Thursday, September 27, 2007

Back to the Birds!

A river is more than an amenity, it is a treasure
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

I was hoping to get one more Wacissa paddling day in before I leave for a camping trip to NC next week (and if you keep finding this post at the top of the blog, that's because I'm not back yet!)--and this was that day.

Lots of otters today, the first ones right near the boat ramp, in a group of four. These guys are hard to photograph (Abby definitely gets kudos for the wonderful otter pictures she consistently posts!). This isn't an Abby-worthy photo, but I like that the tail shows up as well!

And how about a little up-close-and-personal with a tricolored heron?

I paddled into Blue Spring, of course. While in the channel that leads to the spring, I noted the sun shining on these leaves. It may have been 90 degrees, but this almost looks like fall!

And then back out to the main river for a peaceful downstream drift. Except for a few seaweed harvesters, I had it completely to myself. In part, I'm sure, because it was a weekday, but I also suspect that a lot of boaters are just tired of this relentless heat.

This was definitely Great Blue Heron Day--I saw more than usual. This one went zooming by me, fussing as it went by--

There are a lot of white birds on the river--great and snowy egrets, juvenile little blue herons, and white ibis. This great egret came in for a landing just ahead of me.

I went as far downriver as last time, mostly to see if I could spot an eagle again. I really looked. No luck on this trip.

So I turned around and headed back upstream. This little great blue heron (possibly a young one) was standing in the greenery in the middle of the river, very intensely watching something in the water. It looked up briefly when I pulled up to park in the surface growth and watch it.

And then it went back to fishing.

I watched it for a very long time while it totally ignored me. Eventually I backed out of my spot and went on my way. It stayed there.

I came to this juvenile little blue heron, who has almost finished changing to its adult coloring.

Did I mention it was hot today? I pulled over to a shady spot along the edge to cool off for a while and see what would appear. I watched a great egret land near some grass. Just when I had the camera ready to get another egret portrait, it took off.

I also had a great blue heron (different one; I could still see the fishing one) fly by while I was sitting there in the shade.

After a while I continued paddling upstream and back to the ramp. Near Cassidy spring I saw this snowy egret perched on a log and had to paddle over to photograph it.

That one-legged stance is much more common in cold weather when they are trying to keep their legs warm...not sure what's going on there.

In the last post I showed you what this river looks like. I decided to add the sounds of the birds to this post as well as the birds themselves. I put together a mix of bird sounds that are very typical on this river (none recorded by me--all from Cornell's bird software). This includes purple gallinules, a great blue heron, and a little blue heron. They did particularly well with the little blue heron sound, which is the last--they have a most discordant squawk (in my opinion).

Here's what it sounds like on this river: Bird Sounds.

So that's all until I get back. I'm not taking the kayak to NC this time, so the trip posts will appear in the Camping Tent Tales blog (I'm camping) and the Photo Miscellanea blog (I'm driving around the mountains).

My friend Kimberlee, who lives in the arctic tundra of Alaska, has started a blog!! Check it out.

Until I get back to paddling, stand by.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Meet The Wacissa

Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It has occurred to me lately that a certain sameness has taken over my blog posts. This is not surprising since during our summer I tend to stay close to home and prefer this river. This leads to similar photos of similar birds. So I decided to do something different for this post. I often talk about the river and once in a while take a photo that gives you a glimpse, but today I am going to show it to you in more detail. This is just a one-post break from the birds to look at where they live.

We'll start where I do, which is in the parking lot of the boat ramp.

While there is a concrete ramp, paddlers prefer the grassy/sandy entrance and exit.

A glance to the right from where that photo was taken reveals the springs, a popular swimming area.

So off we go. I had not taken my favorite zoom lens since I knew this was going to be a day for scenics. I was going to resist taking bird photos, with one exception. Should an eagle appear, I would try to capture a photo of it.

The first thing you come to after leaving the ramp is Cassidy Spring on the right. It's a small inlet that leads to this somewhat small spring. This is an excellent spot to get out and stretch as well.

After that is the channel to Blue Spring on the left, which has been covered fairly well in this blog. There are many channels that lead off the main river and it can be difficult to distinguish one from another if you are new to paddling here. The best way to recognize Blue Spring's inlet is that there are many cypress knees on the far side of the turn into the channel.

Just past Blue Spring we come to the only sign of humans between the boat ramp and Cedar Island. There is a mobile home under a large tin roof (I believe it is some sort of hunting/fishing camp) with a dock with many chairs on it.

You will see wood duck nest boxes on both sides of the river, scattered here and there.

This is a very typical sight along the edges of this river--a pool of water separated on all sides by surface vegetation and lined by tall grasses:

(There were actually several common moorhens swimming in the water when I took the first photo of that. I noticed today how much easier it is to take scenics. You take the photo and check it on the LCD screen of the camera. If it's too dark or light, you adjust the exposure value and take it again. If it's still not just what you were hoping for, adjust again. What a luxury to have so much time to tinker with settings! I don't think I'll be switching from birds to landscapes any time soon, though.)

I like to paddle on the west (left) side of this river after about the first mile and a half. This takes me through the channel that has the tall grasses in which moorhens and gallinules have nests and babies. And it's pretty.

Since I wasn't spending a lot of time stopping to photograph birds, I got to my usual summer turnaround spot fairly quickly. So I decided to continue on downstream to Calico Hill boat ramp, another good place to get out and stretch.

I didn't get out and stretch, though, I just turned around and began the upstream paddle.

Shortly after, I came to one of the very impressive bald cypress trees that line most of this river. There's a story from today that goes with this one.

After I put the camera down and began paddling again, here's how my thoughts were running: I will have to mention in the blog post that it is in trees like that, later in the year after they lose their leaves, that we often see bald eagles. Hmm. I've already seen one this year, in the dead cypress tree upriver from here. You know, I bet they are in those trees now, we just can't see them as easily with all the leaves to hide behind.

At that point I was next to the tree, thinking about eagles in hiding, and I looked up into it, peering into the leaf-shrouded branches.

Heh heh.

Yes indeed, spotted this eagle today. They are there now, we just have to look closer to see them. (And you didn't really think I could put up an entire post without a single bird photo? I knew that wasn't going to happen.)

On the way back upstream I passed Rock Pile, where Janice and Abby and I had gotten out of our boats once and spent some time cooling off in the water. Very pretty little spot.

And the rest of the paddle upstream was peaceful. I saw four otters playing together but they saw me long before I was close enough to even attempt a photo. The otter that is often around Cassidy Spring was also there on my way upstream.

Here is what we see at the end of an hours-long paddle on this river. Much as I love paddling this river, after many hours in the heat, this is usually a welcome sight!

And that concludes our tour of the Wacissa. I hope you enjoyed it. I'll be passing the tip jar around momentarily. In the meantime, I hope to get back out soon. And the birds will be back on the blog! Stand by.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sunny, Windy Day on the Wacissa

The creative act lasts but a brief moment,
a lightning instant of give-and-take,
just long enough for you to level the camera and
to trap the fleeting prey in your little box.
-Henri Cartier-Bresson

It felt delightfully like fall today! Lower temperature, less humidity. A strong breeze, but it was not a problem. There were very few boats on the river today--I saw one power boat and one canoe. Other than those, the seaweed harvesters, birds, and I had the river to ourselves.

I haven't seen the otter that used to be near the boat ramp, but the juvenile little blue herons were there in numbers.
On the west side of the river before Cassidy Spring is a series of dead tree limbs that extend over the river. It's very typical to see at least one, sometimes two great blue herons on these limbs. I paddled over to that side. As I was approaching it, this heron swooped in for a landing on one of those limbs. This was a larger heron than some others on the river now. Look at that wingspan!
I paddled over to see it as it sat there and posed.
While I was taking that, the other heron landed on a different limb a little way upriver. The wind was blowing its feathers around and it was hunkered down a bit.
It flew off as I approached, again showing off the impressive wings on these birds.
I drifted on downriver. I went into Blue Spring and saw ibis and adult little blue herons fishing along the edges and frightened a pair of wood ducks. No otters there, either.

A bit downstream of Blue Spring I came to a pair of young ibises feeding in the middle of the river. The younger of the two had considerably more brown remaining in its coloring--the older only a little on the neck. I parked near them and watched them and took some photos.
They either ran out of food in that spot or became a little uncomfortable with my presence, and off they went.
I turned around at my usual summer spot, which is closer to the boat ramp than I go in cooler weather. The wind was fairly brisk and blowing downstream.

On the way back up I saw a green heron in the grass on the right side;
it saw me, too, and left.
I came to quite a few great egrets en route back to the ramp. This one was standing regally in the grass.
Later I saw this one in deeper water than usual.
I thought it would make a nice photo if it decided to fly off--lots of splashing, etc. Well, it did eventually fly off, but its takeoff was directly away from me so the photo was of the back end of the bird (with less splashing than I had hoped for). I followed it with the camera as it swung around and flew off, yelling at me as it went.
Another great day on the Wacissa, with the cooler air making it even more pleasurable than usual. I hope to get back there again this week. Stand by.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Surprisingly Peaceful Saturday on the Wacissa

It is pleasant to have been to a place the way a river went.
--Henry David Thoreau

I had driven to the Wacissa on Friday to go paddling. When I left home the sky was blue, the clouds white. When I got to the river some 40 minutes later, the sky was blue and the clouds white except right over the river, where the cloud cover was solid and dark gray, thunder was booming, and rain could be seen falling in gray sheets just beyond the far bank. Janice was at the ramp in her kayak and we chatted for a while. I'm just funny about being on water under rain clouds and thunder. I hung around for an hour hoping that it would pass and that blue sky would appear over the river. No such luck. It rained for a bit. The heat and humidity over the cool spring water caused a great deal of mist to rise from the river so I knew even if I went out, I couldn't see my hand in front of my face, much less a bird on the shoreline, so I went home.

I normally avoid this river on Saturdays but, frustrated in my attempt to paddle on Friday, I suggested to DH that we brave the air boats and power boats and take the kayaks to the Wacissa.

It was amazing. Nobody was there. It was just like a weekday paddling trip. In four hours of paddling we saw two air boats, many canoes and kayaks, and no power boats. Not too bad for a Saturday.

We got a later start than I normally do and I discovered that when the sun is lower in the sky it presents some challenges for photography, at least when the subjects are apt to fly away before you can get all your exposure settings in order. So, fewer photos from this trip and some only middling but I am including them.

The great blue herons on this river are fairly skittish, but they are such impressive birds that I will paddle across the river to try to photograph one when I spot it.

Speaking of herons, we only saw a few tricoloreds but many little blue herons.

Of course we went into Blue Spring. DH hasn't been there for a year or so (the flag was still hanging when he was there last). To my amazement, there were only three people there, and they were all on the raft that is anchored near the spring. So we were able to spend time drifting over the spring and looking down into the depths. On a warm Saturday! Inconceivable!

Since it is still very hot and humid in these parts we didn't go far downriver, turning around before the Calico boat landing. On the way back up we saw a limpkin that might have been Bob.

As we approached him, DH was in front and continued paddling, which had him passing Bob a little closer than even this tame limpkin will tolerate.

He settled on a tree branch.

This juvenile ibis was enjoying a snack of snails as we went by.

The wind came up a little, blowing downstream. Kind of a mixed blessing--cooled us off, yes, but also made the upstream paddle a little harder. As we neared the boat ramp I saw this great egret perched in a fallen tree along the bank. I thought about making this a black-and-white photo and then realized that, aside from its yellow beak, it essentially is a black-and-white photo...

It flew away as I approached.

We saw several otters, including a group of three small ones playing in the water near the entrance to Blue Spring. They went running into the woods as we went by. I looked for the bald eagles but they must have been elsewhere at the time; both of the trees in which they can usually be found were empty.

While we were talking at the boat ramp, Janice mentioned that people often ask her where else she goes paddling and she says "Nowhere. Why would I? I already have the perfect spot." It's hard to disagree with that. This river never disappoints.

Stand by for the next report.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Short Day on the Wakulla

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.
--Norman Maclean

Just a short trip to the Wakulla with only a few photos to show for it.

This river seems to be getting fairly degraded, which is a shame. The water is far less clear than that of the Wacissa and St. Marks, with the telltale rainbows of gas or oil spills scattered across the surface from all the power boats. I don't think it's a coincidence that of the three rivers, this is the only one with houses on both sides of the shoreline. Most of those houses have power boats parked at their docks. Simple repairs to those boats while they are on the water may be responsible for some of the spills in the river. It's very sad to see the water quality so poor.

There were some manatees in the river; one adult in particular swam alongside me for quite a distance upstream, which was fun.

I found most of the birds to be in the backwater areas away from power boat traffic. While there are docks in that area, too, there don't seem to be as many boats parked in the water, and the houses aren't visible since the river is somewhat marshy in spots and of course affected by tide. This egret was hanging out in the grass.

This one came in for a landing near the upper bridge.

I also found some green herons, though not nearly as many as can be found on the Wacissa. These guys make it very clear when they are annoyed by your presence by raising the feathers on top of their heads

and flying away.

I didn't see any adult little blue herons and only one juvenile.

The redwing blackbirds are coming back. I saw several flocks of them in the grasses along the edge.

I had an enjoyable drift back downstream. This anhinga was perched high in a tree working at swallowing a recent catch.

There is a large osprey nest near the boat ramp and another near the upper bridge. I haven't seen any between those two, but the osprey fly and hunt over the length of the river between bridges. I happened to see this one in a tree as I passed below it.

(As you can tell, it saw me too...)

Short day due to our rainy weather, and the birds seemed, for the most part, to be elsewhere today. This used to be my favorite river but I'm afraid it has dropped into third place among the Big 3. I enjoy it over the winter because several migrating birds hang out here, mergansers in particular, but I think my warm-weather visits will become fewer and farther between from now on.

As soon as our daily-thunderstorm phase ends, I'll be back out! Stand by.