Thursday, August 28, 2008

Finally Back on the Water!

The secret of success is to be in harmony with existence,
to be always calm, to let each wave of life wash us
a little farther up the shore.
~Cyril Connolly

The original plan was to wait until Friday to go out, the day with the best weather forecast. But it seems that carpe diem is the way to go right now in Florida, so I loaded up the boat and headed to the Wacissa.

My car was the only one in the parking lot when I got there mid-morning. This seemed odd since it was such a beautiful day. Perhaps river conditions were keeping the fishermen away. And river conditions were unlike any I have encountered here before! Essentially all the surface growth that was crowding the center of the river is gone. Cassidy Spring is almost a gaping inlet. I was able to paddle into an area north of Blue Spring that has never been accessible before due to an expanse of lily pads and leaves. I commented a month or two ago to Janice that even though there are few actual landmarks on the river, we had paddled it so often that we could just glance at the shape of the shoreline and know precisely where we were on the river. Not so these days! In some places the river is more than twice as wide as usual, and there are new inlets opened up in several spots.

The water was muddy brown everywhere, and the current near the top stronger than I am used to. None of this diminished the joy of being back on the Wacissa! And the birds seem to be just fine. One difference in the wildlife since the storm is that I saw not only many, many more gators than usual, but the ones in the first half-mile were significantly larger than I have seen here before. They were everywhere--floating in surface growth near the edge, basking on logs, and swimming in the water. I suspect that as the water overflowed the banks and crept through the woods it ran into small ponds and other places these gators were living and they simply migrated through it to the Wacissa. As the water recedes from the woods, I guess they will have a new home...

I saw lots of snowy egrets, one of my favorite birds. This was the first, perched on a branch.

It watched me go by,

and then left.

Here's one of the larger gators I spotted--I wish I could have gotten its face in the photo--it was quite a handsome fellow! I decided not to paddle over to move the branches blocking it, though.

I was eager to see what was going on at Blue Spring so I crossed to that side (I had been zig-zagging back and forth--no reason not to, I seemed to have the whole river to myself at that point...just me and the gators...). I had noticed some belted kingfishers swooping around--they haven't been present for a while, something I hadn't realized until I saw them. As I reached the entrance to the inlet that leads to the spring, right where it leaves the main river, I saw two kingfishers flying back and forth across the inlet (oh, and to those familiar with this intersection of the river and the inlet--you know that tree limb that sticks out right at that intersection, the one that birds perch on (not the one farther along that everyone takes photos of)? Well, the water is so high now that you can almost touch the limb as you paddle beneath it), and so I decided to pull into the surface vegetation to get out of the current and see if I could get a photo of them. As I slowed down, I very carefully examined the surface and about an inch above for the distinctive tail and spine ridges of a gator that might be dozing there. The surface looked clear so I continued to drift to a stop.

And almost bumped right into a juvenile purple gallinule that I had not seen when I was focused on only looking for gray ridges. The bird didn't fly away, didn't even run away. It simply took a few steps to the side and stopped about a foot to the left of my bow. It looked at me with what appeared to be mostly curiosity and very little concern. So I took a lot of pictures of it. At one point it fluffed its feathers out--I'm not sure if that was supposed to scare me or if it was just fluffing. Doing so revealed the beautiful coloration below the somewhat drab brown top feathers.



The kingfishers had moved on, but I had had more fun with the little gallinule anyway. I backed very slowly away; it stayed there as I paddled on into the inlet.

The spring looked completely strange, given that it was all completely mud-brown. Looking across it from afar showed a little blue color but it was pure brown when I got there. There were several great egrets along the perimeter.

I decided to try paddling out the back way, since I knew it would be deeper and wider than the last time I tried. This tricolored heron perched on the tree branch that spans the entrance and watched me paddle below.

I got most of the way through without any wildlife sightings when I came to a fallen tree trunk that went from one side to the other and was only about a half-inch below the water. I decided not to try to scoot over it and instead turned around. As I got back to the entrance to the spring, a tricolored heron was fishing off to the side (probably the one that had watched me go in, and had probably been thinking "Not gonna make it....I'll see you in a few minutes..."

I continued paddling downstream. This was a familiar sight on this day:

I turned around in the usual place, except that this time I didn't have to work my way through surface growth to get to the other side!

You know I am not going to have a post here that does not include one of the larger egrets!

This was also a big day for photographing tricoloreds, this one squawking at me as I passed.

I took one final snowy egret photo before storm clouds moved quickly in and I had to get back to the boat ramp pronto.

It was so wonderful to be back on the Wacissa. I hope to return soon, weather permitting. Stand by.


Vicki said...

Hi Peggy,
Glad to see you got out for some paddling. Pictures as always are wonderful. I am jealous. Vicki

Moultrie Creek said...

I'm so jealous. My husband was out today with his fishing pole - not his camera, but I was stuck at work. I've gotten a few good shots of our little creek ( while walking the dog, but nothing like these beautiful photos.