Friday, November 30, 2007

Peaceful Paddling on the Wakulla

Rivers are places that renew our spirit, connect us with our past,
and link us directly with the flow and rhythm of the natural world.
~Leo Tolstoy

A great day on the river, where I encountered lots of other paddlers and only 2 power boats, both of which were traveling slowly. I enjoy paddling at this time of year, the temps are comfortable; with fewer leaves and ground cover, I can see into the woods. And the sun is low when I am returning to the boat ramp, which bathes everything in a red glow.

I don't get as many photos this time of year, though--they will likely be sparse until February or March. The good news to this is that dial-up visitors can probably see all of them and in a timely fashion!

Only four photos made the cut from today's trip. I saw this beautiful great blue heron along the bank. Most of his body was obscured by branches from a fallen tree, but I was able to get a head-and-neck portrait of him.



There were many more grebes on the river than in summer, and I do love those little birds. "Little" is the key word there, these are very small. Here's one dwarfed by a cypress trunk it was swimming in front of when it spotted me.



Another cormorant showed up on this river (as in the post prior to this). Love those webbed feet!



And speaking of webbed feet, this anhinga was perched on a log near the upper boat ramp.



That's it for this time. My camping trip was postponed when we got a new kitten here that I can barely tear myself away from to go paddling, never mind a 2-night camping trip! But maybe soon. Meanwhile, I will be getting out to water again next week. Stand by.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Short Trip Today

The face of the river, in time, became a wonderful book…
And it was not to be read once and thrown aside,
for it had a new story to tell every day.
~Mark Twain


I got a bit of a late start and it was a tad chillier than I had dressed for so I wasn't out too long this time and didn't go farther downstream than Blue Spring. I spent some time on the west side of the river past Cassidy Spring. These turtles were out enjoying some sun.



On the Wakulla, turtles will usually just sit and watch you go by, but on this river they are customarily more timid. These two pictured above, however, decided to stay put (and the long view of them shows why!)...



I spotted another belted kingfisher in a tree ahead of me.



There seem to be more egrets, both great and snowy, than any other birds on the river right now. This one was having some luck fishing along the side.



Usually when I spot cormorants on this river it is much farther downstream (in fact, usually in exactly the same spot), so I was surprised to see this one so soon after launching.



No sign of the gator at Big Blue, but given the air temperature, maybe it had gone underwater or dug a hole off the river to hunker down in to keep warm. I did see this great blue heron after I came out of the spring area.



I think we will be having somewhat warmer weather later this week so perhaps I can get back out soon to make up for this very short day.

I want to thank Biffle French for his flattering email and would like to recommend that you visit his blog, which has reports and photos from paddling in the Pacific Northwest (sorry for the previous link error--if you tried before and got an error message, hopefully that is fixed). He has also recently published a book about kayaking in that area, called Paddling the Waters of Vashon Island, which is available for sale on his website. His waters are much more challenging than the ones I find myself in and include 8-foot tides. Our tides are thought to be high if they hit three feet, and that height is somewhat rare.

I will be back in our calm waters soon. Stand by.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

And Back to the Wacissa

The care of rivers is not a question of rivers, but of the human heart.
~Tanaka Shozo

It's always great to get back to this river, though it continues to be distressing how very low the water level is. Kinda wonder how long it will be here...

A very quiet day for the most part--I guess everyone is gearing up for Thanksgiving! First photo of the day was this belted kingfisher, which was buzzing around near the boat ramp.



There are a lot of these sandpipers here these days, in about the same numbers as we see tricolored herons in spring and summer.



I drifted downstream, enjoying the quiet. When I got to the inlet to Blue Spring, of course I went in. I saw the gator again at the spring; it was in a position that had its head in the middle of some sort of river shrubbery. It was probably sound asleep in the warm sunshine and I knew that if I startled it, it would make a dash for the water, which would be very startling for me, so I just stealthily backed out of the spring. I wonder how long it will stay there; it could be a bit disturbing to swimmers and divers.

On my way out of the inlet I spotted this night heron, which I am certain was not there when I went in.



And on I drifted downriver. These cormorants were drying in the sun just a bit beyond Blue Spring.



There are many limpkins on the river now. This one, which actually might have been Bob given how little it cared about my presence, had just caught this snail.



About 3 minutes after it had occurred to me that I had not seen any otters on this trip, I came to four otters. They looked at me and then hastily moved off.



I have been looking lately for mergansers, because I know they show up about now. I was so happy to see (through the binoculars in the distance) a whole group of males and females. They swam ahead of me downstream (and, interestingly, ahead of me upstream as well) but flew off in a flurry of wings when I got at all close. This was the best I could do with them this time. These were hooded mergansers.



I turned around short of Calico Hill. On the way back upstream I managed to harass an egret. I first saw it perched at the top of a very small cypress tree.



It left there as I approached



and flew downstream. It stood in some of the surface horticulture for a while and I decided to go visit it again. I didn't quite manage to get a photo of it standing, but I did get it flying away (no doubt aggravated with me).



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As I was approaching Blue Spring inlet again on my way upstream I heard some movement in the woods on the other side, so I let the kayak drift over that way. I spotted something moving that was definitely bigger than a squirrel, so I sat for a while peering into the woods. Coincidentally, given that this is two days before Thanksgiving, it turned out to be a flock of wild turkeys making their way through the woods near the water.



While I was sitting there watching them, an air boat came roaring down the river and went into Blue Spring inlet. It made a great deal of noise while in there, and about two minutes later three snowy egrets and two limpkins came flying out of the entrance, followed by the roaring air boat. No point in my going in there, it had clearly chased out all the birds and no doubt the land critters had fled into the woods to escape the noise. The ultimate anti-wildlife machine. I was glad I had gone in on my way downstream.

So I continued on toward the boat ramp. This great blue heron watched from the shoreline (halfway between Blue Spring and the ramp).



A wonderfully peaceful day on the river with the birds and otters (well, until the air boat came along).

Have a great Thanksgiving! I plan to camp again soon and of course will be back out on the water as well. Stand by.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No Lions. No Tigers. One Bear.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth
find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
~Rachel Carson


I decided to go to the St. Marks River today. I had no great expectations of photos as this river often provides less (visible) wildlife than the Wakulla and Wacissa, but it makes up for that with such beautiful scenery. As it turned out, while the only birds were one little blue heron, two grebes, one coot, and several belted kingfishers, I did encounter many manatees, just as I did a couple of days ago on the Wakulla River, and two turtles on a log. At one point a very small gator surfaced, saw me, and quickly dove out of sight; later I saw a midsized gator sunning along the edge. The paddling was wonderful--warm sunshine and little current since the tide was coming in. Our recent overnight freezes have resulted in some fall color here and there.

I paddled upstream for a little less than two hours. It gets dark early now and the wind was picking up and I know how I tend to dawdle while drifting downstream (at times nearly coming to a standstill while I peer into the woods on either side of the river) so it was time to turn around.

At about 3:00, as I was silently drifting downstream, I heard the sound of something large entering the water just around a gentle bend in the river to my left. Curious, but only slightly, I picked up the binoculars in a very leisurely fashion and searched the river surface ahead of me.


WHAT??? Is that a black bear???



Down go the binoculars (in a less leisurely fashion) and up comes the camera. It's clearly interested in getting to the other side and will come out of the water soon.

A difficult photo--black bear in the shadows, in a location that requires manual focus. (Of course I knew I would post it even if it were only a black blob.) My downstream movement must have caught its eye as it emerged from the water and it turned to look at me.



And then it climbed the rest of the way out of the water (not to be redundant, but in a leisurely fashion)



and ambled into the woods.

I was so excited and thrilled I was just short of literally shaking. This was without a doubt the high point so far in my paddling experiences. Right place, right time.

I had taken a few other photos prior to seeing the bear but I think I will let it have the post. The others sort of pale, in terms of subject matter, in comparison.

One other note about today--in the post from two days ago I mentioned (and included photos from) seeing a bald eagle alongside Hwy 59 on my way to the Wakulla River. I take that same route to get to the St. Marks River. Today, in pretty much the same spot as described before, I saw a bald eagle swoop down from a tree and pick something up from the ground (straw, grass, a twig?) and fly back into the trees. So it would appear they are indeed nesting nearby. I also was able to see into those woods at one point and it seems there is some water back in there.

Speaking of eagles, I want to get back to the Wacissa to see if I can spot the ones that spend time there. And I think I will be getting back to the St. Marks some more, looking for that bear! Stand by.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hangin' with the Egrets on the Wakulla River

In the fields and woods more than anything else
all things come to those who wait,
because all things are on the move,
and are sure sooner or later to come your way…
-John Burroughs

On my way to the Wakulla River from my house, I travel over a 14-mile stretch of Hwy 59 between the town of Wacissa and Hwy 98. These14 miles have a tendency to seem endless, with just scrub pine for scenery on either side of the road (however, I did once see a black bear crossing the road). Lately there has been some work done on the west side of the road, where the trees have all been cleared and fences and gates have appeared. I can't imagine what they are doing.

On my way to the Wakulla yesterday I was rolling along on 59 as usual. And then over to my right I spotted a bald eagle sitting in a mud puddle in the middle of the cleared area, about 25 feet from the road. Yikes! So I stopped as quickly as possible and turned around. I guess this made it nervous and it took off from the puddle and flew to a tree limb.



I started to walk toward that tree, to see how close I could get, but it didn't like that either and flew off.



I watched it and it was joined by a second eagle. They are probably looking for a place to nest and maybe the one in the puddle was checking to see what that water had to offer in the way of food (not much). From that spot on 59 they could easily reach the Wacissa at Goose Pasture or the Wakulla and St. Marks rivers. Much better than a mud puddle in a construction area.

I got to the Wakulla at about 1:00. I was hoping to see some mergansers but no luck, maybe I am too early still. There were a number of grebes on the river, as well as American coots (of the bird variety).



There were several egrets at the river today. I must have caught this one at nap time--I've never seen one of these yawn before, but I'm sure that's what it was doing.



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In fact, I watched the same process with a great blue heron in another section of river.

The river was beautiful today, and there were many paddlers out enjoying it.



In addition, I saw more manatees in the water this time than I have ever seen on any one trip. It seemed like the kayak was passing over one or more every time I looked down. I wish I had taken the underwater camera. One paddler said she spotted a mother with baby but I missed that one.

This great blue heron was enjoying the sunshine along the bank.



As it turns out, not all the wildlife on this river is a joy to behold...



This charmer and his brood came zooming up the river at a breakneck speed until one of them spotted a pod of manatees and they stopped long enough for Bubba here to take a photo or two. And then, despite proof of the presence of manatees, and perhaps unable to read the signs requesting that care be taken by power boaters, they continued upstream with much noise and water-churning.

I hope to get back out again soon. Stand by.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Finally! Paddling the Wacissa Again

There’s nothing . . . absolutely nothing . . .
half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats.
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (River Rat to Mole)

It's been a very long time between paddles! But today was the day to get back to the Wacissa.

What a great day to be paddling--still shorts-and-t-shirt weather, but with a nice breeze. Most of the day was under clear blue skies and sunshine...which is great for paddling but creates all manner of challenges for photography.

I came to an egret and a great blue heron standing close together. Here's the heron:



and here's the egret:



And here is the front view of that egret:



I drifted downstream, enjoying the day. When I came to the Blue Spring inlet, I decided to go in and see if I could find the alligator that Abby spotted there last time she paddled this river. Neither of us had ever seen a gator near the spring. Maybe the lack of swimmers and divers made it seem like a nice place to set up housekeeping. It was there, at the spring--



Not much else going on there so I continued downstream. I spotted a threesome of otters, just moments before one of them spotted me:


Hey you guys! You guys! You see that?


Yeah, what is that? Hey, Fred, get up here and check this out!


Wull, what the heck is that????

They swam off a ways and then turned back to look at me again.


Well good grief, it's still here!

And they went off on their way. And I went on mine.

I went down the alleyway that has all the moorhens. You know how I love photographing these guys when they run across the water. The sun was in front of me, providing terrible photo lighting, but I can't resist showing you these anyway. This one started out at a run across the water in front of me,



And then decided that hopping across might work better.



I wanted to show you the egret that was standing oh-so regally in the grasses but as I focused on it, it decided to go elsewhere.



and off it goes



and away...



There were hundreds of coots in the area of the Calico Hill boat ramp. I have seen a few of these through the summer; they supposedly are here year-round, but these were definitely migrating, there were so many. I like these little birds.



There were also many, many eastern phoebes on the river. This looks like an early-morning photo (which is why I like it) but in fact just reflects the lighting of the moment:



Here's our usual view of otters on this river--just the top of the head, eyes, and ears. And nose.



I was concerned that the limpkins would be gone, but I heard them here and there as I paddled (by this time heading back upstream). This one had just found an apple snail to snack on.



It wasn't real happy at my proximity and moved off a bit.



I sat and watched it for a while and when it flew a few feet upstream and into the sun, I got another photo of it.



Another phoebe sat on a reed as I passed by so I got another phoebe photo.



When I got back to the Blue Spring inlet, I decided to go back in. The gator was no longer where it had been; probably had retreated to the woods to dig out a hole to settle into to escape our cool nights. On the way out I spotted one of my favorite photo subjects (showing more evidence of the sun's influence...)--



I know that a lot of folks don't like them--they are scavengers, they get into trash cans and make a mess, and they can be dangerously unpredictable...but they've never bothered me and I like them! This one was making its way down the shoreline looking for treats.



Near the junction of the inlet and river I saw this hawk on a low branch of a tree. It didn't seem to mind my taking several photos of it.



A super day on the river. I'm off camping again tomorrow (sans kayak this time, this park is better for hiking and spotting deer and other land critters). I hope to not be so long between paddling posts in the future!

Stand by.