Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Paddling Access at Wakulla Beach / St. Marks NWR

Never a ship sails out of the bay
But carries my heart as a stowaway.
~Roselle Mercier Montgomery

When I first started this blog, I intended it to be a source of information for other paddlers regarding boat ramps, water conditions, shoreline conditions, and anything else I thought would be of use. In a very short time I realized that since I generally paddle the same waters, unless I changed the nature of the blog, it wouldn't get many updates. So it sort of morphed into a photo blog, even when I wrote about new destinations.

It's still way too cold to paddle here for this Florida wimp, so yesterday I decided to investigate an access point to the Gulf that I had heard about but never seen. Getting back to the blog roots, let me tell you all about it, in case you are in the area.

It's a small beach at the end of Wakulla Beach Road. If you are going west on Hwy 98, it is the first marked dirt road to the left after you cross the bridge over the Wakulla River. I can't help much if you are coming east on 98--except to say that if you get to the river, you passed it...

The road is flat, graded, and sandy. We have had a lot of rain lately and there was standing water along the sides of Hwy 59 and areas of 98, but Wakulla Beach Rd. was dry. You will drive on it for about 3.5 miles, give or take. There are a few houses in the beginning. It may say something about the area that most of them are behind very high cast iron fences and gates. After about 2 miles, you will enter St. Marks NWR land. I drove very slowly through that part since it seemed so likely that a deer--or better yet a bear--might show up. I don't think this road gets much traffic, particularly near the end. No deer or bears showed up today, though.

It dead-ends at the little beach. The tide was all the way out when I was there, so I'm not sure how big the beach is at high tide. It was a beautiful spot. Here's the beach:



Walking down to the water and looking to the right shows you this:



while the view to the left is this:



I walked all the way to the back of the cleared area, with the hope of getting the beach along with the road, which is on the left here, into the photo, but couldn't quite fit it all (even using a wide-angle lens...). And since I had not planned this photo when I parked, this looks like an ad for Nissan.



There are sandy trails blocked to vehicles along the shoreline, similar to those near the lighthouse at the refuge park. I also found this trail, also with posts to block vehicles, that led into the flat area in a direction away from the Gulf:



I didn't follow it. This is an extremely isolated area and I didn't want to get too far from the car. In fact, while I would love to paddle from here, I would not do so alone. I did spend a fair amount of time near the water, though, since the road is visible from there. It was one of the most peaceful spots I have visited for a while. There was a light breeze blowing the water and so little wavelets were breaking on the sand. There were some shorebirds. There were no man-made sounds. I was very glad to be there.

These two young ibis were wandering around near the beach and in fact didn't seem to mind my presence much.



While I would not recommend this to women paddling alone (there is a trash can there, on top of which was a large empty bottle of vodka. Don't you want to be alone in this spot when some guys who just knocked that off show up?), if you have at least one partner, you might want to check this out. Or if you are in the area and want to visit a peaceful place on the Gulf, which I am guessing is unoccupied 98% of the time, take a drive down Wakulla Beach Road.

I left there and decided to go to the NWR park since I nearly pass it on the way home. Because of our recent rains, there was more water in the various pools than last time I was there, though not nearly as much as there used to be. These egrets were lined up in the pool near the lighthouse:



The largest of those looked a bit cold, with the wind ruffling its feathers.



There were some teal ducks that I wanted to show you....but this was the only view I got of them. They were kind of busy.



This great blue heron was looking out over one of the small pools near the lighthouse.



These brown crow-like birds (should have asked Steve for an ID before I wrote this!) are always hanging out near the lighthouse parking lot.



--



I walked the trail around the large central pool. As I was approaching the boat ramp, I saw a very welcome sight! A tricolored heron!



This one was very actively fishing in the shallow water along the edge. More feather-ruffling when the wind was behind it.



As I was driving out to go home, I saw a guy standing by the side of the road with a camera. I slowed down to see what he was photographing; I ended up out of my car so I could get a picture of it, too. I would have said it was too cold a day for gators to be out in the wind.



What? You'd like to get a little closer? Okay.



A bit farther down the road, near another of the little pools, I saw a lone pelican swimming around.



More cold weather and more rain is on the way. I'll be back when I get out again. Stand by.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Very Peaceful, If Gray, Day on the Wacissa

A man of wisdom delights in water.
~Confucius


This was the kind of day that in any month other than January or February, I would have found something else to do. The blue sky was completely covered by clouds of varying colors of gray, letting no sunshine through. On the other hand, it was warm outside. I'll take overcast and warm over sunny and cold any time.

I didn't expect much from this trip, and yet, as often happens, it turned out to be one of the best for a long time. For the first two hours I had the river to myself except for one lone seaweed harvester. And the birds. This day's photos are a bit darker than usual, given the lack of sunshine.

This great blue heron was hanging out near the boat ramp area.



And of course there were many of the little sandpipers on the surface greenery and swooping through the air. You can tell during the summer that I am itchy to get some photos when I resort to taking moorhen pictures; in the winter that holds true for these sandpipers.



This was the first time I have had any luck getting one in flight--they are fast!



And off it sailed over the river. I like this photo because it gives you a sense of what the day and the water looked like.



There is a flock of ibis that can often be found on the river at the entrance to Blue Spring, and they were there on this day.



I went into the spring; very quiet, but no wildlife in sight.

There was absolutely no wind for the entire drift downstream, and the current was light enough that occasionally I had to put my paddle in the water just to maintain any forward momentum. For much of the time there were no man-made sounds at all (until a plane would fly over...). It was wonderful.

I think my favorite breeding plumage on the birds I typically encounter is that on the great egret. Those long wispy feathers are so beautiful.



That particular egret flew off shortly after I took the above photo, plumage waving in the wind behind it.



I turned around before reaching the Calico Hill boat ramp. For a while it was becoming as dark as it is an hour after sunset, though it was only about 3:00, and I didn't want to get too far downstream. The otter group that hangs out in that area showed up.



They swam into some greenery and took a better look at me.



As I was passing the Blue Spring inlet on my way back to the boat ramp, I saw a paddler coming out of it in a long envy-worthy QCC kayak. We talked for a while and then he headed downstream while I continued upstream.

There were cormorants here and there; this pair taking a rest.



As I neared Cassidy Spring on my way back upstream, some movement in the cypress trees at water level along the river's edge caught my eye so I paddled over for a closer look. A black crowned night heron was perched along the trunk of a tree, staring intently into the water.



I watched for a while and at one point it looked like it had caught something, but apparently was just having a drink.



(In a previous version of this post that bird was identified as a yellow crowned night heron. Force of habit on my part--I have only ever seen one other black crowned night heron, so when I see the white topknot and orange eyes, I think yellow-crowned. Thanks, Steve!)

Another (or the same) great egret with plumage waving in the breeze was posing for me in the middle of the river.



I paddled along the east side of the river as I got closer to the ramp, looking for the raccoon I had spotted before. No sign of it, but I did see a small limpkin.



The other paddler, Mike, caught up to me at about that point and we paddled together to the boat ramp and chatted some more. He offered to let me take the QCC out for a short spin--had it not been getting late in the day, I would have taken him up on it. Since they are made to order and not available in stores (except the rare used one), this is not something I get a chance to do often. Next time!

It was a great day on the river! I hope to get back out soon. Stand by.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Too Cold to Paddle!

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea
are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us
more than we can ever learn from books.
~Sir John Lubbock

Brrrr, this weather makes me want to move to Florida! Oh, wait....I'm in Florida. I'll be surprised if I get out on water this week at all. But that doesn't mean this blog has to languish; I still have several unposted photos from previous trips to show you.

I think I miss the green herons most of all this time of year. They have a distinctive call (sounds like this) and of course the wonderful expanding neck. And that topknot that they occasionally show you...



At all times of the year you can see egrets flying over the Wacissa.



When Abby and I paddled the Wacissa last week we saw several otters. In fact, it's becoming rare to spend any time at all paddling that river and not encounter at least one.



My thanks to Matt for the flattering designation of "Photo Blog of the Week" and to Denise for her kind words. My apologies to any new visitors for the sluggish updating right now; paddling trips are a tad fewer and farther between than they will be later in the year when we warm up a little.

Stand by.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Back to Health and Back to the Wacissa

Rivers are exquisite in their abilities to nurture life, sublime in functioning detail,
impressive in contributions of global significance.
~Tim Palmer

My sore throat is abating (thanks for all the get-well wishes!) and this was the only day this week that the weather was going to be even close to acceptable (a very subjective opinion; my brother in Ohio would probably be delighted to paddle in such temps in January...), so off I went. I got on the river at about 12:30.

The river was fairly bird-free on this day, they were probably hunkered down within the shelter of the woods. It was quite windy. This egret was braving the wind to stand at river's edge near the boat ramp.



I paddled into Blue Spring. The spring was beautiful, as usual, but there were no birds or otters in there, so I left.

Abby had indicated that she might be able to get to the river at around 1:00, so when I came out of the inlet, I looked for her upstream. Sure enough, there was another paddler. Given the conditions, I knew it had to be her so I started paddling back upstream. We met about halfway between the ramp and the spring, and then continued on downstream.

I think we actually saw the same two birds over and over today. I think this egret, now perched on a rock, is the same one that was further upstream earlier.



We were not out long. The brisk wind was blowing downstream and we didn't want to have to battle it very far on the way back upstream. This great blue heron flew by from one side of the river to the other.


And so we paddled over to get a photo of it standing on the edge (having been out for hours, consoling ourselves for the lack of birds by discussing all the birds that will be back lining this river in a few short months (green herons, tricolored herons, little blue herons, ibis, and more), we were getting desperate to point the camera at something, and did not mind pursuing it back and forth across the water).

The heron posed, mouth open again, on the side.



Eventually I suppose the two kayaks parked close by made it nervous, so off it went to escape us once again.



On the way upstream we pulled into Blue Spring just to get out of the wind for a bit.

(I like this one better as a black-and-white...)

And then it was back to the boat ramp. As we approached, we spotted a couple of cormorants in the water. They swam around until we got too close for their comfort and then took off, in that somewhat clumsy manner that cormorants have during take-off.



It was nice to be out again. Hopefully we will have warmer weather soon for another trip. Stand by.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Argh

Nothing is softer or more flexible than water,
yet nothing can resist it.
~Lao Tzu

This morning dawned Perfect Paddling Day Four, while I remain languishing at home with what may or may not be strep throat. I'm voting for not; the culture has been taken and I am tossing back antibiotics, which are having no effect whatsoever on the excruciating experience that is swallowing. At this rate, it will be well into next week before I can even think about getting out.

Meanwhile, during those times I am not in a Nyquil buzz (the only relief is in sleep, not to belabor the suffering aspect of this. I don't do well at being sick, as you may have gathered), I surf around other paddling sites. I came to Dave's Yak Tales, which has the best underwater manatee photos I have ever seen. Drop by; tell him I sent you. Depending on how often he posts after this one, you may have to scroll down the first page to get to the manatees.

Surely I will get over this eventually and get back out paddling. Stand by.