Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Another Great Day on the Wacissa!

Rivers are the primal highways of life. From the crack of time,
they have borne men’s dreams, and in their lovely rush to elsewhere,
fed our wanderlust, mimicked our arteries, and charmed our imaginations
in a way the static pond or vast and savage ocean never could.
~Tom Robbins

We are still getting a wonderful break in the weather before the torrid heat of summer in Florida, and so I loaded up the boat and headed back to the Wacissa. I was surprised to be the only car in the lot when I arrived at about 11:00. I'm still trying to find the best new way to launch with the changes they made. This time I tried using the cart to get the boat to the normal sandy launch area, avoiding the concrete ramp altogether. It worked well.

Shortly after setting out, I saw the first wood duck babies of the day as this mother led a pair off the main river and into the reeds.



As I approached the Cassidy Spring area, I spotted this tricolored heron along the side of the river and paddled over to get a closer look.



It seemed much more interested in movement underwater than in my presence.



I watched for a while and then moved on. Look! A wood duck family out for a swim.


It's funny--last spring/summer I rarely saw any woodies, and this year they are showing up again.

Blue Spring was clearer than last time but still not back to normal clarity.

There were many, many green herons on the river on this day! Sometimes I saw two at a time in flight. For the most part they seem to stay in the grass and surface growth where the river meets the shoreline, which means they are often not easily accessible from a kayak; in some areas the lotuses and other greenery cover half the river surface--and those are difficult to paddle through when they get very thick. But then I came to this one on some branches near a clear area of shoreline.


I love it when they raise that topknot.



I paddled on downstream, the wind in my face but not too strong. I saw a small great blue heron standing near a vegetation island and paddled over to it. As I noticed last time I paddled this river, the small great blues are pretty timid right now. Knowing this, I didn't want to get too close. I sat still for a while. Finally, when I had him in focus for a nice portrait when he decided to go stand elsewhere.



So I continued on. At about 2:00 I decided to turn around and meander back to the boat ramp. Of course, as every paddler experiences on a regular basis, the wind turned when I did, so I was paddling into it in both directions. This happens with phenomenal frequency.

I noticed an interesting thing--many of the egrets, both great and snowy, were perched in trees. I don't recall seeing quite so many off the ground in the past.


But I did pass a pretty little snowy egret on the river.



I took several photos of him before he flew off--landing a few yards away.



I was paddling on the east side going upstream when I spotted a male wood duck on a log on the other side of the river. I didn't think there was much chance it would stay in place long enough for me to get close enough for a photo, but I paddled slowly over there anyway. It must have been dozing since I was able to get fairly close before it saw me.


I stopped moving at that point--wanting to stay within that fine line of getting close enough for a picture but not close enough to alarm or disturb it. It didn't seem overly disturbed and stayed on the log, at one point standing up to show off its beautiful colors from a different perspective.


I backed away from it and left it in peace to enjoy the sunshine on the log.

Once again I had not encountered another boat for hours, but as I approached the boat ramp to leave the river, I saw several other paddlers in both canoes and kayaks. An air boat was just leaving the ramp area--good timing on my part for getting off the water! I recently read that high noise levels are very disturbing to nesting birds. Given the number of young wood ducks (oh! I also saw very small baby moorhens on this trip but could not get any photos of them) and other nesting birds, this does not seem like an ideal place for boats on which the passengers must wear protection over their ears due to the excessively high and potentially damaging decibel level. Not to mention the fact that baby wood ducks or baby moorhens or gallinules that happen to be in the middle of the river and unable to fly yet could not possibly get out of the way of a speeding air boat in time not to be mowed under; add to that the fact that these young birds are colored for camouflage, not high visibility. I worry about them.

My time on the river was peaceful and bird-filled. I'll be back out soon. Stand by.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Herons and Babies on the Wacissa

It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds.
~Aesop

Another really great paddling day so I headed out to the Wacissa to see what I could see.

Lots of great blue herons, for one thing! (Or possibly the same few great blue herons spotted several times...) This one was posing at the river's edge:


Complete concentration--



However, he grew tired of my presence and left.



I paddled into Blue Spring. The water was very bizarre on this day--extremely cloudy and murky, you could not see more than a couple of feet into the spring. I've never seen it like that. We recently had very heavy rain, perhaps that has something to do with it.

On the way out I saw a yellow crowned night heron perched overhead in a tree:


...and then it saw me...



...and left. I continued on downstream. I was purposely ignoring the egrets, but then saw this one in a tree. Since it was in the shade and taking a quick photo would not require changing any camera settings, I went ahead and got one. Its left leg is hanging down but I don't think this is injury-related. I took this a bit on-the-fly as I drifted by, but I seem to recall that the egret was getting itself settled on the branch at the time, and moving around a bit. Could have been just stretching.



I got about two and a half miles downstream before I decided to turn around. At about that time I heard very quiet peeping coming from a tussock in the middle of the river, so I paddled over to see if I could locate the source.

Baby purple gallinules! And larger than I expected since this is my first sighting of any on this river. One adult and several babies were in one grassy clump, and another adult was with a single juvenile in another tussock about six feet away. I parked in the surface growth to keep from drifting away and concentrated on the single baby. Here it is with the adult--the white arrow points to the young'un:



Well, that adult flew off to the far edge of the river after I took that, leaving the little one all alone.



It decided to make its way across the water to join the rest of the family.


Whoops! Deep water!



It made it just fine and I moved on to leave them in peace.

A tricolored heron watched from a tree branch.



I continued upstream. For the first two hours of this paddle, I had not encountered any other humans at all, which was strange but delightful. I did pass other paddlers as the day went on, though.

Another great blue heron.



As I paddled upstream, I spotted a pair of wood ducks crossing from one side of the river to the other. I got too close for the female's comfort and she took off, leaving the male (you can see the splash that resulted from her exit directly in front of him).



He decided to join her and took off as well.


I continued upstream. Blue Spring was busier this time so I did not linger there. Back in the main river, I decided to take another lotus photo. Once I get these lotus photos home, I can't seem to leave them alone. Last time I applied a soft focus filter to it. This time I was going to post it after the usual processing....but on the way to doing that I ended up checking to see how it would look as a black-and-white. And so once again, a tweaked lotus.


They continue with the changes to the ramp area and now have set concrete posts in the ground to prevent vehicle access to the canoe/kayak launching area. The ramp was completely blocked by a group of FSU students collecting samples of something. Later in the summer, the ramp will be completely blocked by small children swimming, adults, and dogs (the new sign prohibiting dogs from this area is having no effect and will continue to have no effect since there is no one there to enforce it. I love dogs at all times except when I am in the kayak). I lucked out on this day since I spotted someone I knew in the grassy area and so could pull up to the old access and get help carrying the boat to the car.

I hope this wonderful weather continues for a while! Stand by.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Egrets on the Wakulla

Rivers are inherently interesting. They mold landscapes,
create fertile deltas, provide trade routes, a source for food and water;
a place to wash and play…
Rivers are the stuff of metaphor and fable, painting and poetry.
~Edward Gargan

A perfect paddling day! Blue skies, not too hot, a light breeze. So DH and I packed up the kayaks and headed to the Wakulla. Many other paddlers had the same idea, and yet we often had sections of river to ourselves.


I had expected to see a lot of gators on this trip but we only passed two small ones and one fairly large one. Here is one of the smaller ones watching us go by.



This river doesn't always have a lot of birds on it, and aside from the egrets, they were scarce today (I did see those two big mix-breed ducks again near the boat ramp, though--they must be pets, or at least fed regularly by someone; they seem somewhat out of place). It wasn't until we were drifting downstream from the upper ramp that I spotted the first egret. This one was off the main river and I loved the way a beam of sunlight came down and illuminated the bird


A little farther on we came to another egret fishing among the cypress trees and knees.



This one did not like being watched and decided to find a more private place to fish.



Buh bye...



This was my day for spotting things in small sections of sunlight. These gorgeous white flowers, which are scattered here and there along the river's edge, were shining brightly.



We were on the water so long we had to change our plans to continue on Hwy 98 to get some fresh shrimp to take home for dinner.

I hope to get back to the Wakulla again soon--this is an ideal time to be on the river. The banks are lined with white, purple, and pink blooming flowers and rushes and it's just beautiful. We were surprised not to see any manatees on this trip. We asked a few other paddlers if they had spotted any, and they also had not. Maybe next time.

I had planned to get back to Cedar Key this coming week but have postponed that trip. I intend to get out paddling on day trips, though. Stand by.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Back from NC and Back to the Wacissa!

Paint me a picture of the landscape. Dance me the dance of the waves.
Sing me the legends of the river.
~Unknown

I returned from North Carolina (photos and adventure tales are on Photo Miscellanea) and was ready to get back out paddling. And what a great day I had for it--warm and nearly windless!

They have made some changes at the Wacissa, effectively (for the time being) blocking off access to the preferred sandy canoe/kayak launching area, leaving only pavement and stones for launching (not surprising; the people who manage this head spring area are air boat and power boat folks and fairly clueless about the needs of paddlers). While it appears we will never again be able to drive right to the sandy launch area (which is probably as it should be, since that's the grassy area where people hang out during the summer), once they finish what they are doing, it may still be possible to drag a boat across the grass to launch in sand. They have covered all the sand next to the top of the boat ramp with large rocks, creating a problem for many kayak hulls (I could see no point in covering the sand with rocks...it was not eroding and gave us a place to enter and exit without having to drag across pavement) (but it's still just fine for air boats, which is the important thing). I guess we'll see what's what when they finish their project.

I decided to take a picture of the Mystic since I have not posted one for a while. This is #1 boat, I'm in the 4th year of paddling it and can't imagine a better boat for me.


(The new rocks are out of the photo in the foreground.)

Off I went. This limpkin was hanging out near the boat ramp.



I heard the distinctive roar of a gator within a few minutes of launching--this is their breeding period. I don't recall ever hearing that on this river before. It's a very eerie sound.

The snowy egrets are back along the edges near the top of the river,



as are the tricolored herons.



About two miles downstream I came to what I believe are the same two baby wood ducks pictured here before--still with no adults in sight. It seems they are doing all right for themselves so far...



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Of course there are egrets...and of course I can't help photographing them! I haven't gotten a photo of one staring right at me for a while, and I love it when they do that. Such a regal bird can look so goofy head-on.


I guess that one didn't like my being so close and so it took off. It didn't fly far, just a bit ahead before landing again.



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As I was paddling through the area where the moorhens and gallinules hang out, I saw this gallinule. I thought it was going to give me one of those comical runs across the surface but it opted to fly instead:


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I turned around shortly after that. The lotuses are blooming here and there on the river and I began to paddle toward one to get a photo. And guess what was next to some reeds? Finally! A green heron!



First one of the year, and the only one I saw on this day. I continued on to the lotus.


The trip back upstream was uneventful and simple, with only an occasional light breeze blowing toward me. Perfect paddling weather.

Shortly after passing Cassidy Spring I spotted this great blue heron (the only one of these on this day as well) along the river's edge.



Just past the heron I saw a yellow crowned night heron swoop into a tree from across the river. I pretty much chased this bird back and forth across the water for quite a while. This is also the only yellow crowned night heron I saw this day--and the first one I have seen for a long time. Lots of black crowned ones, but these have been oddly absent. The plume on the back of its head was unusually long, perhaps it is part of the seasonal breeding plumage. These are such impressive birds, and not typically as shy as this one.



I was out for a little over four hours. Nice to be back. I hope to get out paddling again soon to take advantage of our relatively balmy weather before the heat of summer sets in. Stand by.