Thursday, June 26, 2008

Herons Before The Rain

Rain showers my spirit
and waters my soul.

~Emily Logan Decens

Seemed like I had plenty of time to get in some paddling before the predicted, and customary for this time of year, storms began. Turned out not to be plenty.

But I had some time on the river and many other paddlers had made the same plan for this Thursday morning. It was wonderful to see canoes and kayaks dotting the river ahead of me as I launched.

First bird for today was a green heron that was fishing alongside the river. Oh, hi there!



He (she?) didn't seem concerned and continued fishing in the shallow water.



I went into Blue Spring behind four other paddlers. They stopped in the spring; I decided to paddle out through the back stream. As I got to the intersection of the little stream and the river, I saw an egret ahead of me. Could be a good photo opportunity (if not rare), so I got the camera ready. At about that time two paddlers were passing by on their way downstream (I had chatted with them before, possibly a father and son out for a morning paddle). The egret had me coming up behind it and those two ahead of it and decided to go somewhere else. A somewhat "you are there" photo.



I continued downstream but heard thunder nearby. Maybe it would be a good time to turn around.

Shortly after making my turn, I came to a bird that has been conspicuous in its absence. We have so many little blue herons on this river. I have been puzzled by the lack of juveniles. And then here was this one, standing in the middle of the river.



I was very happy to see the otters again--I also saw them last time I was here. I wasn't close enough to photograph them, but it was nice to see those little brown heads popping up out of the water! We were a little concerned that they may have met with foul play when they seemed to have disappeared.

While the distant thunder was still going on, the dark gray clouds hadn't arrived yet and so I decided to take one more quick look into the Blue Spring inlet. Hope for a male wood duck sighting springs eternal. No luck there, but I did find this ibis along the edge.



As I was leaving the spring (via the normal route this time), I came to a tricolored heron. Here it is, looking very stately.



I parked over by the side and watched it for a while. Sometimes these birds do a sort of half-fly, half-run across the surface for a few feet; I'm not sure why or what this accomplishes. This one was doing that a lot.



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And then I noticed that the gray clouds were considerably closer so I hastened back to the boat ramp, along with everyone else who had been paddling at the time--it looked like the end of a race! It was drizzling a bit when I got out. When I pulled out of the parking lot it was a downpour and a few miles later it was a full-fledged thunderstorm. Seems that once again my timing was good...

You know, I have mentioned this before--these photos look different on every monitor, and so I don't know what you are seeing. I have switched systems for processing photos and for posting here. As far as I can tell, this means that the newer (therefore brighter) your monitor, the closer you are to seeing what I intended. If the photos either look brighter or dimmer than you recall in previous posts, that's why. It's amazing to me the difference between my two monitors. Backgrounds and their colors are missing on the older one. ARGH. Anyway, if you noticed a difference, that's why. I hope if you did notice it, it was for the better!

I'll be back. Stand by.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Study of Birds

When despair for the world grows in me...I go and lie down
where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of
wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
~Wendell Berry

I headed out to the Wacissa yesterday morning with an agenda. I was going to enjoy paddling on my favorite river and, though of course I had the camera with me, I was not going to pursue any photos. Except for a few subjects I don't commonly capture. That was the plan.

First stop was Cassidy Spring. Abby has gotten some fantastic photos of the baby barred owls that hang around the spring. On my previous trip I had spent considerable time at the spring; I heard the young ones whistling but never saw them. On this day I heard them again and parked in the shade to see if they would fly onto a nearby branch.

About 20 minutes later they started moving around. I was able to paddle over to the edge and see this one in a tree. It saw me, too.



And of course a classic profile:



I moved on after that. I was still with my agenda, since the owls were on my list of rare photo subjects.

My agenda didn't last long (in fact, I commonly get home with 55-60 photos in the camera. Yesterday, on my non-photography day, I came home with 71). The egrets seemed put off by my ignoring them and insisted on flying around me. This one zoomed by on my right so I sighed, picked up the camera, made a few setting adjustments, and caught it just as it was landing near some grass ahead of me.



I continued drifting on my path, which of course took me directly toward the bird. It walked around the grass but then decided maybe I was getting a little too close.


Needless to say, egrets were not on my "seldom taken" list of photo subjects. So much for the agenda!

But young moorhens or gallinules were. At about the point I was going to turn around (about less than half the distance I usually paddle in cool weather) I heard that distinctive peeping sound near the shoreline. I drifted over that way and saw a family of moorhens. These two youngsters were coming out of the safety of the vegetation to cross a small patch of water and join an adult.



I turned around and headed back upstream. One advantage to turning around so soon is that there is very little current to battle going back upstream. I heard some more peeping. I was paddling on the east side of the river, which has a lot of reedy tussocks and little sections of water off the main river. A small gator was lying in the surface vegetation near the entrance to the little inlet area from which the peeping emanated. That doesn't bode well for the little ones! I paddled through the reeds into a small pool of open water. I parked there and watched the reeds, waiting to see if the little peepers would emerge. (The gator was on the other side of heavy vegetation and well out of sight.)

While I was sitting there motionless, a tricolored heron flew in and landed on a log very near me.


Uh oh, it spots me sitting there.



It responded by fluffing its feathers.



I didn't move and I guess I was dismissed as non-threatening, since the heron started walking back and forth on the log looking for goodies in the water.



After a while, though, it decided to leave,



and I did the same.

As I approached the boat ramp area I passed many snowy egrets, including this one that was doing some fishing.



It didn't seem to mind my being there and posed nicely for me (my least rarely-photographed bird, I think!).



It didn't mind as I got closer,



and closer still.


Wonderful bird; I got about a dozen photos of it while it just stood there, and in fact it was still there when I left to continue upstream. (It's probably still there.)


I hadn't expected to get many, if any, photos since I was not looking for photo ops. This river always provides such wonderful opportunities that it's impossible to resist! I guess I will save the paddling-only agenda for rivers with less abundant wildlife...

Trips may be less frequent as the heat becomes more oppressive, though. Stand by.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Great Day in the Morning!

It is only when we silence the blaring sounds of
our daily existence that we can finally hear
the whispers of truth that life reveals to us,
as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts.
~K.T. Jong

Now this is a river to paddle on! I was on the water before 10:00, which is almost required in Florida summers. It was very comfortable. Two paddlers had launched a little before me and were drifting downstream watching the birds.

My first bird of the day was this limpkin. I hear them every time I paddle this river but lately they have been staying off the river and in the woods, most likely with little ones.


I drifted on. The snowy egrets can mostly be found in the first half-mile of river. This one was on the south side, watching for lunch from a perch on an exposed limb.



It surprised me by taking off, they are usually very tolerant of paddlers.



I saw several great blue herons today. This one was near the entrance to Cassidy Spring.



I sat for a while watching it and taking photos. Eventually it left.




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You know, so many of the flying great blue heron photos that I post are taken shortly after they have taken off, so their necks are extended. But they don't typically fly that way. Once they are aloft, they tuck their neck into their body. Later in the day I took some of a great blue as it flew by me, with its neck already pulled in:



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I went into Blue Spring, of course. I almost passed this green heron without seeing it in amongst the leaves.



Apparently I was not perceived as a threat, as it went on preening as I parked near it over the spring.



I went out the back way of the spring. Couldn't resist doing a video, which is at the bottom of this post. Once back on the river, I continued downstream.

This pretty little wood duck was swimming alone near the shoreline.


And then it was time to turn around; the sun was making it a bit warm. I doubt I had even gone 2 miles at that point.

I can never resist taking turtle pictures when they stay on the logs as I go by.



And of course I can also never resist taking photos of great egrets, as regular readers know. This one was posing nicely.



It took off as I approached, circling back to fly past me. With that huge wing span, making a tight turn in the air is quite an accomplishment.



And off it went.



Shortly after I passed the Blue Spring inlet, I heard an osprey. They are not seen as often on this river as on the Wakulla. This one was perched in a tree. I sat beneath it for a while to see if it would fly. Eventually it took off. It wasn't until I checked the photo in the camera's LCD screen that I noticed it had something in its claws.



It flew across the river to a high branch of a tree and sat there for a while. I continued slowly upstream. As I got about even with it, it took off again. Still had its catch with it...



And on to the boat ramp. This tricolored heron was just leaving the surface vegetation across from the ramp area when I got there.


This was a fantastic day! As mentioned above, I took a video of my passage through the narrow stream that links the back of Blue Spring to the main river. It took about 8 minutes to paddle through it--that time flies when you are there looking from side to side into the woods and enjoying the ride, but that's a bit long for a video of the experience. So I shortened it to the middle section of the stream. Shortly after an ibis appears on the left you will hear two clicks, which are my camera shutter releasing. Unfortunately those photos didn't make the cut to this post. Right after that, a wood duck flies from right to left, and then the ibis leaves. One thing I like about this video is that it gives you an idea of the sounds I appreciate while I am paddling. If you read about the sports-event-level noise I recently encountered on the Wakulla (previous post), this may give you an idea of my preferred sound level. This river sounds like this most of the time (on weekdays, absent air boats or an unusual number of power boats...). (NOTE: Weirdly, I just reviewed this video and when the volume is up I hear a strange pulsing mechanical sound. I can only imagine that is a camera function. Sounds downright alien. If you get that, turn the volume down!)



I hope to get out again this week. Stand by.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Short Day on Wakulla River

See how nature--trees, flowers, grass--grows in silence;
See the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence.
We need silence to be able to touch souls.
~Mother Teresa


I hadn't been to this river for a while. The weather forecast called for thunderstorms in the afternoon so I got another early start yesterday (Friday) morning.

This osprey was in its nest very high up in a tree just north of the boat ramp off Hwy. 98.



I once again had my typical Wakulla experience. A very large group of college girls was renting canoes at the livery next to the boat ramp (which, by the way, no longer allows anyone but customers to use its restrooms, so if you are taking your own boat to the public ramp, make that stop elsewhere before you get there). They ended up in five canoes behind me. They were extremely vocal.


Passing the island, I saw this little blue heron. I don't often photograph them, but this one was yawning so I couldn't resist...



I decided to paddle through one of the off-river areas while going upstream. I saw movement in the water ahead, which turned out to be an otter.



Nice to see it--I haven't spotted any on the Wacissa for a while.

A little past the Mysterious Waters dock I decided once again to try pulling over to let the kids in the canoes go by. It took a while since by this time they were fairly spread out (requiring much louder yelling for them to communicate with each other, resulting in a lot of "WHAT???" and repeated yelling). In the course of all this, some said they wanted to turn around, the others insisting that they were all going to make it to the upper bridge. The only possible way I could get a little peaceful paddling time would be to cut my trip short and turn around there while they continued upstream. Works for me.

As I passed by the dock again, a dog was having a great time chasing a stick that a girl was throwing for it.



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I watched for a while and then continued drifting (in wonderful quiet) downstream. I saw no manatees--this is the second trip to this river without seeing even one. Unusual.

Shortening the trip worked out well. When I turned around at the halfway point to finally lose the kids, I decided I would stop at the wildlife refuge on my way home since I would have some extra time. However, that weather forecast was right. As I was pulling out of the boat ramp parking area after loading the boat, the deluge began--a heavy, heavy rain.

This has always been my favorite river. But I am discovering that the Wacissa is just much quieter (I would greatly prefer a deafening air boat to canoes of shrieking kids--it's louder but it only lasts 5 minutes from when you first hear it coming to when the noise fades into the distance). Not only that, since there are almost no houses at all along the Wacissa, you don't have the lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and dock construction sounds that are always present on the Wakulla. I might wait until winter to get back to this river.

Stand by.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Back to the Wacissa in the Morning

You don't take a photograph, you make it.
~Ansel Adams

Another nice early start. And yet two paddlers were returning when I arrived.

The increasing size of the photography equipment I take with me is necessitating a change in primary boat, and so for now the Necky Manitou is my boat of choice when the camera is going. It's not as swift and efficient in wind and current but it is roomier.

As usual, the snowy egrets were out near the boat ramp and posing nicely in the leaves and other surface growth. How can I resist?



Another regular these days is the tricolored heron, which leaves this river in winter. It's great to see them again!


I drifted slowly downstream, not intending to go very far due to the heat and the thunderstorm predicted to arrive later. I spotted this great blue heron across the river and paddled over to it.



After I had passed, it flew by and into a tree ahead of me, where it watched me approach, still squawking at me...



I paddled into Blue Spring, as always. I decided to try out the video function on my little underwater camera. We'll get to that later. There were many little blue herons in the spring inlet and near the spring, but no other birds.

As I rounded the bend to continue downstream, I came to this mother wood duck with her little ones. They are so cute! The one in at the end of the line seems to be saying "What's back there?"


I drifted on. I love it when the turtles are balancing on just their shells with legs akimbo.



Shortly after I passed the one dock on this part of the river and was deciding to turn around, I saw a great egret on the other side. Seemed like a good time to make my turn so I headed over that way. It posed nicely for a short time,



and then left. Up,



up,



and away it went. I continued slowly upstream. There's almost no current in this top area.

This female woody was sitting all alone on top of a log as I passed by. They aren't as spectacularly colored as the males, but they have their own charm.



I saw a yellow crowned night heron doing that wing-drying thing along the side of the river and slowly approached it to get a photo. It saw me coming and partially lowered its wings. You have to love the pantaloon-like feathers on its upper legs.


As I got closer, it regained its dignity and stood looking like a regal, if somewhat sleepy, bird.



I saw Janice on the river near the boat ramp and we chatted for a while. It had been a while since we had seen each other and it was nice to catch up. She had undergone some surgery and been laid up for a long period and was out for a short paddle to have some much-needed fun. She continued on downstream and I continued on to the boat ramp and loaded the boat on the trailer.

So I took this video. I've never taken one with this camera before and it seems a little poor quality when not underwater (oh, and it had water on the lens from previous underwater photos, giving it a smudged look. Ack). Also, you will have to hold your head tipped a little to the left. I need to find out how Stacie secures her camera when she takes paddling videos--I could not get it to sit straight! Can't hold it since I need to be paddling. At any rate, I talk a lot about the Blue Spring inlet and so I wanted to show you a little of it, as well as a return to the spring (I posted some spring videos a long time ago). So this takes us to the spring and shows a little of it. The color is true (hence the name). I hope this works.



I hope to get out again soon. Stand by.