Friday, October 26, 2007

Not Paddling at St. Andrews State Park in Panama City, Florida

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It's always our self we find in the sea.
~e.e. cummings

Well, I did take the kayak. I just didn't use it due to weather and wind conditions. Nonetheless, many of the photos just simply belong in this blog, so this is one of those non-paddling posts.

I was camping at St. Andrews State Park near Panama City (campground info and scenic park photos are at Camping Tent Tales). I seem to be in some sort of mode where it rains when I camp--every day recently in NC, and all but a few hours on this trip. I'm getting used to dark skies and dampness. And I do like it at night when it patters on the tent roof.

On the day that I got there I set up camp and then went to explore. This park is sandwiched between "Grand Lagoon" and the Gulf of Mexico. I went first to a fishing pier on the lagoon side. This egret was on the pier.



Later it posed for me in a grassy area.



There wasn't much activity at the time so I went over to the Gulf side, where I watched the kite surfers for a while. I put together a slide show of one of them as he rose into the air. I posted it on the Photo Miscellanea blog.

And then it started to rain and that was it for the great outdoors on that day.

The next morning I drove around the park and checked out the small lake, but there were no birds there. It was extremely windy and the sky was very dark. I went back to the Gulf side and watched the waves for a bit. And then the sky started to change. While it was still very threatening overhead, normal beautiful blue sky with puffy clouds could be seen in the distance.



I watched that for a while and the dark clouds definitely seemed to be heading inland (the blue sky area getting larger), so I basically just wandered around killing time to see what would happen. When things started to look much better, I went back to the pier.

A man and a woman were fishing off the end, and a great egret and small great blue heron were hovering about, so I walked down the pier. At the same time, the woman brought up a fish she had caught, which was of interest to the egret. And I thought the Wacissa birds were casual about humans...



If you look in the background, you can see the great blue heron just around the corner, watching all this.

The egret became more interested when she began to remove the fish from the line.



Needless to say, I was beside myself to be able to get that close to an egret when I was not in a moving boat! And one that didn't mind my being close!



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And then I turned to check out the great blue heron (the woman agreed that it must be a young one, since it was so small). Again, a joy to be so close to one in a natural (i.e., not confined) surrounding!



It was checking me out as well.



As you can imagine, I took several photos of it.



While I was on the pier with the birds, a paddler did go by.



I asked the woman if she knew where the pelicans hung out. As much as I was enjoying the heron and egret, I do see them fairly often (if not so closely) and I rarely see pelicans. She said she didn't know where they were. At this point the blue skies appeared overhead, the sun shone down, and three fishermen went to a fish-cleaning station next to the water and started cleaning fish they had caught. And the pelicans started coming in. So I left the woman and the egret and the heron and headed over that way. I took rather a lot of photos of the pelicans; you may find this hard to believe but I really am only posting a small portion.

These two were the first to arrive.



Then I saw this one approaching over the water:



He skids in for a landing,



and wonders what I am looking at.



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And then there were four.



The men had been tossing fish remainders out for them. Here you see these four waiting eagerly for the next toss. The one on the right is particularly ready for it.



And here comes the fish toss (you can see it coming in the upper part of the photo). Our guy on the right is still ready.



It lands in the water between Mr. Ready and another.



And this one swoops in and grabs it!



I got this picture of a frenzy after several fish bits were tossed, and I post it because I love the expression (these birds have such great faces!) on the juvenile in the back left of the group.



It seems to be saying "So there's no line, or we don't, like, take turns or anything?" Poor guy looks very daunted by this and probably doesn't expect to taste any fish that day. Later, since he didn't have anything else to do, he checked me out. (All pelicans are "he" to me, I have no idea why.)



Gulls were also flying around looking for handouts.



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Two snowy egrets were watching all this from the grass and rocks nearby.



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I decided to go back to the Gulf side while the sun was still out. More gray clouds were appearing and moving in so time was short.

The Gulf was in quite a turmoil, which was great to see--usually we have to go to the Atlantic side of the state to see waves like these. It was extremely windy by this time so there were no kite surfers or even regular surfers out--the water was very choppy and uneven. I noticed that it was crashing against a jetty of rocks some distance down the beach. Again, this is not a sight we commonly encounter at the Gulf, so I made my way over there through the wind, with the blowing sand taking a layer of skin off (I was protecting the camera beneath my sweatshirt, needless to say). (Conditions like this are why it's a good idea to have a protective filter over the lens (I had a plain clear glass filter on this lens--doesn't affect the photos at all)--it got hazy from the mist but the original lens glass stayed safe and clean.)

I took at least 20 pictures and so even though this is not even remotely related to paddling or this blog's usual content, I am posting one here, as well as on the camping blog (different one over there).



And then it rained, and it rained lightly for most of the rest of that day and overnight, and I came home the next day. Despite the weather, this was a great trip and I plan to return soon.

And I look forward to getting back to my usual rivers. Stand by.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday on the Wacissa

When you put your hand in a flowing stream,
you touch the last that has gone before
and the first of what is still to come.
~Leonardo da Vinci

What perfect weather we are having for paddling! The tank top has been exchanged for a t-shirt and soon I'm sure the shorts will give way to longer pants. This is the best time to be in Florida!

I headed out to the Wacissa, looking forward only to a peaceful paddle--if I got photos, great...if not, that would be ok, too. As it turned out, I did get fewer than usual. But it was a great day on the river and I had it to myself, which was fantastic. It's a little distressing to see that the water level on this river, which runs about 11 miles from the headspring to the Gulf, is down by about 2 feet, judging from the water marks on the trees. I'm not sure how it can recover from this.

A few days ago while on the Wakulla I saw many great blue herons. Today was great egret day. Many posed here and there along the river



And then they flew away. I followed this one with the camera as it flew by me



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I had hoped to see a bald eagle today and again paddled down to where they hang out, but no luck. That route did take me through the channel with all the common moorhens.



I really like it when these little ones make a dash across the channel in front of me. It makes no sense, because they have grasses and places to hide right where they are, but they feel some need to get to the other side.


I like that photo above because it tells you something about how fast these little birds move. You can see the splash from the right leg still erupting behind it while it places that leg in front of it for another step.

Not only that, they look kind of comical when they do this (but don't say I said so).


I saw many more birds like the one I had seen on the Wakulla, which are Eastern Phoebes (thanks, Steve, for the ID!). They are really cute.



The otters were out and about and I got several photos of them, including this one


which showed more of its body than we usually see:



I was out for 4 hours today and it was great, except for the worrisome water level. On the way back upstream I went back into the Blue Spring inlet and saw this ibis on one side of the channel.



I am looking forward to more cool and comfortable paddling days like this one. Stand by.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Home From the Hills

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
~Frank Lloyd Wright

I have returned from my camping trip to North Carolina. Since I didn't take the kayak this time, it had been a while since I paddled. I decided to visit the Wakulla River. Last time I paddled there, I posted a report in which I bemoaned the apparent degraded state of the water, which is spring fed. I complained that it was murky. Someone who spends a lot more time on the river than I do left a comment that water quality varies on this river, and not to write it off so soon.

He was right. On this day the water was as clear and beautifully green as it has ever been. My apologies to the river. This is good news because I like this river a lot in the winter; it seems to get more migrating birds, particularly mergansers, than the Wacissa. Also, since it is not only spring fed but tidal, there is still a normal amount of water in it, unlike the Wacissa, which seems to be disappearing from below our boats. In some places it is barely a foot deep. So it's nice to know the Wakulla has water. Not as many birds...but you can't have everything (or so they say).

There are some birds there, though. The first one I encountered was a juvenile little blue heron sitting in the rushes alongside the river.



It wasn't too keen on my being so close, so took off as I approached...



...and settled in a nearby tree to watch me from a more comfortable distance.



This was definitely the day to see great blue herons. This one was perched in the wide area of river near the boat ramp, squawking at me.



It left the perch as I approached



and flew upstream, still squawking at me.


Ok, buh bye for now...



I continued upstream. I had arrived at the perfect time, shortly before high tide on a day when low tide was insignificant. So, almost no current. Another thing about this river is that it smells so good--hard to explain what it is, some combination of woods and water.

Passed this three-on-a-log group (aka a shell station) (haha get it?)--



I paddled to the upper boat ramp, passing a manatee en route. After a short stretch, I headed back downstream.

This anhinga, I believe the same one from the last Wakulla post since it was in precisely the same spot, watched me from a branch.



As I got closer, it turned around, probably to show me its pretty wings (and long neck)...



There are very few moorhens on this river (very different from the Wacissa!). I passed an adult with a couple of juveniles and parked in the surface greenery to watch them. This youngster seemed wary of my presence.



And a few minutes later...


Good grief, are you still here?

Cypress trees line the river; I liked the way this little green sprout was reaching out from the base of this giant for some sun.



So many belted kingfishers swooped around, one of them diving into the water ahead of me (too far ahead to photograph). I didn't get any of them in the camera, but this little bird did land in a cypress nearby. I was going to identify it for you but I'm not completely sure what it is, it matches several birds in my ID book. If anyone knows, post it in a comment!



The ibis were also out and about, including this juvenile



and an adult.



The last bird I saw and last photo I took was a grebe, one of my favorite little water birds. They are just so cute.



I have renewed interest in spending more time on this river over the winter. And I am also eager to return to the Wacissa. We are on the cusp of tent-camping season here in Florida and I have plans for trips to many new campgrounds (new to me, anyway) near water. If we could just get our temps out of the 90's....

Stand by.