Friday, March 30, 2007

Critters on the Wacissa and Rethinking a Rudder

As mentioned in a previous post, I decided to have the optional rudder put on my Prijon Motion, following a battle with wind on the Gulf earlier this week. I picked it up from the outfitter today and took it to the Wacissa to try it out.

If I had ever written about my feelings regarding rudders, I would have to retract it all (how fortunate that the subject has never come up!). There’s always debate going on regarding the relative merits of skegs vs. rudders. Since both my Impex kayaks have skegs, I have always fallen on the skeg side of the argument.

I started out with the rudder up since I was in the channel leading from the boat ramp to the wider part of the river, and the wind was calm. However, soon after launching the wind came up and the boat began to weathercock so I decided to give the rudder a try.

Wow.

I deployed it and pressed on the gas-pedal-like attachment to the footpeg and the boat immediately straightened out. It was like someone had come up behind it and turned it to face directly downstream. I was amazed.

Basically it’s like having a steering wheel that you operate with your feet. I can see how this could be a serious crutch if it was always deployed—why use the paddle to rudder, or do J-strokes or sweep strokes when you can just press a foot pedal? But I like using the paddle to maneuver the boat under normal conditions, so I brought the rudder back up when the wind died down. Here’s the advantage to the rudder, in my opinion: Say you are paddling upstream against current, and the wind is coming at you from the left, at about the 10:00 position. You have two choices—you can stop your forward momentum to use the paddle to rudder the boat to face upstream (and in the process you will either stop or begin to drift downstream) or you can paddle with renewed vigor only on one side (which I was doing in the Gulf a few days ago). With a rudder, you can use both paddles to maintain your upstream momentum and still get the boat facing upstream.

A skeg does much the same thing, though not so dramatically. I now like them both.

I went into Blue Spring. I came to a little blue heron sitting on the limb of the tree that that extends over the channel.



It flew toward the spring as I passed below it. I followed it. I drifted near to it in the spring area and parked in the surface growth to watch it and photograph it. It found something of interest in the sky overhead.

Is it a bird?

Is it a plane?

I decided I had taken enough photos (there were more than those two, I just liked them best) and so I decided to sit there till it moved away from me so as not to startle it with sudden movement. Well, instead of moving away from me, it moved toward me as it looked for a snack in the water.



I took one more—



--and then slowly backed up to leave the spring area.

And who should appear on that same tree that spans the channel? Sure looks like my friend from my last Wacissa trip…


Got lots of photos of him as I passed beneath, at which time I heard him (I’m guessing at the gender, looks like a him to me) scamper down the tree and into the woods.

I had gotten to the river at 3 pm (had some pesky work to do this morning so the fun part of the day didn’t even start till well after noon) and so I didn’t go far downstream.

I discovered that the rudder is also useful for executing U-turns in current.

I had seen lots of male wood ducks on the water—through the binoculars, that is. They sure are skittish. Then I came to a pair that let me get at least a little close—close enough to get a photo, anyway.



Later, in another section, I was able to capture another photo of one. What a lucky day!



These Suwannee Cooters were enjoying the sunshine as I went by on my way back to the boat ramp.



A good day, I’m pleased with the new rudder. Maybe I can take it back to the Gulf again next week. Stand by.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Wild, Wild Gulf of Mexico

I decided to go back to St. Marks NWR to paddle in either the Gulf or one of the pools (or both). There was a bit of a wind, but the Gulf seemed to be minimally choppy when I arrived at the lighthouse so I thought I would start there. I put in at the boat ramp—actually a grassy/sandy spot near it, since the ramp itself is not at all kayak-friendly, between the concrete of the ramp and the gravel on either side.

The first photos of the day were of this pair of ibis that were hanging out in the area where the boat ramp channel opens up into the Gulf.



I decided to go to the right this time to see where it led; the lighthouse is to the left. I was paddling close to the grassy shoreline.

There was some splashing in the water ahead and farther from the shoreline than where I was. One of the reasons I have always hesitated to paddle in saltwater is my concern about hammerhead sharks, which frequent these waters. This splashing appeared to be one of two things: a friendly pod of dolphins or some sharks in a feeding frenzy. I was in about 18” of water and very near the edge so I progressed forward to get a better look.

There were fins in the water, but that could be either dolphins or sharks.



Then one of them came out of the water and splashed back down on its back, and it was clear these were dolphins. Whew. I watched them swim around for a while.



And then oh, look.

They are coming over to say hi.



I watched them approach, two in particular were making a beeline for me. I took a lot of photos, but I had to be on manual focus since the camera has trouble focusing when most of the background is water. However, I was bobbing like a cork in the small waves, which were pushing me against the grass along the edge. They came fairly close, closer than I expected, so those additional photos are too blurry since the focus was way off. There was a drop-off in the water about 10 feet out from where I had stopped to watch them, and they couldn’t pass that, so they turned around and went back out into deeper water. It was extremely cool to be paddling so close to dolphins! (But not too close…)

The shoreline in that direction got boring quickly and so I decided to turn around and head over to the lighthouse and beyond.

Taking pelican photos is a lot like taking moorhen photos—they are always there and so I don’t find them very exciting. However, this one glided past me nearby and so I decided to take it.


It was a hot, sunny day. These cormorants were enjoying the sun on some old pilings.


As I approached the lighthouse, I spotted a pelican sitting on what remained of a pier. I don’t know if it is yawning, stretching, or swallowing a fish in this picture, but it’s a different pose!



I wasn’t the only kayaker on the water today, this guy was fishing near the shoreline.


I passed the lighthouse and continued in that direction. It’s very scenic along this route, as if it could be in some more exotic locale than the Florida panhandle…


This little willet was looking for food in the shoreline grass.



Two hours of paddling against a breezy wind and Gulf waves feels like 4+ hours on a calm river, and so I decided to go back to the boat ramp (some day I have to get here on a windless day!).

It was still early, though, so I left everything in the boat and loaded it haphazardly in the car and drove a mile or two to one of the pools in the park to see how paddling was there. The water was very still and flat. Here’s the view from the boat ramp:


Only electric motors (or boats with no motors) are allowed in the pools. This pool (there are several) actually extends for some distance to either side. The alligators were grunting along the edges (it’s courtship time for them). I spent about an hour in the pool, just enjoying the easy paddling and peace and quiet. I went through areas heavy with lotus leaves and flowers so I took this picture, which is remarkably similar to one taken last spring (and at the risk of being predictable, I’d say there’s a good chance there will be another one like it taken next spring).
I’m thinking about having the optional rudder put on the Prijon since I think that would help a lot with the wind situation here. I prefer to take this boat to this area rather than either of the Impex kayaks, since I would rather not subject their fiberglass to the cement and rocks that may be encountered.

My arms are beyond tired right now, but knowing me (and I do), I’ll be back out again before the week is up. Stand by.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Perfect Wacissa Day

I met Abby at the boat ramp at about 12:15 on this warm spring day (when I complain later about summer heat or endless days of rain, someone needs to remind me that in March we had a long string of perfect paddling days!). I announced as we set off down the river that since this was my third paddling trip of the week and I had gotten some photos I was very pleased with on the previous trips, I did not plan to seek out photos on this trip, I was going to just enjoy the water and the weather.

Yeah, right.

We went into Blue Spring and then on the narrow channel behind it that leads back to the river. Much to my delight, a raccoon (on my A-list of subjects while paddling) was puttering about in the water near the edge.



We were both parked there, camera shutters clicking away, but it chose to mostly ignore us.



Once back on the main river, we spotted some turtles sunning on a log.



The shorelines are greening up now. The river looks great.



We passed several limpkins (at some distance) on the drift downstream, and then we came to one that I think was Bob. Abby wasn’t so certain, since it was making noise while we were nearby, and it’s true Bob is historically mostly silent. However, very few let you get as close as we were, so I am still convinced this was Bob. Maybe he was just fussing because there were two of us so nearby.



We paddled to Cedar Island and got out to stretch our legs, and then circled it and headed back upstream. We heard several alligators in that section—this is their courtship time, which leads to the upcoming mating season. Abby does an excellent alligator call, which I wish she would not do when I’m with her (just kidding!). On the way back I was amazed and thrilled to once again see two eagles in a tree, only this time it was an adult and a juvenile.



This was in the area of the previous photo of two adults together in a tree. Must be a family. The young one flew off as I drifted closer to the tree, but the adult let me take another picture of it (on this trip when I wasn’t going to take any photos)



The strangest thing happened as we were approaching Blue Spring on our way back upstream. I became aware of a whooshing sound, somewhat like a large, low kite sounds in the wind, and looked up to see that a sizeable wood stork was gliding very closely overhead, literally buzzing us. It circled us twice while we gawked up at it open-mouthed. We then recovered from our surprise and grabbed our cameras as it swooped over toward the shoreline.



It sat there watching us. So we paddled over to it to get more photos.



Neither of us has ever seen a wood stork on this river, and we have certainly never had one circle so closely overhead. I was so glad not to have experienced that alone—there’s no way to adequately describe it so it’s nice to have shared that with someone.

We went back on the channel to the spring and then out its main entrance. This little blue heron watched us approach



and then went back to fishing from its perch.



We saw many, many wood ducks but were never close enough to get a photo of any, not even the less-shy females. Maybe eventually they will become less timid, as they were last year. Regardless, this was one of the best days I have ever had on this river.

If this weather continues I will be back out paddling next week. Stand by.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spring on the Wacissa

Another gorgeous spring day so I decided to visit the Wacissa and see if the birds are back.

They aren’t back in the first mile or so; it’s downright strange to paddle that area and not have it lined with snowy egrets and little blue herons. It’s peaceful and beautiful with the new spring-green leaves coming out on the trees, but seems empty without the birds. I hope they come back to this section soon.

I did see several after about the first mile and a half. I had not even lifted the camera so far on this trip when I happened to look up and see an eagle in a tree.

 

In a repeat of my experience with wood storks on my recent Wakulla trip, I discovered as I paddled around the bottom of the tree to see if I could get a better photo that there were in fact two bald eagles in that tree. It was not possible to get a good photo that showed both of them clearly so I settled for one in which they are both at least visible through the tree branches. It’s fairly unusual for me to see eagles at all, and seeing two in such proximity is new for me. It was pretty neat.



I got to Cedar Island and decided to get out and stretch my legs. I was debating whether to take the time to circle the island or not. I opted to continue downstream and see how it looked (was it clogged with surface growth, etc.) and then I would decide whether or not to continue or to turn back. I got back in the kayak and started around. Very shortly thereafter I passed a huge alligator on a log over to the left, which slithered silently into the water when it spotted me. I considered that to be a cosmic indication that I should turn around instead of circling the island. I don’t like passing by huge alligators, particularly if I can’t see them. It’s rare to see any gators on this river at all, and when I do see them, they are small ones. On the other hand, the largest alligator bagged during the last alligator hunting season was taken from this river…

Continuing with the trend of birds in trees, this great blue heron flew into the branches of a tree overhead and perched there as I passed below.



There were a few little blue herons in this section of river. This picture resembles one taken recently on the Wakulla, but is far more typical of this river than that one.



There are always cormorants on every body of water I paddle and I rarely point the camera at them. This one sat on this little stump sticking up out of the water as I approached and did not move as I got closer so I obliged and took its picture. They do have vivid blue eyes.



I saw three limpkins on this trip, one of which was of course Bob. He was hunting for snails on a log amongst tree branches along the shoreline and I couldn’t get a photo of him so I just said hello and went on my way. The other two were skittish and flew away before I got near them. They were quite loud, though.

Even without the usual number of birds, this was a fun paddling day. I saw two other paddlers, and a speedboat roared by on the main part of the river while I was in the blue spring area, but otherwise I had it to myself for over four hours. Nice! Hopefully will get out one more time this week. Stand by.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Wonderful Warm Day on the Wakulla

What a super day on my favorite river! My paddling buddy and I have both noticed a conspicuous lack of birds lately on the Wacissa, so I decided to go to the Wakulla on this warm spring day. This river is normally the go-to water for scenery, manatees, gators, and, this time of year, ibis. It offered more than usual today!

This great blue heron was standing along the shoreline very near the boat ramp.



This river has more surface growth on it than I have ever seen before; it looks a lot like the Wacissa in parts. This has to be the reason for the many little blue herons I spotted along the edges—this photo looks like one that would be taken on the Wacissa.



Later I saw this little blue heron perched in a tree. Now that’s something you don’t often see on the Wacissa…



There were dozens of ibis along the shores of the river. This one was fishing alone.



These two, on the other hand, seem to be scoping out each direction, maybe deciding where to go next…



The surface growth is almost absent in the upper half, and the shoreline is turning green and spring-like, with yellow flowers everywhere. Very pretty and peaceful.



I have been concerned that I used up all my male-wood-duck luck last year when I was seeing them everywhere—this year my only spottings have been from a distance as they fly away in fear of me. So I was very happy to see this little guy along the edge!



This snowy egret is also a common sight on the Wacissa, less common on this river.



Meanwhile, the larger egrets still have that gorgeous breeding plumage.



I was drifting downstream and spotted a wood stork, of all things, over to the side. I took this picture quickly before it disappeared from sight behind trees.



After I got passed those trees, I discovered that that wood stork was one of two that were hanging out there! What a surprise!



I am completely puzzled about why these turtles, which are called Suwannee cooters, spend so much time doing their balancing act on logs—why the legs akimbo? The smaller one to the right must be an Amazing Balancing Turtle in training.



It was a great day. There were many other paddlers on the water today and a few power boats. I found out after I got out at the boat ramp at the end of the paddling trip that the no-wake rule is back in place on this river, as a state law now! Yay! They have yet to put the signs back up to that effect, but one speeding power boater got stopped by patrol officers and told to slow down. This is very good news. The manatees will be here soon.

I hope to get out again this week while our weather is so pleasant. Stand by.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Crane Creek and Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida

I spent some time in Melbourne, Florida. I decided not to take the kayak—and yet I have a few photos from that trip to post here since they seem appropriate for this blog.

First, I was incredibly pleased to find that there was a great blue heron nest pretty much right outside my bedroom window, which was also visible from the little patio outside my room. There were clearly eggs in the nest since this heron (the innkeeper referred to it as “he,” so I assume this was the male—also the plumage indicates that) was there constantly (I know this because I sat for long stretches of time watching the nest and waiting for it to stand up so I could take a picture! Yes, life is a husk sometimes, we must sacrifice for our art….).

 

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I went to the Brevard Zoo one day (see link at the bottom of this post to several photos from that side trip). If only I could see red ibises like this on the Wacissa…



There were roseate spoonbills there, a bird I tried valiantly but unsuccessfully to photograph at St. Marks NWR.



I have to say that this bird reminds me of wood storks—gorgeous body, less gorgeous head.



I went to a show at the auditorium while I was there. Next to the auditorium is a small pond with many ducks, ibis, egrets, and herons in residence. They are used to people walking nearby, and this one posed nicely for me.



And then it lost interest in me when it spotted some food along the edge of the pond. Here’s a perspective I rarely get to capture.



This week looks excellent for paddling in my usual spots. Meanwhile, I hope you will jump over to the Photo Miscellanea blog to see the zoo photos—including a ’roo porno shot (shameless teaser, I know).

An actual paddle tale will appear soon. Stand by.