Saturday, January 27, 2007

Not Paddling at St. Marks NWR

My husband and I decided to go walking at St. Mark’s NWR today. So technically this is not a Paddle Tale. However, I don’t expect to get out again this coming week due to rain in the forecast (though they could be wrong…), so I’m going to post the pictures here.

The day started out sunny but it was overcast by the time we got there. This was not an altogether bad thing. It was warm, and the advantage to no sun was that there were no pesky shadows to worry about in pictures. We started out at the lighthouse at the Gulf (of Mexico), where I got this picture to show the way that the water and the sky merged—you couldn’t tell where one left off and the other began. There was a pelican flying over the water when I took this.

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We walked along the shoreline for a short distance. These two people were fishing with nets; I loved the way the shadows looked—like they were stitched in.

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Pelicans often hang out on the pilings near the lighthouse, and today was no exception.

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We walked alongside the road, which has water on either side. This juvenile little blue heron was sitting on a branch, blending well with the colors of the day.

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I was so pleased yesterday when I saw the wood storks, since I rarely see any (see the post below this for those photos). Imagine my surprise to see several here. This one was looking for food in the reeds at the edge of the marshy area.

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We came to a large group of blue winged teals, a new bird for me, so of course I took some pictures—these of a male and female pair.

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When she dove for food, she was very subtle and elegant about it.

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When he dove, he really put his whole body into it, his feet kicking in the air.

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There were also a lot of hooded mergansers swimming here and there.

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On our way out we saw this gator enjoying the uncommonly balmy air so of course I had to stop and get a photo of it, particularly since I missed that one yesterday.

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It was raining lightly when we left the park. It says something about the appeal of this place that not only had people come on such an overcast day, they were still coming in while it was raining—including people on bikes. This is a great place to walk around and you could easily spend more than a full day here and not see it all.

Not sure when the next paddling trip will be. Stand by.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Lake Munson in Tallahassee, Florida

I’ve been meaning to get back out to this lake for a long time. It’s a bit of a drive, so I was waiting for a rain- and wind-free day, and this was it. It was nippy for Florida but that’s why they make fleece.

The main purpose for paddling this lake (for me) is the possible opportunity to see wood storks. These birds are somewhat rare, making herons and egrets seem a dime-a-dozen. While I have seen one wood stork on the Wakulla, that was unusual (again, for me) and a one-time event. This is where you need to go to see them.

The first 90 minutes on the lake were just for the joy of paddling. Not many people frequent this lake (I was the only boat on it for the entire 4 hours I was there), and as a result, the birds are extremely skittish and shy. They saw me coming and off they went.

I have never seen so many great blue herons in one place, and never so high up in trees—it was very odd. I was able to get one picture of one.

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I saw a group of hooded mergansers, and one bufflehead, all of which flew far away when I approached. Argh. I continued on. While this lake is not as quiet as the Wacissa since there is constant distant highway noise, and the airport is nearby so periodically planes can be seen and heard as they come in low on the horizon, I would still qualify it as peaceful. It’s not a very clean lake—the water itself is less than clear, and the shoreline has a lot of litter. It has so much potential, and maybe over time the city will do more with it. They built a park and a nice paved boat ramp so they are on the right track. And portions of it are very wild and natural.

Things picked up considerably bird-wise in the last two hours I was there. I came upon a wood stork in the grass along the shore, which was wonderful. These are strange-looking birds.

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It watched me go by, much to my surprise—every other bird would have been long gone.

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Belted kingfishers are always around, no matter where I go, and it sometimes takes awhile for me to even be aware of their calls. Once I realize they are there, I watch for them. I was able to sneak up through the cypress trees that line this lake and get a picture of this one.

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While looking for those mergansers through the binoculars, I saw a gator on the grass of the bank across the small finger of the lake that I was paddling. Good, I thought, I know it’s there, I can get a picture of it. No such luck, I didn’t expect it to be afraid of me and run into the water; I’m used to the Wakulla gators that barely rouse themselves to open one eye when you paddle by.

I circled the lake. As I got to the last quarter or so of it, I came to a tree with two wood storks and an ibis (on the left). The ibis was probably thinking “you guys make me look almost normal!”

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I got there after noon and so I was out as the sun was getting low in the sky. The lake water is pretty much brown, the trees are either gray or brown, and when the sun is low, the whole shoreline takes on a somewhat sepia tone. This turtle was sunning itself.

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I passed a familiar bird, only on this shoreline it blended in well with the background.

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There are some houses and docks in the area near the boat ramp. This anhinga was on one of the docks—now this what it means to stick your neck out!

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It was a good paddling day. Hopefully there will be more soon. Stand by.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sunshine!

And blue sky! It’s amazing what one day of sunshine and blue sky can do for one’s well-being.

It was a tad cold, though, and also a tad windy, so I decided to pass on driving all the way to Lake Munson and instead went to my go-to river for iffy weather, the Wacissa. It’s Saturday, a previously-mentioned bad day for this river, but that was the choice.

I got there and put in at 11:15 (in a recent post, Abby referred to me as a “10 o’clock scholar”; shows what she knows. I am clearly an 11 o’clock scholar, give or take). The wind was much lighter at the river when I got there than it had been at home. I wore a lightweight black first-layer long-sleeve shirt under a heavy fleece sweatshirt. For a while this seemed like a mistake, the sun warmed me up and I ended up taking off the fleece and then putting it back on when I was in the shade, then taking it off, etc. However, toward the end of the 5-hour paddle, when the sun was getting low in the sky, I was very happy to have it. Florida can’t produce a wind cold enough to penetrate heavy LL Bean fleece.

I passed some grebes early on. On lakes, these birds seem to be mostly unafraid, but on this river they are shy. I did get this picture of one out of the large group:

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I drifted down to the entrance to Blue Spring. Shortly before arriving there, I spotted a very large group (flock?) of ibises in a tree. When they saw me coming, they all flew,

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some to this tree

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and some to this

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There are always little blue herons on this river.

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I went into Blue Spring looking, as always, for raccoons along the edges. No luck (again). I’ve seen them there before, I’m sure sometime I will see them again.

I was out for an hour and fifteen minutes before I saw another boat. That boat happened to be an air boat. As it approached, I was lining up a nice picture of an egret in front of some tall green reeds; I like the way their white feathers pop out against the green. Unfortunately I didn’t get it before the air boat roared by. And there went my egret.

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I drifted downstream through Bobville, but I didn’t see the limpkin. Strange. (I also didn’t see him when I passed through again on my way upstream.) A little beyond there my old friend the belted kingfisher sat for a moment on a limb above me.

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If I had the equipment, this would be a great river on which to record an “environments” CD. So many bird sounds, and the wind blowing through the reeds makes a nice background. There seemed to be more songbirds today than usual. And I ended up with another cardinal picture—they really stand out.

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As it got cooler, the birds seemed to be hunkering down a bit more, like this egret.

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When I got about a mile from the boat ramp on my way back upstream, I spotted a familiar yellow kayak to the right—Abby had come to spend a little time paddling the Wacissa. At that same time, I looked to my left and saw a limpkin and thought it looked a lot like Bob, though this would have put him about a mile upstream from his usual place.

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There’s one way to find out if it’s Bob or just a random limpkin, so I paddled over there while Abby was coming my way. Yep—I’ve only come to one limpkin that lets you get this close. He was busy catching snails.

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Abby and I talked for a while. I’d already been out 4 hours and had battled wind coming upstream, so I decided not to go back downstream with her and so we parted company. I crossed the river to see some cormorants and got this portrait:

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Back to Blue Spring, where I made an interesting discovery. There is a narrow channel that leads off from the back of the spring. I have tried to paddle it in summer and got only a short distance before becoming mired in surface growth. I decided to try it again. Much to my surprise, it led all the way back to the main river! Gorgeous scenery along the way, and completely passable. I made a note of some landmarks where it veers off the river and will go through there again before summer brings new growth.

As I got closer to the ramp I saw a bird that I have only seen once before, a couple of years ago on the Wakulla. It’s a juvenile black crowned night heron (Abby, I think you got a photo of this a while ago as well). The color of the lower part of the beak is what sets this apart from juvenile yellow crowned night herons.

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The sun was low when I approached the ramp area. I couldn’t resist getting one last picture of a limpkin in silhouette.

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All of next week is predicted to be cold, rainy, and windy, so I don’t know when I will get out again, but when I do, I’ll tell you about it! Stand by.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Chilly and Gray Days in Florida

Winter has set in pretty well here for the time being. Haven’t seen the sun for a week and our daytime temperatures have stayed in the 50’s. As I result, I haven’t gotten out much. I notice that tomorrow is due to be a balmy 63, maybe if the sun makes an appearance I will see if I remember how to load the kayak and get to some water…

In the meantime, my husband and I recently went for a hike near Piney Z lake on the outskirts of Tallahassee. My paddling buddy likes to paddle in this lake and so I decided to check out the boat ramp. For some unknown reason, the clever people at the parks department, who created a “canoe trail” in this lake and even placed a few signs designating it as such, also saw fit to gate off the road that leads to the boat ramp. This creates the necessity for a very long portage of the boat from the parking lot, around the gate, and down a slope to the boat ramp (and then up the slope upon returning). If this were the only local place to paddle, I might be inclined to go to this unnecessary bother to launch, but since it is not, I will be passing on this lake until such time as the clever parks department decides to open the road to the boat ramp (I won’t be holding my breath for that). I have encountered this sort of distance from a parking area to a boat ramp before, but never with a usable road purposely gated closed.

However, the hiking trail was very nice. The day’s weather was typical of what we have had lately; it’s probably really pretty with the sun out. There is an easy portage set up that crosses this trail and enables one to continue paddling on Lake Lafayette. There were a lot of birds. There is a lot of surface growth on both lakes. I did get a picture of a paddler sitting near that portage, on the Piney Z side. This was taken at about 2:30 in the afternoon--this is as bright as it gets in this section of the Sunshine State these days...

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This is not technically a Paddle Tale since I did not get in the water, but I thought I would post this to prevent this blog from getting moldy between paddling trips.

Hopefully I will get back in the boat soon! Stand by.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Great Day on the Wakulla!

I had been planning to get to the Wakulla today, and after dealing with a little pesky work in the morning, I headed out.

No cars were in the parking area, and no cars were at the T’n’T canoe and kayak rental place—I’m detecting a trend here on weekdays. So I unloaded and launched. The tide was about halfway in when I left the boat ramp area. Normally the first short section of this river is a bit of a struggle to get through since the current is almost always swift, and it has many springs adding to the flow. However, there was a strong wind blowing when I put in, and it actually pushed me upstream, creating the rare situation of my not having to paddle at all in the first section! How great was that? The upstream wind was strong enough to cause some waves on the water that broke audibly near me. Of course my pragmatic side was yapping inwardly about how this would be a real problem when it came to getting back. My optimistic side countered by pointing out that weather systems change and just because it was windy then didn’t mean it would be windy in 2 hours.

(The optimistic side was right, the wind died down and the paddle back downstream was in calm air.)

The paddle upstream was peaceful. I passed a guy fishing in the wide section near the boat ramp, and the only other humans I saw all day were a couple on their dock.

The turtles were out in great numbers. This log had no room for any more…

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I have never seen coots on this river. I’ve seem moorhens in the upper half, but never any coots. Doesn’t seem to be a good reason for that, but there you go. However, today there were several groups of them, both at the upper and lower boat ramps. This one watched me paddle by.

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There were lots of cormorants, as usual. One spent a great deal of time splashing while bathing as I passed. Others were just perched on fallen trees and exposed logs. Their eyes really are this color.

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Well, I’m going to just have to consider this little bird pictured below to be part of the typical blog post, since they have been showing up here so often. Not my fault—they perch close by and don’t fly away as I approach, so what else can I do?

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I haven’t seen an alligator on this river for a long time; it’s not unusual for them to hunker down for our winter. But today I saw several small ones. This one was lounging in the backwater area near the upper boat ramp.

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I paddled all the way to the upper boat ramp and got out and stretched my legs for a short time before turning around to drift back downstream. I took the little channel that runs parallel to the main river, though not as far in as the backwater areas. This little blue heron had caught a crab snack. These birds are very common on the Wacissa, but less so on this river.

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Last time I was here, I saw many ibises. This time there were far fewer (why?), but I did get this somewhat notepaper-like photo of one perched on a tree along the river edge.

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This cardinal stood out vividly in the mostly-gray-with-a-little-green landscape we have this time of year.

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I saw a few egrets here and there along the edge. I particularly like it, as you know if you are a regular reader here, when these birds look directly at me—they just look so goofy.

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Just about the time that I was thinking about the fact that I hadn’t seen any great blue herons during this trip, I spotted this one a little distance off the river, in the shoreline greenery:

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And then I came to a reptile grouping, a turtle and gator in close proximity.

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I was out 5 hours today. The sun was low as I approached the boat ramp. This cormorant was drying its wings, and even though I knew I had taken a similar picture earlier in the day, I decided to get this one, too, since I liked the lighting.

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This was a great day on the river. I hope to get back out paddling again next week. Stand by.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Back to the Wacissa on a Windy Day

Well, it was a little nippy today, but it was also sunny with a clear blue sky. And sunshine here can be pretty warming, so I decided to head out again to the Wacissa (everyplace else is too far to take a chance on in uncertain weather).

I was the only one in the parking lot when I got there, I did not see another person the whole three hours I was out, and I was the only one in the parking lot when I left. Somewhat different from my recent Saturday trip. This time the ambient sound came from hawks rather than air boats.

I took the Mystic today. I’ve been in the Prijon for the past several trips and have become very familiar with it, so I decided it was time to take the Mystic out. I like them both. When Abby and I were out on Saturday we explored several areas that required passing over some surface plant growth. When the fiberglass Mystic crosses over such growth, it is silent; the smooth surface offers no resistance. I noticed on Saturday (not for the first time but it was distinctive that day) that when the Motion goes over surface plants, it makes a lot of noise. This is less than ideal when you are trying to sneak up on a bird to get a photograph. This surface growth is mostly encountered on rivers. On the plus side, the Motion moves like a touring boat but has the stability and cockpit roominess of a rec boat. I think in the future I will take the Mystic to rivers and the Motion to lakes; that way I can use them both for what they are, for my purposes, best designed for.

This little egret was hanging out between the boat ramp and Blue Spring.

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The wind was gusty, and blowing downstream, which is not good on this river. But between gusts all was calm, and as long as I stayed in the sun I was comfortably warm. I drifted slowly downstream.

As on Saturday, I saw fewer birds than usual on this river. In fact, almost none until shortly after I turned around, which was less than 2 miles downstream—that wind had me concerned.

I saw a few egrets ahead of me so I decided to go as far as to where they were and then turn around. This one was posing nicely for me, facing into the sun.

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On the way upstream I saw a duck that looked like a merganser. It unfortunately saw me and flew across the river. I was in no hurry to get to the boat ramp so I crossed to follow it. It flew back across; I followed it back, and this time I sat for awhile in the grassy area to see if it would come out so I could get a picture. No such luck. I paddled on. And wait! There it is again! And…off it goes across the river.

About that time I was near the Blue Spring inlet again so I crossed the river (again) since I wanted to go back in to pursue my quest for raccoons. I spotted four otters playing and got a very blurry picture of one otter head sticking up out of the water (not shown here). It’s been my experience that the best way to get any good otter pictures (unless they are the used-to-people sociable type) is to have them come upon you rather than coming upon them. Since I came upon this group, I could only watch them as they dove and swam into the shallows along the edge, hidden by all the horticulture. Meanwhile, this little blue heron let me take its picture.

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Still no raccoons or other photo subjects around Blue Spring, but it was still wonderfully quiet and peaceful in there, as always. When I came out, I saw this egret on a branch at the edge of the river. It saw me, too.

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The wind picked up considerably, and paddling against it proved to be a great workout. I was glad I was in the Mystic, an ideal boat for those conditions. I saw a few other birds at the edge as I paddled upstream but taking my hands off the paddle would have meant drifting downstream fast so I just enjoyed seeing them and moved on. I was able to pull over to the side and park in some surface growth to get this great blue heron.

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This was a wonderful day on a river that never disappoints. Seems like there might be a few more good paddling days coming up, and maybe even camping next week. Stand by.