Sunday, February 25, 2007

Wakulla Springs State Park River Tour

Yesterday my husband and I decided to visit Wakulla Springs State Park. While I did not go paddling (hmm, this is getting to be a trend on this “paddling” blog), I have decided to include the photos here since the Wakulla is my primary paddling river.

We took the boat tour, which cruises the water from the spring to the vicinity of the fence that keeps paddlers and other boaters out of this section. I have never seen this part of the river.

The osprey have arrived in this section as well. This one seems to be glaring down at the boat from its nest, probably wishing for a little peace and quiet (that boat and the highly amplified voice of the tour director create much more noise than anything on the lower section).

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It was a bit breezy. This egret was getting its feathers considerably ruffled.

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I don’t think it appreciated photos being taken when it was looking less elegant than usual.

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We passed large groups of American wigeons (which I think I incorrectly identified in previous posts when I saw them at St. Marks). I had just paddled the Wakulla the day before and saw none of these in the lower section, so they must prefer this part of the river.

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As with the other birds, they seemed unafraid of the boat. These boats run very often every day so I guess they are just used to them.

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Usually a photo of a common moorhen in this blog is an indication that I have an itchy shutter finger and have resorted to taking moorhens since nothing more interesting has appeared. I took this one, though, because I was able to take the 500mm lens with me and so I could get more detail than usual.

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Here’s the deal if you take this river cruise (which I highly recommend, tickets cost $6.00). If you are interested in ducks and egrets and other swimming waterfowl, as well as turtles, then sit on the left side (from the facing-forward perspective). We sat on the left side. If you are interested in gators, snakes, and (sigh) wood ducks, sit on the right side. The boat (at least ours, and I assume all of them) makes a counter-clockwise circle instead of going out and back, and so the people on the water side are always on the water side, and those on the shoreline side are always on the shoreline side. A full boat will have three people per bench seat, and so if you are at the outside edge, you will have an excellent view of everything on your side, but limited or no view of anything on the other side. Unless, of course, you can get in the front of the line and sit in a front seat. The tour director stands in the back, and when the boat passes something of interest, the tour director may back up so that those in front can see it. The front seats were taken when we boarded so we went to the back seat, which worked out almost as well since I could point the camera out the back.

We passed many gators along the banks, most of them the same small sizes that show up in the lower section.

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We did pass one extremely big gator. A large group of Japanese tourists filled the right side of the boat and many, many digital cameras were up and clicking when we stopped next to it!

I’m planning a trip to the Gulf to hopefully get in some saltwater paddling. Stand by.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Wakulla River

We are finally getting some nice weather! So I headed out to the Wakulla today to see what I could see.

It was a great day on the river. No other paddlers, but several power boats, which were miraculously all going at trolling, no-wake speed. It was very peaceful. In its way, this river is quieter and calmer than the Wacissa.

The osprey are back! First time I have seen them here for months, and they are busy building nests! This one was at a high perch in a tree near a nest in progress:

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And then this one came along…now what does he have in mind? Filling the nest?

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I haven’t gotten a photo of a great blue heron that I have liked for a long time, but today was a bonanza. And there were more of them on the river than I think I have ever seen. This one,

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this one,

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and this smaller one.

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These ibis were having some sort of meeting or reunion

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I wasn’t going to take any more ibis pictures because this blog already has a plethora of them…but I can’t seem to resist. In fact, I took even more than are included here. This one watched me go by.

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This one I took just because it was posing so nicely.

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I was also resisting the cormorant photo opportunities, until this one on a log with a turtle was just too tempting.

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And speaking of turtles, these two looked to be almost floating on the water, with no visible means of support.

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So I was drifting downstream near the end of the paddling day, at about 5:00. This is my favorite time, when the sun is getting low, and when most people are off the river. I was admiring the reflections in the water, which were almost as sharp and clear as what they were mirroring, and I decided to take a picture of one such reflection. I picked up the camera and started to pan along the shoreline, trying to decide what would best capture the way it looked right then. And I saw this guy. While I would have preferred something with one of the flowering trees or at least some greenery, I think this shows the way the water was reflecting pretty well.

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It was a 5-hour paddling day. I saw many, many wood ducks, but all of them either swimming too far away to photograph or flying away in fear of me. Nonetheless, a great day. I have plans to go to a new place next week for some paddling, stand by for that report (there’s rain in the forecast but I hope to get out on the water between showers).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Wacissa River

It was time to get out in the kayak—I won’t ramble on about all the obstacles lately in the way of paddling, but they have been persistent.

I got to the river at 12:30 on a day with bright sunshine through a cloudless blue sky. In the beginning, there was only a slight wind, and it was upstream—ideal on this river!

The seaweed harvesters were out again today; haven’t seen them here for a while.

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I drifted down almost to Cedar Island. There was a somewhat large group that left the boat ramp together, though they were paddling far apart. There were two members of the group in a canoe that had been more or less in my vicinity for the entire paddle downstream. The stern paddler kept up a constant stream of commentary. I was behind them as we approached the island and I noted that they went left, presumably to circle it. I would have gone that way. It seemed likely that the ongoing monologue would have scared off any birds around there, so I decided to turn around just short of the island and head back.

There was a cormorant tree along the edge…

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In fact, there were a lot of cormorants out on the water. I think a previous picture in this blog had a cormorant on this same branch sticking out of the water. Maybe they know how photogenic it is.

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Turtles on this river are far, far more shy and timid than those on the Wakulla, so there are few photo opportunities. These two were enjoying the sunshine. Note the splayed back legs on the one on the left. A balancing turtle in training…

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Over all, there seemed to be fewer shorebirds than usual on the water; our overnight temps in the low twenties may have something to do with that (maybe they have fled to warmer climes south of here). But there were more small birds flitting about over the water than usual.

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This red-shouldered hawk was perched in a tree keeping an eye on something in the water.

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The upstream wind grew stronger as the afternoon progressed and ended up blowing me most of the way upstream, which was unusual and most welcome. I was out about four and a half hours, and the sun was getting low in the sky as I approached the boat ramp. This ibis was looking for dinner nearby.

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A great paddling day. Rain in the forecast for most of the rest of the week and more cold temperatures to come. Not sure when the next trip will be, but stand by.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Sunshine on the Wacissa

Three paddle trips in three days, now this is how to make up for lost time!

The day started out overcast and so I took it to be a lost day for paddling. However, around noon the sun came out and it had become nicely warm, so, since the Prijon was still in the car from the last two paddling trips, I decided to head out to the nearest river, the Wacissa.

There were two SUVs in the parking lot with no roof racks or trailers so I assumed they had rented canoes or kayaks from the livery down the road. Other than those cars, it was empty. Nice! While I was preparing to launch I heard what I thought was an air boat on the river, but fortunately was only a low-flying helicopter.

It was a very peaceful paddle downriver. There were a lot of these little birds about, as usual this time of year. I have learned that these are willets.

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I went into Blue Springs and out the new channel I discovered last time I was on this river. It’s getting more overgrown and so I’m sure it will be impassable by summer, but for now it’s still a very wild and woodsy water trail.

I passed a group of people in two canoes shortly after leaving Blue Spring. For quite a while after that I had the whole river to myself.

I need to add sunscreen to the day hatch of the Prijon.

I turned around a little more than two miles downstream; I had gotten a late start and I wanted to go upstream at a very slow pace. The sun was behind me, making for nice lighting for photos.

I was drifting along the edge going upstream at probably no more than one mile an hour. I saw a wood duck nest box that the FWC had erected and was wondering idly whether they monitored it and/or cleaned it out between seasons when I nearly ran into Bob. The bow of my boat was about 18 inches from him when I saw him—and, being Bob, he wasn’t particularly concerned and did not move out of the way. It was too late to steer away from him since I was moving forward and so close already, so I immediately paddled backwards. And said hi Bob and took his picture.

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He was the only limpkin I saw on the river all day today. Maybe he doesn’t know he should have gone farther south when the cold weather set in. I hope he has been ok on the recent cold nights.

There were several ibises in trees and in the little vegetation islands in the middle of the river.

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Most of the upstream paddle was uneventful as far as photo opportunities, and extremely peaceful and relaxing. I saw all the usual birds along the way, including little egrets,

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tricolored herons,

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and little blue herons.

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I wasn’t the only one on the water as the shadows grew long.

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Near the boat ramp I saw what was probably the same black crowned night heron as appeared in an earlier post from this river.

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This was a great day on the water, I was out 4 hours. After the last three days, I need the upcoming weekend to rest my arms! Hopefully this weather trend will continue. Stand by.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Peaceful Paddling on the Wakulla

Okay! Maybe we can get back to paddle tales instead of walking-around tales!

I like to return to the Wakulla when it’s been awhile between long paddling trips. While the birds are never as good as on the Wacissa, I love this river. The shoreline varies, and of course there are always manatees (the woman at the canoe/kayak rental place next to the boat ramp told me that a couple had decided to winter in the river). But mostly I just wanted to get out on some quiet water.

The photos from this trip are mostly of ibis, alligators, and performing turtles. For my part of it, I had a great time on a warm day in the sunshine.

The first picture I took was of this egret. I saw a lot of egrets on this trip, but this is the only photo I got. It was sharing its perch with several turtles.

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There were a lot of gators out today since it was warmer than our recent days. This one swam across the river very slowly in front of me.

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With nothing to provide perspective, you can’t tell from a photo how large these alligators are. This one was very small. This is the time of year, a few months before gator mating period, when the babies from last year start appearing on the water. This one was about three feet long and very thin. It watched me paddle by with no fear. In a way this is good; as long as no one feeds or harasses this alligator, it will peacefully share this river with paddlers and be the subject of many photos.

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There were several ibises about. This one posed nicely for me along the shoreline.

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I like this picture of another ibis, taken in the off-river area near the upper ramp, since the sun happened to shine at that moment through the shadows and highlight its blue eye. These are neat birds.

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And then there were the turtles. Again, as in a previous post, here is The (or, maybe, An) Amazing Balancing Turtle!

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And then, as if that weren’t enough, ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Three Turtles and their Amazing Pyramid!

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(Performances daily, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Available for birthday parties.)

It was wonderful to be out paddling again and I spent 5 hours on the river. If this weather will hold, I’ll get back out somewhere tomorrow. If not, as soon as possible! Stand by.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Short Paddle and a Long Walk at St. Marks NWR

It was a great plan, but a poor day to execute it. I have often been to St. Marks NWR on days when the water was flat and still and the air was still as well. It occurred to me last time I was there that this might be a potential new paddling spot. I haven’t been out paddling for so long (by Florida standards, of course) that I jumped the gun by heading out there to paddle today. The weather forecast called for sunshine, comfortable temperatures…and so I chose to ignore the wind speed prediction.

I put in at the boat ramp instead of the handy-dandy little access spot that I had selected last time I was there—it was low tide when I got there and my access spot was pretty mucky. The channel leading to the open water was calm and fun. The air had that saltwater scent that I always associate with vacations.

Unfortunately, once out of that protected channel, I encountered a strong wind and choppy waves. Still, though I knew it would be short-lived, I decided to continue on this paddle trip. Here’s a view of the lighthouse from the water, something I have never seen before.

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Those pilings are where pelicans tend to roost (see later photo…much later). I knew this trip would end soon—it was one of those days where you paddle and paddle and don’t get anywhere because of the wind, and choppy water wants to throw you against the rocks just below the surface. Not my choice of conditions. So before I reached those pilings, I turned around.

This is what the shoreline looked like on the way back. The white along the edge is foam from the water.

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As I neared the channel back to the boat ramp, I spotted this woman, who was at Cedar Point and had set up to sketch the scenery.

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Once back in the channel, I was able to enjoy the journey again. I saw a killdeer along the shoreline.

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This is a super place to paddle and I will be back here on a day with no wind. There’s so much to see—this is where the St. Marks River empties into the Gulf; going to the right would lead to the river mouth, while going left follows the Gulf shoreline and leads to assorted islands and other interesting places. Stand by for those trips!

Meanwhile, today I loaded the boat in the car (since the tide had come in a bit, I used the handy-dandy access spot this time) and decided to continue on foot—for once, in the sunshine.

These birds are everywhere around the lighthouse. Since they are not shy, I got this picture of one. I don’t know what they are. This one looks a little grumpy, though.

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I walked down the road to see what I might spot.

Here’s how one wants to spend a warm Wednesday in Florida.

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I came to some people who had parked alongside the road and were out of their car watching birds through their binoculars. So of course I joined them. This bird below was identified as an avocet, enjoying the dinner servings during a low-water period.

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On that same stop, I saw this egret, who seemed to enjoy facing into the wind that had given me so much trouble.

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I walked about two miles down the road and then headed back. When I got to the turnout to the boat ramp, I decided to take that route instead of the main road back to the lighthouse (which is the end of the road). This egret was on the shoreline separating me from the boat ramp channel—

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It was a long day, and while not an ideal paddling day because of the wind and waves, still it was nice to be out in warm sunshine again. On my way back to my car in the lighthouse parking lot, I got this photo of the pelicans on their favorite pilings, as the sun was sinking in the sky.

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I packed up the camera, secured the kayak, and headed out of the park.

And then, near to the entrance booth, what should appear on the side of the road but two deer. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen deer; they are usually a camping trip thing. This was a female with a smaller one--not a fawn, but I suspect it was her offspring.

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She got a little wary when I stopped the car. She moved to behind a tree and just watched me.

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What a super day! While the paddling part of it could have been better, I have this to look forward to on a better day, and I had an opportunity to explore the park in sunshine.

I hope/expect to get out tomorrow to paddle again. Stand by.