Sunday, August 31, 2008

Back to the Wacissa before Gustav Arrives

The virtue of the camera is not the power it has to
transform the photographer into an artist, but
the impulse it gives him to keep on looking.
~Brooks Anderson

I'm making up for lost time--two paddling trips in three days! I went back out on Friday, an absolutely gorgeous day. Again, mine was the only car in the parking lot, and this time I did not see another person for the 3+ hours I was on the water. A little unusual, given the fine weather.

And the gators are still everywhere, requiring a little more care when paddling through what little surface growth there is or exploring close to the shoreline.



(Hey, didn't the last post start with a photo of a gator in the vegetation?)

While drifting downstream on the right side of the river after leaving the ramp, I came to a line of turtles on a branch sticking out of the water and along the length of it in the water. As I approached, they all decided to retreat to the river, except these two that were perched at the top.:



I moved away, toward the middle of the river, hoping to keep them from giving up their spots...but then there was one...



...and then none.



I'm sure they climbed back up after I moved farther away.

I encountered a lot of bickering birds on Friday, maybe some were new to the area and the residents were protecting their territory. This juvenile little blue heron chased off another one.



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And stay away!

I paddled into Blue Spring. There was an egret perched on the branch that crosses over the river about halfway along the inlet. I think they look particularly striking against the green leaves.



While I was taking that, I looked into the spring and saw a snowy egret raising its crest feathers. Note the little gator on the log between them--hard to know if the snowy is responding to that or the heron.



This tricolored heron was sitting in the sunlight at the entrance to the back passage out of the spring--also raising the crest feathers since another tricolored had flown to a branch directly above him.



I left the spring via the regular inlet. On the way out I spotted this very young gator on a log (maybe a sibling of the one shown above). It was only about a foot and a half long, if that.



This was another day, as was Wednesday, for seeing many, many tricolored herons, including this one that flew away from me as I reached the main river.



Since the sky stayed blue with white clouds this time, no sign of rain or storms, I continued downstream past Blue Spring. White birds--great egrets, snowy egrets, and juvenile little blue herons--showed up brightly against the green shoreline.

Speaking of birds leaving, they don't always offer me a graceful side view--I very often get this instead:



Given all the chasing-away I had seen, I was very pleased to see these two, which I passed shortly after turning around.



As I went by, the tricolored heron surprised me by flying off. I missed his departure but managed to get the camera back up as the snowy egret left.



Speaking of birds coming and going, I have something new for the blog. I have been trying for about as long as I have had this blog to get a photo of a bird flying toward me. This can be difficult since as soon as they see you, they generally veer off, presenting only a side view. For some reason, this juvenile little blue heron kept on coming for long after other ones have turned:



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(I couldn't decide which image I liked better so I am posting them both.)

I continued upstream, passing more turtles, this one showing off its back feet.



This juvenile blue heron (weren't they the flying champs today?) was coming in for a landing, another nearly-front-view of a bird in flight.



I had seen and heard many green herons but had not had any luck with photos until I passed this one (fussing at me) shortly before getting to the boat ramp.



Another great day on the river; I didn't want to leave since it seems likely there will be another long spell between paddling days, as Gustav and everyone marching along behind him bring wind and unpredictable weather to the area. If you are a reader in affected areas, stay safe. And, as always, I'll be back. Stand by

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Finally Back on the Water!

The secret of success is to be in harmony with existence,
to be always calm, to let each wave of life wash us
a little farther up the shore.
~Cyril Connolly

The original plan was to wait until Friday to go out, the day with the best weather forecast. But it seems that carpe diem is the way to go right now in Florida, so I loaded up the boat and headed to the Wacissa.

My car was the only one in the parking lot when I got there mid-morning. This seemed odd since it was such a beautiful day. Perhaps river conditions were keeping the fishermen away. And river conditions were unlike any I have encountered here before! Essentially all the surface growth that was crowding the center of the river is gone. Cassidy Spring is almost a gaping inlet. I was able to paddle into an area north of Blue Spring that has never been accessible before due to an expanse of lily pads and leaves. I commented a month or two ago to Janice that even though there are few actual landmarks on the river, we had paddled it so often that we could just glance at the shape of the shoreline and know precisely where we were on the river. Not so these days! In some places the river is more than twice as wide as usual, and there are new inlets opened up in several spots.

The water was muddy brown everywhere, and the current near the top stronger than I am used to. None of this diminished the joy of being back on the Wacissa! And the birds seem to be just fine. One difference in the wildlife since the storm is that I saw not only many, many more gators than usual, but the ones in the first half-mile were significantly larger than I have seen here before. They were everywhere--floating in surface growth near the edge, basking on logs, and swimming in the water. I suspect that as the water overflowed the banks and crept through the woods it ran into small ponds and other places these gators were living and they simply migrated through it to the Wacissa. As the water recedes from the woods, I guess they will have a new home...



I saw lots of snowy egrets, one of my favorite birds. This was the first, perched on a branch.



It watched me go by,



and then left.



Here's one of the larger gators I spotted--I wish I could have gotten its face in the photo--it was quite a handsome fellow! I decided not to paddle over to move the branches blocking it, though.



I was eager to see what was going on at Blue Spring so I crossed to that side (I had been zig-zagging back and forth--no reason not to, I seemed to have the whole river to myself at that point...just me and the gators...). I had noticed some belted kingfishers swooping around--they haven't been present for a while, something I hadn't realized until I saw them. As I reached the entrance to the inlet that leads to the spring, right where it leaves the main river, I saw two kingfishers flying back and forth across the inlet (oh, and to those familiar with this intersection of the river and the inlet--you know that tree limb that sticks out right at that intersection, the one that birds perch on (not the one farther along that everyone takes photos of)? Well, the water is so high now that you can almost touch the limb as you paddle beneath it), and so I decided to pull into the surface vegetation to get out of the current and see if I could get a photo of them. As I slowed down, I very carefully examined the surface and about an inch above for the distinctive tail and spine ridges of a gator that might be dozing there. The surface looked clear so I continued to drift to a stop.

And almost bumped right into a juvenile purple gallinule that I had not seen when I was focused on only looking for gray ridges. The bird didn't fly away, didn't even run away. It simply took a few steps to the side and stopped about a foot to the left of my bow. It looked at me with what appeared to be mostly curiosity and very little concern. So I took a lot of pictures of it. At one point it fluffed its feathers out--I'm not sure if that was supposed to scare me or if it was just fluffing. Doing so revealed the beautiful coloration below the somewhat drab brown top feathers.



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The kingfishers had moved on, but I had had more fun with the little gallinule anyway. I backed very slowly away; it stayed there as I paddled on into the inlet.

The spring looked completely strange, given that it was all completely mud-brown. Looking across it from afar showed a little blue color but it was pure brown when I got there. There were several great egrets along the perimeter.

I decided to try paddling out the back way, since I knew it would be deeper and wider than the last time I tried. This tricolored heron perched on the tree branch that spans the entrance and watched me paddle below.



I got most of the way through without any wildlife sightings when I came to a fallen tree trunk that went from one side to the other and was only about a half-inch below the water. I decided not to try to scoot over it and instead turned around. As I got back to the entrance to the spring, a tricolored heron was fishing off to the side (probably the one that had watched me go in, and had probably been thinking "Not gonna make it....I'll see you in a few minutes..."



I continued paddling downstream. This was a familiar sight on this day:



I turned around in the usual place, except that this time I didn't have to work my way through surface growth to get to the other side!

You know I am not going to have a post here that does not include one of the larger egrets!



This was also a big day for photographing tricoloreds, this one squawking at me as I passed.



I took one final snowy egret photo before storm clouds moved quickly in and I had to get back to the boat ramp pronto.



It was so wonderful to be back on the Wacissa. I hope to return soon, weather permitting. Stand by.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Wacissa, Post-Fay

We cannot command nature except by obeying her.
~Francis Bacon

I decided to take a drive out to the Wacissa, sans kayak, to see what tropical storm Fay had wrought. Actually, since the sun was popping out and there were some small patches of blue sky, Plan A had been to load the kayak and drive with my fingers crossed. However, given the distance between here and there and all the areas with flooding, I decided I had better check it out first without the kayak.

There was a spot in the town of Wacissa where the water had clearly crossed the road, and the "Road Closed" sign was still up but the orange cones had been moved. The water still came right up to the pavement, though. I wondered if the boat ramp parking lot would be underwater.

I was very surprised to find that the parking lot was almost completely dry--only a few small puddles. I went down to look at the boat ramp. By this time the weather was looking stormy again--these days we have an ongoing mix of stormy and clear skies. The water was significantly higher up the ramp than it had been for over a year, and even extended into the woods next to the channel that leads to the river.



I walked to our usual launching place. Clearly the river had flooded the bank there as a lot of the thin surface growth was scattered about on the grass. The water level was visibly higher; the island across from the ramp looked smaller than usual, and a lot of the vegetation that is normally exposed was now under water.



This great blue heron was standing in the grass near the diving board over the spring.



While we have rain forecast for every day in the foreseeable future, I am hoping, now that I know the river is accessible, to be able to get in at least an hour of paddling. I think this may have been the longest I have gone without a paddling trip.

Stand by.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fay Visits Florida...

'Tis the set of the sail that decides the goal, and not the storm of life.
~Ella Wheeler Wilcox

This was going to be the day I finally got back out paddling. I was even still hopeful when I woke up this morning despite the (now the norm) overcast sky. But by 10:00 it was clear there would be no paddling. And this blog has been idle for too long; if I don't refresh it I fear mushrooms will sprout along the edges.

And so it is once again time to dip into the collection of photos from previous paddling trips that were worth keeping but did not make it to the post for that day.

One of the only birds on the Wacissa during the winter and early spring months is the lesser yellowlegs. They were everywhere this year and their high-pitched peeping was the soundtrack for most paddling trips.



Recently DH and I decided to paddle the lower part of the Wacissa, launching from Goose Pasture. While he was parking the truck and putting on paddling shoes, I wandered down to the edge across the little lawn from the parking lot and peered through the trees. Four ibis were in the reeds just off the river.



This is the time of year that we often see wood ducks on the water--usually females but occasionally males. I took this photo of a female on a log about three weeks ago.



Prior to that trip I had been lucky enough to get a series of photos of a male--more than I wanted to include in one post. Here's one that got left out.



Remember the tricolored heron that was scratching its head a couple of posts ago? I sat watching him for a long time while he fished in the river, in between head-scratching sessions.



Needless to say, most of my extra photos are of egrets! I just can't seem to delete an egret photo that is usable. This was part of the series I took and used to give a tip about what egrets look like when they are going to fly (so you know when to pick up the camera). I posted a photo of one crouching down before lift-off. This is the photo that was taken right after that one:



Speaking of white birds, I remember seeing this snowy egret sitting in the bright sunlight.



I usually conclude my posts with some indication of future paddling plans but that's harder to do at this time of year. I had hoped to get back the Wakulla soon, but I'm not sure just when "soon" will be. Stand by.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Beating the Heat

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass
on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or
watching the clouds float across the sky,
is hardly a waste of time.
~John Lubbock

I decided to try escaping the heat by going to the Wacissa. During the kayak-loading process this seemed like a boneheaded idea; the phrase "heat stroke" occurred to me. But it was actually considerably cooler on the water than on land--at times even comfortable.

I started out on the right side of the river once I passed the island across from the boat ramp. I spotted a green heron at the water's edge, the first of many today.



It hopped off of that perch and flew a short distance to a branch overhanging the river. It fluffed its topknot briefly at me before getting on with its day. Part of the topknot appears to have stayed fluffed...



And speaking of fluffing, when I turned into the inlet to Blue Spring, I saw a group of ibis, including this juvenile that had been poking around the river bottom and shook itself and fluffed to dry.



There wasn't much going on at the spring so I continued downriver.

I rarely take photos on the left (east) side of the river when I am drifting downstream since it is usually fairly early in the day and the sun shines brightly on that side, making for less-than-ideal lighting for photos. But this tricolored heron was on that side and had more vivid coloring than usual (if I recall, that indicates they are young?) so I decided to give it a try (the wonder of digital--if it doesn't work, delete it!). I liked the way it came out, despite the somewhat bright background.



That was a very accommodating heron and let me get quite close to it, an offer I took advantage of.



As I have mentioned before, I typically see more juvenile little blue herons on the river now than any other bird. It looks like the tail feathers on this one are just beginning to turn to the adult coloration.



The vegetation is beginning to take over parts of the river--I generally like to drift downstream on the west side and paddle upstream on the east. I was in for a surprise on this day since the surface growth was so thick and solid and wide at the point I usually turn around that I couldn't make that turn. I decided to drift downstream a little farther to see if it thinned out. I didn't even see the great blue heron that I passed by until it squawked at me and flew off.



I found a place to turn around and continued upstream on the other side of the river. Limpkins are scattered here and there along the edges. This one posed for a portrait.



You know I can't manage a post here without at least one egret! Such an impressive wingspan.



The light downstream breeze became somewhat more like wind, which, combined with the current at that point and on that side, challenged me a bit until the current slowed near Blue Spring. The rest of the way was easy paddling. I passed another kayaker and a power-boater as I neared the ramp.

There is a little area just downstream of the ramp on the east side that is very picturesque. There are overhanging trees that provide shade, and it is dotted with reedy tussocks. I saw a female wood duck swimming around alone in there and so I quietly paddled along the shoreline. I got a photo of her just as she was leaving the shade and entering the sunlight. These birds seem so drab compared to their male counterparts, but if you look at them without making that comparison, I think they are very attractive.



And then back to the ramp and back home. Paddling on a cool spring-fed river seems to be the best outdoor activity during this time of the year, and I'm sure I'll get back out again soon. Stand by.