Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Wacissa From Goose Pasture

Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready
to have somebody click the shutter.
~Ansel Adams


I had been curtailing my paddling outings due to the hot weather, but when DH suggested a paddling trip, it sounded like a good idea. We decided to try a new route to get to Goose Pasture (at the lower end of the Wacissa River) that supposedly cut about 20 miles off the trip.

And it probably did, but since it is mostly dirt roads with no traffic and no cell service I doubt I will be taking it alone. At any rate, we arrived at the river at about 2 pm and paddled upstream.

It's been a long time since I have paddled this river from this end. It's like being on the upper Wacissa...but not exactly. For one thing, the water is nearly warm, which is just plain bizarre for this river. I guess there aren't many springs at this end, and of course it is a shallow river. The shoreline is similar to that at the top, yet different. It was almost like paddling in a new place, which I haven't done for a long time.

There are fewer birds, and they are far shyer than those at the top. Of course there are egrets, which show up like beacons along the edges.



We think the same egret kept flying off when we got close, landing a short distance ahead of us and then taking off again when we approached.



We only saw one very small gator. I was very pleased to spot an otter swimming by the shoreline!



While we were paddling upstream, I made a comment about wishing we could see some baby moorhens. I peered into all the reeds and tussocks as we paddled by.

This part of the river has a lot of islands, both dense surface vegetation ones and those with soil and trees on them. There was a lot of surface growth and the water level seemed low, so there were portions that were extremely narrow. As we passed through those, we often had tall rushes and other flowering plants towering over us on either side. It was very pretty.



We only saw a few little blue herons, which is quite different from the top part of this river. This one flew off as we paddled by. Kind of an odd photo, but I decided to include it.



In a fairly short time we reached what seemed to be nearly a dead end--the river narrowed to about a foot wide, with only grass tussocks ahead. People often float the length of this river so there probably would have been a way to continue on upstream, but since the sky was darkening and we had been hearing distant thunder, we decided to turn around and drift downstream.

We passed this anhinga that was perched high in a tree. This is one of those photos that I get once in a while--I'm not sure which is more interesting, the bird or the tree.



And then I heard that distinctive peeping sound. Two adult moorhens were leading a group of babies around. Those little fuzzy ones are just so cute!



Another bird that you will nearly always see on this river, no matter where you are, is a limpkin. Today was no exception.



As we neared the boat ramp we passed a snowy egret posing near a moorhen.



Because of the increasing thunder we decided not to explore the Slave Canal on this trip. It was a great paddling day with sublime scenery. We want to get back to this part of the river more often when the weather cools. This was mid-day on a Saturday on the Wacissa and we saw a total of one power boat the entire time we were on the water! An air boat left the ramp as we were loading up our kayaks to head home (good timing!). I doubt the upper portion of the river was as uncrowded. I look forward to returning to this spot.

I'll be back. Stand by.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Snowy Day on the Wacissa

Jolly boating weather,
And a hay harvest breeze,
Blade on the feather,
Shade off the trees.

~William Johnson Cory

Snowy egrets, that is.



For a while it was looking like the juvenile little blue herons had taken over as the dominant small white bird on the river, but the snowies were out and about in numbers on this day.



I spotted this great blue heron perched in a tree. These birds can be puzzlingly difficult to photograph, something other people have also noticed; they so often come out looking a tad blurred (even if they are standing perfectly still). I had a little better luck with this guy.



Of course, having granted me a decent photo, it decided to leave.



I'm never prepared for the wingspan when they are fully extended, as was the case when that one flew by me.



And away he goes...



...but, as is often the case with great egrets, not too far away, landing on a log upriver.



I came to a family of moorhens. One of the adults swam off ahead of me, as if to draw my attention, while the other adult led the babies to the safety of the river's edge.



I went into Blue Spring, of course, where I found Janice enjoying a dip in the cool water. We talked for a while (she had seen the moorhen group as well and had noticed the same maneuver of one adult seeming to want to be a distraction while the other got the youngsters out of sight) and then left the spring via the back route (which is getting very shallow). Janice spotted a raccoon--I don't know if her photos came out; mine didn't. Nice to see it, though. I haven't seen one for a long time.

We parted company when we reached the main river--she went back upstream and I continued downstream. This juvenile gallinule was fishing near the side of the river.



Check out the size of that foot!

I came to another snowy egret in the surface vegetation at about the point that I turned around to head back upstream.



It was doing that wingspread thing they do to try to lure small fish over.



It was wonderful to return to the river!

I'll be back when I get out again; stand by.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cedar Key

If once you have slept on an island
You'll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name.
You may bustle about the street or shop;
You may sit at home and sew,
But you'll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
~Rachel Field

Well, July may not be the best time to visit Cedar Key in terms of weather, but I don't seem to be able to stay away for an entire summer. I tried new lodging on this trip, staying in a condo at Old Fenimore Mill. I liked it better than the other place (although, staying on the top floor again, I missed their elevator...).

I was able to get out paddling on the day I arrived, which turned out to be the only day I was out in the kayak, in part because of threatening weather, in part because of the intense heat. It was a great paddling outing, though! I had only been on the water about ten minutes when this osprey flew overhead with its catch:



I paddled in the tidal flat areas, as usual. This snowy egret was posing so nicely near some reeds, how could I not photograph it?



As I was exploring little inlets, I saw about six roseate spoonbills fly overhead and appear to land a short distance ahead of me, so I paddled stealthily over there. Sure enough, there they were feeding in the exposed mud.



At about the time I took that photo (along with others), I realized that I was getting myself mired in that same mud. It's deep and loose--you can't use a paddle blade to move yourself forward or backward since it just sinks right in. This was not good and so I backed out of the area and into deeper water as quickly as possible.

Moving on, I came to this--willet?--fishing alongside the water. It would find something and shake it vigorously in the water before eating it.



I wasn't out long--unlike on the Wacissa, this water was lukewarm and so there was no relief from coolness soaking through the hull onto my feet or cool air rising from the water. As became the routine on this trip, I went inside to cool off in the AC and then went back outside, the rest of the time on foot.

My condo and its balcony overlooked the fishing dock and cleaning station at the water's edge, which made it simple to keep an eye on bird activity there. As the tide went out in late afternoon, I was amazed to see more spoonbills (or the same ones) start to show up fairly close to the dock. So I grabbed the camera and went out.



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Pelicans had also flown in to see if anyone was at the cleaning station.



After dinner I wandered down to the Gulf side of the property and took this photo of the sunset and moonrise.



After breakfast the next morning I went back down to the dock. Several people were fishing. While I was chatting with some of them in the covered area, we noticed that a woman at the end of the dock had clearly hooked something--her pole was bent at a sharp angle. The general consensus was that it was a large catfish, given the weight and the fact that it seemed to be just sitting on the bottom as she tugged on it. She slowly but surely reeled it in...and it turned out to be a stingray! First one I have ever seen. The woman's husband got it in the net as she pulled it out of the water; he put it down on the dock. He then proceeded to remove the hook and untangle the line from the net. He asked me if I had enough photos and when I said yes, I was fine, he let it fall back in the water, where it presumably swam (or whatever they do) away.



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At around noon I walked into town and ended up stopping at one of the boat tour places at the water. The sky was extremely threatening at this time so it seemed unlikely that they would be going out, but I spoke to the "Captain" about where they went and what they saw when they did go out. It sounded like fun, although probably not for that day. He said the storm was going away from our area, and even showed me the radar photo on his cell phone. Love that technology, but looking up at the sky (the low-tech method of assessing the weather) indicated that the dark clouds were in fact getting closer, and nearly overhead at that point. This was around noon, his next tour was at 3:00. I said I'd be back if the weather cleared, and I went back to the condo to get in some quality reading time on my balcony.

It was clearly storming in surrounding areas, and very loud and deep thunder rumbled overhead for several hours. And then the sun began to peek out through breaks in the clouds. It was a pretty impressive sight, this sunshine on the ground below me and in the sky to the right contrasting with the dark storminess to the left. I went into the condo, put on the wide angle lens, and took a photo. I had been concentrating on getting the fishing dock in the photo and did not notice the lightning bolt until I got home and looked at my photos on the computer!



By 2:30 the sky was just flat overcast and it did not look like more rain would be falling and so I walked back to the boat tour place and paid my $21 (plus tax) for a seat. It ended up being completely filled--I guess other people had the same idea.

We left the dock and headed out into the Gulf to see some of the other keys in the area. A dolphin followed us close by on my side--frustrating all of us with cameras by coming out of the water at unpredictable places and intervals. I gave up trying to photograph it and just enjoyed seeing it. The captain told us quite a bit about the history of Cedar Key, which was very interesting. In other seasons he stops the boat at one of the nearby keys, the only one not protected and therefore open for exploration, for 30 minutes so the passengers can walk to the interior to see an old cemetery that served people who lived (and died) there in the 1800's. He didn't stop this time, though, explaining that the mosquitoes were simply too thick in the wooded area around the trail to the cemetery. I'll take this tour again in cooler weather.

We went to a key with a lighthouse on it (I should remember the name, but I don't--and I can't find the map I brought back with me). Around the side near the front of the lighthouse we came to a tree with many juvenile brown pelicans in it.



It's interesting that they are born white, as are so many other animals in nature (little blue herons and Siamese cats come to mind). This seems illogical--you would think that juveniles would need to be less clearly visible. At any rate, this was great! While we were there an adult flew over the fledglings, who, as you can tell, were expecting lunch.



After leaving that area but while still at the same key, we spotted many frigate birds flying overhead. This was very cool--these birds have an amazing capacity for staying aloft. Their wingspan is 7 feet (or more). They are usually found in the Caribbean and elsewhere; the line along which Cedar Key is located is, according to our Captain, the farthest north they go. They are very large and it was extremely impressive to see them.



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It was after 5:00 when we returned to Cedar Key. Time for dinner.

It rained for most of the next day. I went down to the dock in late afternoon when the sky had cleared and sat with my book (#3--I got lots of quality reading time in on this trip!). A group of people came in from a fishing trip and proceeded to clean their fish, which bode well for possible pelican photos since they are always drawn to fish cleaning stations. Sure enough, here comes one.



He enjoyed the scraps that were tossed to him.



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And then the egret came in. These folks clearly knew this bird. The egret hung out on the dock railing for a while.



It watched the pelican eating.



One of the women decided to offer it some fish by hand, something she had evidently done before.



It hung around, intently watching the goings-on.



After they left, it jumped down into the water to pick up a few fish the pelican had missed.



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Gulls showed up, squabbling over who got the last of the fish.



I went in shortly after that. The next morning I packed up and left Cedar Key. But I'll be back! Meanwhile, it's getting to be time to get back out in the kayak. Stand by.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

For The Birds

Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.
~Henry David Thoreau

It was a cool morning, a great time to take a trip to the Wacissa! I have been missing the birds.

The river level is high enough now to paddle on the far side of the island by the boat ramp, which is of late new territory for me--I haven't been able to get over there for a long time because of the surface growth. This path took me to the great blue heron that I always see far away when I paddle the normal route downstream.



And speaking of great blue herons, a short while later this one flew off from the edge of the river.



I drifted on downstream. A large group of perhaps a dozen kayakers put in a little after I did.

I decided to drop into Cassidy spring to see if the baby barred owls were about. Sure enough, this one was sitting in a tree over the water.



There were many green herons on the water today--this was the first I saw, very near the top of the river.



As I was drifting a little beyond Cassidy spring I was thinking about how it had been a while since I had seen a gator on this river. It's nesting season for them and I assumed that was why. A mere few minutes later I passed this big guy enjoying the sun (and covered in vegetation).



It was a nice drift downstream, very peaceful, as always. I skipped going into Blue Spring since the dozen other kayakers had gone in there. I turned around in the usual spot about 2 miles downstream.

There was little wind or current. Shortly after turning around, I saw this tricolored heron in the greenery at the side of the river. Almost missed him...



Of course you know I saw a lot of egrets, and of course I cannot resist getting photos of them. The great thing about egrets is that they are easy to photograph, once you get the exposure figured out. They are such large birds that they can't just dart away from you like a warbler. You will always know when they are going to take off. They always dip down like this right before taking flight:



Their usual routine is to lift their wings while they basically jump up about a foot or so off the ground. They hover there for a moment before bringing their wings down to take flight. Wonderful opportunity for a photo. Another important thing about egrets is that they often don't fly very far, so don't put the camera down. I personally think that their landings are the best--they are always so graceful about it and I think at their most impressive at that time.



Of course, these birds are busy getting on with their daily lives and looking for food and so if you persist in hanging around, they might yell at you a bit as they leave...



And they might keep it up for a while...



But I'm sure they forget relatively soon that you were even there. They have other things to think about.

This turtle trio was out enjoying the sunshine today.



Here's another green heron that was on the river. I usually come in fairly close on these, but this one looked so nice against the river background that I left it as a wide view.



A little farther upstream I heard a splashing sound on the east side of the river. I paddled over to see what it was. I found a group of female wood ducks bathing in a little pool just off the main river. This one was taking its turn.



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An ibis sat in a tree overhead.



A little later I came to a snowy egret perched on a branch. These remain one of my favorite birds-very striking, and a nice compact size.



I watched it, hoping that it would go back to fishing (and maybe catch something while I was there), but no such luck. It left after a bit.



And speaking of white birds, I saw many, many juvenile little blue herons on the river today. Finally! I like photographing them, and I find their transition from the white juvenile coloring to the darker adult coloring fascinating. I often mention how many adult little blue herons we have on this river, but I rarely photograph the adults (I guess since they are so prevalent). So before getting to the juvenile, this is how they look when they grow up:



The juvenile I saw was doing the "wingspread" thing to catch fish, as described in an earlier post. They spread their wings to create shade, which draws the fish. I watched this one as it practiced.



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And then it showed off its wings from the side view for me...



I passed another tricolored heron on the way upstream. I like it when the sun shines on the lighter-colored feathers on their backs.



I decided to take the same route around the far side of the island near the boat ramp on my way back. The great blue heron was there again, this time with a snowy egret as a companion.



This group of woodies, one male and lots of females, were swimming around near the island.



It was a great day on the river, as always, and I came home with many photos (many more than are posted here!). Once again I left the river only minutes before the rain came down--it's that time of year here.

I hope to get back out paddling again soon, weather permitting, and plans to return to Cedar Key are in the works (I miss paddling with the pelicans!). Stand by.