in the upper 20's) and a miserable sore throat and congestion.

I don't want mushrooms to start sprouting around the edges of this blog, though, so it's time for another non-paddling post. This one includes a product recommendation and some photos that didn't make it into previous posts.

First, the product. I've been meaning to tell you about this. I got some new binoculars awhile back. They are by Bushnell. They are compact, perfect for taking paddling (they are not, however, waterproof. I know this matters to a lot of folks). They come in different sizes and powers; I bought the 8x25 ones. Here's the important thing about these--they are the PermaFocus line. This is really neat and convenient. No matter where you look with them, whether it's the top of that tree over there or the top of that tree way over there, the focus will be perfect, with no little wheel on top to adjust for distance and focus. Once you get used to this feature, other binoculars that require constant focusing seem tedious to use. Another advantage is how easy this makes it to pass them back and forth among companions. My husband uses regular binoculars. If I don't have mine and we are sharing his, every time he wants to show me something, I have to adjust for my eyesight, and then when I return them, he has to readjust for his. These PermaFocus ones stay in focus, no matter who is using them. And the view is crystal clear. There are two drawbacks--they are not waterproof, as mentioned above, and also they are for distance viewing. If you need some binoculars to look at a butterfly on the ground 6' away, these will not help. Paddlers, however, are rarely looking at anything close by. If you are in the market for some new binos, I definitely recommend these. I got mine online at Binoculars.com (here's the link for the product page on that site), but I'm sure they are widely available in local stores.

These photos got left out of their respective posts for one reason or another. Among my recent wood duck photos was this one of a male on the bank:

And this one--my usual view of wood ducks, as they spot me and fly away!

A while back we went to Hickory Mounds WMA. There were some pied-billed grebes in the water there. I think these little birds are so cute.

And finally, a tri-colored heron looking aloof along the shoreline.

Hopefully the cold weather and my cold symptoms will both be gone later in the week and I can get back out again. In the meantime, I'll be here at home with my Kleenex. Stand by.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Windy Day on the Wacissa River (after a windy day on the St. Marks River)

Yesterday I spent four hours on the St. Marks River, with the intention of finding out how long it takes to paddle from the boat ramp at Newport to the Gulf. The wind was blowing strongly upstream (prediction was for 5-10 mph; I had hoped for 5; no such luck) and the tide was coming in. After two hours of valiantly fighting wind and current, I reached the vicinity of where the St. Marks joins the Wakulla, which is still some distance from the Gulf. Enough is enough; I turned around. It's a beautiful river (although curiously devoid of wildlife, at least yesterday) and perhaps I will attempt this again on a calm day. There are no visible houses on the shorelines, only docks. And big, big sailboats at those docks. Really big.

And so I decided to head to the Wacissa today. I encountered that same wind from the south, but it didn't impede my downstream progress since the current (not affected by tide) compensated for it. And of course there was the fun of it blowing me back upstream.

I went into Blue Spring inlet, as always. My raccoon buddy must have been elsewhere, but the little blue heron was back.

They are so cute, and so tolerant of being observed. It was very busy seeking a meal.

I circled the spring area and headed back out to the river. I heard the sound of wood ducks approaching and landing in the inlet. They are always my primary (with luck) photo subjects. I typically concentrate on close-up photos of them and reject any that are taken at a distance. As I watched this pair cross the little inlet, it occurred to me that they would also be nice as just part of a scenic photo, so I include this one taken at some distance from them.

As I was leaving the inlet, a red-shouldered hawk (Florida type) landed on a tree branch over the water.

I drifted downstream, occasionally paddling against the wind, to the dirt road boat ramp (the one across from the life-size Frosty the Snowman balloon suspended from a tree branch, perhaps you are familiar with it), where I got out to stretch my legs. And then I had a wonderful drift upstream with the wind pushing me all the way. I passed a couple in a canoe, and there were a few fishing boats on the river, but otherwise I had it to myself.

The pickerel rushes are in bloom.

I need to get to the Wakulla soon, as these flowers usually put on quite a show along the shoreline there.

It was a super day, I was on the water for five hours. The birds seem to be returning; I saw several snowy egrets. The limpkins are still here, as are the coots.

I want to thank the writer of the Pure Florida blog for his flattering remarks about this website and his link. Back at ya! Check it out for some fine photos.

I have plans to return to this river very soon. Stand by.