Kayak Paddle Tales and Birdography
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Rising Water; Both Sides Now
To understand water is to understand the cosmos,
the marvels of nature, and life itself.
The plan for yesterday was to head out to the Wakulla in mid-morning to do some paddling. However, at 7 a.m. we got a call from our neighbor out at the Withlacoochee River, where we have some property with a travel trailer on it for the occasional weekend overnight (and eventually a retirement getaway). He was calling to inform us that the river level and our property were, well, almost the same. Fifteen minutes later I was in the car and headed out there (25 miles away). When I arrived, the hitch at the front of the trailer was underwater, so that was that for hauling it out of there. Our property is not level and so the doorway was still easily accessible, the water had not even reached the bottom of two steps. Two hours later, when I had moved everything out that I could and chained down assorted lawn and deck items so that they would not drift away, the water had reached the top step. During one trip to the car, parked by the road (the highest ground), another neighbor drove by (a permanent resident there) with his riding mower on a trailer, taking it to high ground. He said "If you had asked me yesterday if this could possibly happen overnight, I would have said no way!" It's been pouring rain all day today.
I got home at about 11:00 yesterday morning, having done all I could to secure things out there. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny. By the time I had something to eat and changed clothes, it was too late to go to the Wakulla, but fine for a Wacissa trip, so off I went.
When I stepped into the water to launch, the feeling of it closing over my feet was a familiar one, and it occurred to me that I had walked into two rivers that day.
The Wacissa is wonderfully and delightfully high. Still not back to where it was a few years ago but it was up at least 6" higher than it was last week. I did notice something new--the water in the first mile of river from the headspring is noticeably reddish; it looks like the Suwannee River. It's still clear, it's just rust-colored. This is probably related in some way to the sudden increase in the water table.
And spring is arriving! There were trees with bright red leaves lining each bank.
I saw these ibis along the river edge shortly after leaving the boat ramp.
I went into Blue Spring, of course. The gator was in his usual spot. And the black crowned night heron was there again--he's getting to be as much a regular sight in there as the gator. He was so intent on his fishing that he did not seem to even notice me paddling by. Love that long white strand coming out of the top of his head!
The water is so high now that one can now easily paddle through the back channel at the edge of the spring and come out on the river--it's been a long time since that has been passable.
Abby and I often refer to the seaweed harvesters that are a common sight on this river. Here's two of them at work.
I continued on downstream, into a light breeze. The shoreline of this river is perfect nature.
I passed a group of cormorants sunning themselves in the middle of the river.
Kayak? What kayak? I don't see a kayak.
I was going to get out at Calico Hill boat ramp to stretch before returning upstream but a powerboater passed me and landed there so I decided to just make a U-turn and head back. The wind had picked up a bit but was still blowing upstream, which is always nice.
While I spotted only one great blue heron, which flew into the woods as I approached, I did see several little blue herons here and there.
So then I came to this egret. I had resisted taking egret photos up to that point but it was so pretty in the leaves, I couldn't resist (if you are a new visitor to this blog, you can see egret photos in nearly every post...).
I decided to zoom in on him and take a close-up. And then several things happened at once. I zoomed in the lens at the same time that a gust of wind blew me rapidly toward the egret. This startled it and it raised its wings, catching that gust of wind for a nearly vertical take-off. I pressed the shutter, knowing that there was no way it was in the frame. I kind of like the way it shows the bird's neck, so I am posting it. I call this "Egret Flies Out Of The Photo"
Or maybe it's flying into the photo.
On the way back upstream I passed another black crowned night heron perched on a log.
It was a great paddling day. While the rising Withlacoochee water is causing a real problem for us, the rising Wacissa is joyful. The river is coming back!
Meanwhile, I hope to make that Wakulla trip soon. Stand by.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Paddling Day on the Wacissa River
O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?
~Percy Bysshe Shelley
The weather graced us with enough warmth and sunshine for a paddling day, so off I went to the Wacissa. When I got to the ramp, one air boat had just come in and another was heading out, which was not a good sign. As it turned out, when it passed me a few hours later it flushed out a great blue heron, which almost resulted in a nice flight photo for me.
And speaking of great blue herons, this one was getting some sun in the reeds along the bank near the boat ramp.
As I paddled toward Blue Spring, I spotted three others paddlers near Cassidy Spring, two of them in the longest tandem kayak I have ever seen. The other paddler was in a single kayak. I had stopped to sneak up on an ibis, which put me across the river from them. The ibis flew off--
--and I turned to continue downstream, glancing over toward the other paddlers. The guy in the single kayak was headed my way. He said "I'm coming over to admire your kayak" so of course I stopped. In fact, I also admired his. He was in a Kevlar Gulfstream by Current Designs. It's longer than my 14' Mystic by about 2 feet, but we both noticed how very similar they are in shape. In fact, the only external difference I noted was that the Gulfstream has a slightly raised deck just forward of the cockpit whereas the Mystic deck is level. He said that he preferred a higher deck since he had been having trouble with his legs falling asleep in his previous kayak. (I'm not sure how the raised deck would affect that.) Regardless, that is an excellent boat. I asked him how long the tandem was and he said 22'--evidently he owns that boat as well. I had thought it was even longer. We talked briefly about how few birds there were on the river that day (I was soon to find this out), and then went our separate ways.
The Blue Spring gator is still there.
Of course there are egrets on the river and you know I can't resist the challenge of an egret on a sunny day. This one was on a log at the edge of the river.
It left as I approached it.
A very strong and chilly wind came up when I was a little over 2 miles from the boat ramp. Luckily, it was blowing upstream. I battled it for a while and continued downstream. The cold air blowing in my face made my eyes water, which in turn made my nose run copiously. Mostly for this reason I opted to turn around. It blew me rapidly upstream. And there were unusually few birds on the river.
I hadn't seen any otters, either, until I was very close to the boat ramp and came upon this one.
It swam off nonchalantly when it saw me.
It went into the surface greenery, which gave me my favorite photo of the day. In Where's Waldo style, can you find the otter face in the leaves?
They are just so cute!
This was not the best paddling day I have had on this river, but it was nice to get back out in the boat. As I write this the next morning, the rain has been falling for a few hours. Sigh.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Not Paddling at Keaton Beach
Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air…
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I decided to take a drive on a sunny day to Keaton Beach on the Gulf of Mexico to check it out for paddling access--it was another cold day so I went sans kayak. I remembered that there was a small sandy beach there (you'd think that was obvious from the name, but on this same day I discovered that the nearby community of Cedar Island is not, in fact, on an island) that might work well as a launch point.
It probably would work well, but all in all I think I would prefer to access the Gulf from St. Marks NWR, which is about the same distance from my home. I enjoyed spending time in Keaton Beach, though. As often happens, I find that seaside photos lend themselves to black-and-white or tinted renderings, as is the case here. There are shelters set up for picnicking and escape from the sun.
While I was on the beach, the gulls came in:
hoping, of course, for a handout.
This one showed me how it could make its shadow look like a bunny...
There was a fishing boat resting askew in the water at the far end of the beach. Given that it seemed to be close to high tide, I'm not sure how they are going to get it out of there (tow it, I guess).
I walked up the road a short distance to a small marina/RV campground to get a bottle of water. While I was at the counter I noticed a great blue heron on their dock outside. I asked the woman if I could go back there to take some photos and she said that would be fine.
While I was photographing the heron, I spotted a pelican sitting high in a tree over the little channel that connects the marina to the Gulf. As I was watching it, another one came in
and landed on a branch,
which of course dipped and swayed under its weight (the white areas are droppings on the leaves--evidence that these pelicans spend a lot of time on these branches...). It did some wing-flapping trying to get a secure perch
and finally settled.
All this activity sent the heron packing.
I took one more photo at the beach before leaving.
This area definitely would work as a paddling destination, and the town itself is very picturesque, if small.
Hopefully we will warm up eventually and I can get back out paddling. Think Spring. And stand by.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Lake Talquin from Pat Thomas Park
A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature.
It is earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures
the depth of his own nature.
~Henry David Thoreau
It's been quite a while since I paddled from this park. I decided to take the Riot Stealth kayak this time.
I don't use this boat very much, although it is a wonderfully comfortable and stable rec boat; it tracks very well and is made of durable material that can handle concrete ramps. If that sounds like an ad, there's a reason--it's for sale now (since I don't use it much). If anyone reading this happens to be in the market for a new kayak of this type, email me at the address in the sidebar of this blog.
When I got to the lake, the water was calm and there was no wind. I set off to the right, which is the less populated direction. The water is coffee-with-a-little-cream colored and for the most part, except very near the shoreline, you cannot see the bottom. Quite a contrast to the spring-fed rivers I spend most of my time on.
I startled two deer that were drinking at the water's edge--all I saw were two white tails darting into the woods. There were many anhingas and cormorants in the water and trees. I paddled to where the lake extends into a finger to the right and followed that channel. I have previously spotted a huge gator back in this secluded area. This time a large (but not huge) one that was sunning on the bank slid into the water as I approached. It's very pretty and peaceful back in that area. There were very few boats on the lake at all, and none at that end. When it started to narrow past the point of comfort, I turned around. On my way out I spotted this hawk in a tree and paddled over to watch it.
It did not seem to mind my being nearby, and became very interested in some movement in the water below it.
I watched a while more and then moved on. The wind got a little stronger, and with that of course came the waves. Lake paddling is very different from river paddling.
I spotted this very large turtle, which I believe is some type of snapping turtle, on the trunk of a tree that had fallen and was lying horizontally in the water.
The great blue herons were doing an excellent job of concealing themselves along the shoreline; they blend in very well. Usually they were long gone before I could get the camera on them, but this one flew into the lake and settled on an underwater log or piling (it's not that the lake is that shallow!).
On the way back to the boat ramp I passed several of these little birds. The photo is less sharp than I would prefer...at this point I was bobbing like a cork in the waves!
So then this large flock of white birds flew over the water and settled some distance from me. I had forgotten my binoculars so I couldn't see what they were, and they were far enough away that in order to get close to them I would have to paddle into the path of any power boats that might appear. I've already had one close call with a power boat on this lake, and once was enough so I tend to stay close to the shoreline. I took the photo anyway. I believe these were white pelicans, which my book says "colonize on large inland lakes"--which fits Lake Talquin. They were too light to be brown pelicans.
I was out for several hours. Here's the view of the boat ramp from the water, taken on my way back in.
Paddling the lake was a nice change of scenery and I plan to go back again later in the spring. Meanwhile, I'll be getting to a river again soon. Stand by.
Saturday, February 09, 2008
All Egrets, All the Time
He who finds a thought that enables him to obtain a slightly deeper
glimpse into the eternal secrets of nature has been given great grace.
I was settled in on the couch yesterday morning with my coffee and plans to watch a previously-recorded TV show. I got as far as the opening credits when I happened to glance out the window. Hmm, blue sky, sunshine, and the tops of the trees aren't moving...what happened to the wind? I went outside to check out the weather and abruptly changed my morning plans. The boat was still loaded in the car from the last trip, so it wasn't long before I was on the road for a return trip to the Wacissa.
It was warm on the river with barely a breeze. The water was back to being calm as glass, and paddling was easy.
I spotted an egret along the shoreline near Cassidy Spring. I informed it out loud and in no uncertain terms that I was not going to take its picture; I have enough egret photos, thank you very much. It took off. I took its picture.
I paddled into Blue Spring. It took me a while to find the gator that is always at the spring--it was fairly well camouflaged by the green surface flora and the leaves on the bank.
I drifted downriver with the current. I spotted this moorhen and felt certain it was going to run across the water as I approached, so I focused on it and waited. It never fled, but it was so pretty in the sun that I took the photo anyway.
There was quite a gathering in the middle of the river.
I got close to the Calico Hill boat ramp before I decided to turn around and make my way back upstream.
I was wondering where the otters that are usually in this area were. It didn't take long to find them--or for them to find me. They peered at me over the surface plants.
I had time, I was not fighting any current, so I followed them to the river edge, where they disappeared amongst some reeds. I paddled through the clumps of reeds (I'm sure there's a better name than "clumps" but I can't think of it right now) to see if I could find them. This one seemed surprised to see me.
Two more were near the river's edge. I sat there in the boat taking photo after photo of them, and they pretty much just stared back at me. I think they are getting used to paddlers and don't feel too threatened by us.
After taking many pictures, I thanked them and moved on to leave them alone.
I came to another egret. I explained that really, I didn't need any more egret photos right now. It flew off. I took a few photos of it as it went.
(I think I have egretitis--the inability to not take photos of egrets, particularly when they spread their wings and fly away. I'm not sure if there is a treatment or cure for this.)
As I was attempting to sneak up on a male wood duck (yeah...dream on) near Cassidy Spring on my way upstream, I spotted this black crowned night heron.
And then who should appear but more otters!
I was a little disapppointed that I had not gotten any great blue heron photos. You wouldn't know it from how egret-intensive my posts are, but they are my favorite birds, whether they are standing still or flying. I rarely see any upriver of Cassidy so I had given up on them for this day. But to my surprise, there was one standing at the edge of the river. I paddled slowly toward it, hoping to not scare it away before I was close enough. I almost made it. And I ended up with a somewhat unusual capture of a bird taking off.
They really have almost no bodies at all...they are all wings and legs.
I hated to leave the river but it was getting late in the day.
I'll be back next time I get out paddling. Stand by.