Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Is it Fall Yet?

If you're going to live by the river, make friends with the crocodile.
--Indian Proverb

There were only three boat trailers (attached to vehicles, of course) in the parking lot when I got to the Wacissa on another hot day. I decided to try a new setting on the camera, which sometimes has great results and other times not so much... It's impossible to see how the photo looks on the little LCD screen so I was just hoping it wasn't doing too much damage. As it turned out, I did lose some photos, but I learned a lesson. And I'm posting a few photos that are a little less sharp than others, but I wanted to include them.

It seems my posts often start with a tricolored heron photo, which makes sense; for the most part I post these photos in the order I took them, and the area by the boat ramp always has a lot of tricolored herons.

And there's an otter that hangs out there as well. I continue to attempt to get decent photos of him/her.

I went into Blue Spring, of course. This ibis was near the entrance, peering around a cypress knee.

The spring looked good, as always, and I lingered there a little while before continuing downstream. I came to this little blue heron, who had apparently just eaten something that was not going down very well. It extended its neck and swallowed repeatedly with great vigor.

The limpkins were very noisy on the river today. This one looks a lot like Bob but was making too much racket to be Bob.

Shortly after passing that one, I came to another, in one of those strange groupings--this one with a juvenile common moorhen. Two very different birds!

I saw several great blue herons today (or the same one over and over again). This one saw me coming and decided to take cover in the trees, which it entered somewhat gracelessly.

I crossed the river so I could paddle down the channel that always has a lot of young gallinules and moorhens. Here's how it looks as you approach it. The birds nest in those tall grasses. Today I heard quiet peeping coming from several of them so there must be more babies around.

While I was paddling through the channel, I saw a purple gallinule on one side and suspected it would cross to the other. This is always a great photo opportunity because they make a great splashing with their feet. I did not expect it to fly across.

I turned around at the end of that channel and paddled back upstream. This great blue heron was standing on an exposed log.

It didn't stay there long.

It settled not far away with, in another odd grouping, two snowy egrets.

There was a belted kingfisher in a tree nearby. This is one of the photos that suffered from the experimental setting--it has a lot of noise (grain) in it. But I am including it so I can include the one I got after it. Bird in the tree:

And same bird swooping down toward the water. They move very fast.

I passed a few blooming lotuses. Of course if you read this blog regularly, you know that I like to tweak some of the photos if they don't come out of the camera to my liking (but are fine pixel-wise). So instead of a photo of a yellow lotus washed-out in the bright sunlight and surrounded by lily pads with brown spots, I cleaned it up a little.

This photo is for Kimberlee, who misses the Suwannee Cooters of the south, now that she is living in the land of frozen tundra:

Ok, so now I have to show you this photo, which normally I would not include, but it is part of a story. I had not gotten any photos of green herons today and I saw this one in some greenery.

It stuck its neck up when I approached. I picked up the camera and let myself drift toward it, assuming that it would probably fly off if I got too close. I was just watching the bird through the viewfinder of the camera. About 10 seconds after I took that photo, an alligator head erupted from the water about 12 inches from the side of my kayak and lunged toward the bird, with great noise and water splashing. Yikes. It just as quickly disappeared again below the surface. I put the camera down and picked up the paddle and hastily moved upriver. When I got a comfortable distance away, I stopped to process that. I wondered why it didn't bump the bottom of the boat since it was so close--it must have come directly up from the bottom. I decided I must be in pretty good shape cardiac-wise because while that was far and away the most startling thing that has ever happened on that river, I didn't get a pounding heart, which I would have expected. I did notice the adrenaline effect, though. So then I thought about what I had seen, which happened very fast. The gator came blasting out of the water toward the bird, but.... from what I remembered seeing, it was off by more than a foot--can they be that inept at judging distance to prey? On the other hand, my paddle, with a yellow blade, was resting crossways on the boat with the blade over the water. The gator came up a lot closer to the blade than the bird. I wonder if it thought it was something to have for dinner, so it comes exploding out of the water to nab it, and upon breaking the surface, realizes there is a human basically attached to the main course. It was quite an experience. Of course, in my memory the gator's head was gigantic, but I'm sure it was normal size, if not a young inexperienced one. That never happened to me before; I'll be perfectly happy if it never happens again. And don't tell my husband.

I met Edie and Carla at the boat ramp. If you are reading this, HI!

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend. I hope to get out paddling one of those long-weekend days. Stand by.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Back to the Wacissa

You can never step into the same river; for new waters
are always flowing on to you.
Heraclitus of Ephesus

When I got to the river, Janice was just leaving the boat ramp for a short paddle. Abby was only a little way downstream and the three of us continued on once I got to them. (And Janice, if you are reading this, I have three words for you--"Lime Cactus: YUM.")

Before I joined them I saw this tricolored heron in the usual area near the ramp. This was Day One with a new lens--same amount of zoom as the other so there probably won't be a lot of difference in these photos (this lens does, however, back out to a wide-angle, so I no longer have to take a separate camera to get scenics, which is very nice).

Shortly after we continued on downstream together we came to an otter hanging out near a snowy egret.

There are a lot of otters on this river this year, and Abby gets the best photos of them I have seen anywhere; some day I hope to get one as good. The otters basically stand up in the water and pose for her. Meanwhile, I try to just get them as they swim by.

We pulled into Blue Spring and immediately came to this grouping of three birds, a limpkin in the front, juvenile ibis behind it, and a little blue heron there to the left.

As I have mentioned before, it's kind of a new thing to see groups of different birds so close together like that; they are usually more territorial.

We stayed in the spring area for a while and then meandered on back to the river. On the way, we passed this great blue heron in a pose I have only seen a couple of times before--

It let us get surprisingly close before flying off.

Three ibises, an adult and two juveniles, were having lunch in the middle of the river.

Janice had an appointment she had to keep and turned around and left us after about an hour. Abby and I went a little farther downstream. We passed a snowy egret in the sunshine.

After a while Abby also had to turn around as she had afternoon commitments as well. I continued on downstream and into the channel that is home to so many families of moorhens and gallinules. This young gallinule was perched on top of a pile of reeds. Based on the condition of the feathers (what's there of them) on its head, I would say this one has been picked on a bit in its nest.

There were a lot of green herons on the river today (or only two that kept flying away from me and I kept encountering later...).

I came to another odd grouping, this one a great blue heron and ibis.

As I approached, the heron flew off. I imagine they always know when their wings are barely brushing the water.

One more chance at an otter photo as one swam right toward me.

And another green heron perched on some branches

that flew off when I got too close.

It's still very hot here and I was feeling the heat after the upstream paddle so I pulled into Cassidy Spring, which is near the boat ramp, and got out to walk around in the cold water. While this is and always will be a paddling blog that features photography, I'm afraid the novelty of the underwater camera housing has not worn off yet, so yet another video is about to appear in this post (I should be over it in a couple of weeks...). This one was taken while I was standing on the rocky edge of Cassidy Spring, in water about thigh deep.

And then back to the boat ramp and off the river after another great day with the birds.

Stand by for the next trip report.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Herons and Manatees on the St. Marks River

A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.
-Laura Gilpin

I haven't been to this river for quite a while.

There are usually few birds on this river, which is curious since it is not only close to the Wakulla River but it seems to provide the same type of environment as far as the shoreline and surface growth, etc. There must be something different that keeps the ibis and egrets and others away. The only birds I saw on this day were little blue herons. I watched this one land on a branch nearby,

make its way to the top,

and then leave.

I was on the water for four hours and saw only one other boat, a canoe with two paddlers. From the time they came into earshot behind me until they were out of earshot ahead of me, they exchanged maybe a dozen words. What a joy to encounter someone else who likes quiet on the water.

This pileated woodpecker was down by the water's edge.

We have had several birds in our yard recently that I have never seen before. Someone that DH works with has noticed the same thing and wondered if this is an after-effect of all the fires that raged in Florida earlier this year, which would have displaced a lot of birds. That makes sense to me and may also explain why I am seeing more pileateds on the river shorelines lately.

The little blue herons on this river are not as complacent as those on the Wacissa and always took off when I got too close, this one splashing water behind it as it left.

You may recall my attempt/failure at getting video of manatees when I was on the Wakulla recently. I also encountered manatees on this trip, two separate groups, each of which had a baby with them. I had a little better luck with the video this time, particularly with one of the babies, as you will see. I have spliced together two pieces of video, the only usable parts of all the video that I took (which was quite a bit). The second part is very short but shows adult manatees from the surface. Right before the transition you will see something floating in the water. That is the strap from the camera, which you are supposed to wrap around your wrist so that if you drop the camera, it won't sink to the bottom of the river, but which I forgot about in my excitement at seeing the baby manatee. On the other hand, I think it was the strap waving around in the water that drew its attention, and I didn't drop the camera, so maybe that all worked out for the best (by the way, keep in mind that I can't see the camera's LCD screen while it is recording, which is why it doesn't stay nicely locked on the subject...). I have been tinkering with different ways to post this video. Let's try it via YouTube.

I hope to get out again, most likely back to the Wacissa, later this week. Stand by.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

And Now the Middle Part of Wakulla River

Rivers run through our history and folklore, and link us as a people.
They nourish and refresh us and provide a home for dazzling varieties
of fish and wildlife and trees and plants of every sort.
We are a nation rich in rivers.
--Charles Kuralt

My recent outing on the turbo-charged boat tour from Wakulla Springs State Park made me realize how much I miss this river (and how much I prefer to see it at kayak speed). I have not paddled this river since June.

Anyone who takes a camera onto the Wacissa River, on any day in any year, hot or cold, rain or shine, will get photos of water birds. It's a given. The Wakulla River does not give up its wildlife quite so easily. When you take a camera onto this river, what you are offered is possibilities.

I was lucky on my paddling trip yesterday.

Early on I came to a small flock of prothonotary warblers in a low-hanging bush near the water.


I passed several other paddlers on their way back to the boat ramp, and after that I encountered few other people on the river. I had noticed during the boat tour that there were little pockets of cool air over the water--this is a spring-fed river so it is always about 72 degrees. In a low kayak, that makes this one of the most comfortable places to be this summer.

This green heron was fishing along the edge just before I got to the little island.

I decided to go to the left around the island since I have lately had luck spotting wildlife on that side. Two yellow crowned night herons were perched near the edge, a bit too far into the trees to photograph. This pileated woodpecker was working its way up one of those trees.

Once in a while you see ospreys on the Wacissa, but this is a better river for those, mostly in the wide area near the boat ramp and around the larger island near the upper boat ramp. This one was in the lower section.

Just past the little island, I came to a group (pod?) of manatees, including one with the smallest baby I have ever seen in the water, which was pretty neat. Of course I whipped out the underwater camera. I took a lot of videos of these manatees as they fed on the bottom and came up to breathe. None of those videos are on this post because it turned out that (a) their feeding activity had stirred up the sandy bottom to the extent that the water was too murky to see anything from below the surface, and (b) I need to get a better idea of how much area is captured by the lens and therefore where exactly to aim it. I can't see the LCD display when it is underwater so I have to guess. I'm always a bit high (which didn't matter much with Blue Spring). Someday I'll master that and get manatee videos. Speaking of the water clarity, I was surprised at how much less clear it is throughout this section of river than the Wacissa.

Sound travels really well over water. A mother and daughter in a tandem Prijon came up behind me to a distance of maybe a city block and then stayed in pace with me, chatting nonstop. For the entire top half of the river I heard about the daughter's college book purchases (she was able to get a hardcover copy of the New Testament for $21!) and her new diet plan (cereal for breakfast and granola bars the rest of the day, to which her mother replied (I know this relationship because the daughter addressed her as "Mom") that maybe one granola bar a day would be fine but the addition of a more balanced diet throughout the day might be beneficial). They discussed their plans to get out at the upper boat ramp. For this reason, when I reached the far side of that large island at the top I opted to circle the island and not get out, so we parted company as they went on. I hadn't seen any birds during this chat time, so I didn't lose any photos because of it, it just cut seriously into the peace of the river. Not their fault; they weren't talking particularly loudly and they can certainly choose to spend their paddling time chatting.

Anyway, the birds showed up on the way downstream (I also realized how much I have missed the upstream-first aspect of this river). The payoff for paddling the first half against the current is to be able to just drift downstream.

This egret watched me drift by.

This post doesn't have the traditional Wakulla Suwannee Cooter (turtle) photo, but there is one of the usual ibis. This guy looks like he's posing, saying "Wait, get my best side. Here's my profile! Ok, count to three before you take it."

There is a large osprey nest in that upper area, and this osprey was perched at the top of a high dead tree.

A small gator crossed the river in front of me and proceeded downstream a little ahead of me. I saw it approach a great blue heron sitting up on a small rise next to the water. I wondered to myself if the gator could see the heron, and at about that time it reached the bird. The gator stopped and turned to face it, with maybe a foot of water and a foot of inclined land between them. I'm sure the heron saw the gator. It stood unmoving. The gator did a weird thing I have never seen before, it sort of raised its head a little, and then started blowing air out of either its mouth or nose--small bubbles and a little splashing appeared in front of it. I had turned to cross the river as well to get a photo of the heron. I don't know if the gator saw me coming or just figured out that it could not get to the heron before it could fly away (or it was too big--this was probably a young gator), but it turned back downstream and continued on. As if the heron hadn't been harrassed enough, I also stopped near it (though not as close) to take a few photos. Hey, I may have saved its life, I should be granted a few pictures!

I recently saw a photo of a juvenile yellow crowned night heron on someone's blog and it occurred to me that I hadn't seen one of those for quite a while. So it was nice to see this one alongside the edge of the water.

I saw two juvenile little blue herons on the river. I had pulled over to take some photos of this one when the mother and daughter tandom caught up to me. They were paddling much faster going downstream so this time I stayed parked over by the little heron till they were well past. The bird didn't seem to mind the company.

While I was sitting there, mostly just waiting for the Prijon to get farther downstream, I set up the camera to take another close-up of this white bird. I guess it decided it wasn't ready for another close-up and it took off. The camera was on it and focused so I went ahead and pressed the shutter. Looks like it is getting some adult color on the wing tips.

A belted kingfisher came chipping by and swooped into a tree as I was reaching the wide part of the river near the boat ramp.

I'm always talking about how these birds go "chipping" by. I may have figured out a (workable, reliable) way to include sound files here again, so let's give this a go. This time it is a link.

Belted Kingfisher call. (Alas, I did not record that, it is courtesy of Cornell's Guide to Birds of North America.)

I was out about four and a half hours, and was surprisingly comfortable for all that time. This river is always a little cooler than the Wacissa, possibly due to the nature of the shoreline.

I have a choice of three such spring-fed rivers, so I guess that's where I'll be till cooler weather sets in (camping season!). Stand by.