Monday, November 24, 2008

Wacissa Sunday

Just living is not enough...
One must have sunshine, freedom,
and a little flower.
~Hans Christian Anderson

It's rare for me to paddle on weekends, particularly on this river, since weekends are when all the air boats come out. However, this is the time of year that the weather dictates the paddling days. As it turned out, aside from one air boat, the only people on the river were paddlers, and there were several of them. It turned out to be a perfect day to be on the water.

The river is still fairly bird-free, though--in fact, even the yellowlegs were missing this time. The great blue heron that is always by the boat ramp was nowhere to be seen. No green herons, no tricolored herons, no snowy egrets or night herons. But the sun was warm and there was only a slight breeze, which made up for the lack of feathers and beaks.

When the air boat roared by, it flushed out a lot of birds from the shoreline, including this egret that flew by my kayak.

I met Tommy right before pulling into the Blue Spring inlet--he's another Manitou owner and was also out enjoying the river on this uncommonly warm day. We paddled and chatted for a while. There were two people (also paddlers) on one of the swim rafts at the spring who were soaking up the sun and having lunch. Tommy decided to do the same, and I continued on downstream.

The current was slow. This would have been a good day to circle the island, but I had gotten a late start and of course we lose our light early these days, so I turned around after about two miles. Two juvenile ibis flew in and settled in some yellow flowers along the edge of the river. I paddled over to get some photos of them.

Those yellow flowers border a large section of river and add some bright color to the scenery.

Apparently tipping your head is useful when hunting for food that is beneath the surface.

And it worked! Lunch time for everyone!

Paddling back upstream, I spotted this egret in a sunny patch of leaves at the shoreline.

Looks regal, doesn't it? It did; until it somewhat ruined the effect by peering over at me...

Aside from one little blue heron and a juvenile little blue heron, that was it for the bird sightings. It's odd having the river be so nearly devoid of wildlife, but it was still wonderfully peaceful and I'm glad I went.

I have been spending time on what I consider to be one of the best (and free) photography websites out there. It's called Photo Camel (not sure why...) and can be found here. The forums are extremely active and cover all areas of photography, including equipment and post-processing. It's a great place to post your photos, either just to show people or to get critiques, and to ask any questions you may have. There are fun contests and challenges (if you like manipulating photos, try the Speed Challenge). Of the three photography sites that I visit regularly, I find this one to be by far the most fun and congenial. Photographers of all skill levels hang out there, and there's no attitude about it, as you may encounter elsewhere. If you like photography on any level (there's even a cell-phone photos forum!), I recommend taking a gander at the site and maybe posting a photo or two. You can maintain your own gallery there, but your photos will get more attention if you post them directly in the related forum.

Looks like we have more cold weather on the way. I'll be back here when I get out there again. Stand by.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Meet the Birds

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -
~Thomas Hood

Brr! I'm going along with the no warmth or healthful ease! Once again weather is keeping me off the water, but once again I worry about the blog becoming stagnant. Instead of just posting photos that were passed over in their respective post, I am going to accompany those photos with some bird info. Shall we begin?

Let's start with one of my favorites, the Snowy Egret.

The snowy egret is about two feet in length and has a wingspan of about three feet. Males and females look alike. It eats shrimp, minnows and other small fish, crustaceans, and frogs. It often feeds in groups. The male selects a breeding area, and both the male and female build the nest; the male collects the materials and the female does the constructing. The nest is made of reeds and twigs and is placed in a bush or on the ground. The female lays three to five eggs and both parents share incubation duties. The eggs hatch in about three weeks. Both parents care for the chicks and feed them regurgitated food. The chicks fledge when they are about a month old.

And then there are the herons, including the Great Blue Heron.

The great blue heron is the largest heron in North America. It stands three to four feet tall and has a wingspan of almost six feet (!). There is an all white version, the great white heron, that can be found in southern Florida. The great blue heron fishes for food during the day and at night. It stands in the water and waits for prey, such as frogs and fish, to pass by and grabs them with its long bill. It also eats salamanders, lizards, snakes, shrimps, crabs, crayfish, dragonflies, grasshoppers, aquatic insects, and occasionally birds and small mammals such as mice. The female great blue heron lays three to seven eggs on a shallow platform made of sticks and twigs and lined with soft material. The nest is usually in a tall tree, but it may be built in the reeds or on a cliff edge. The eggs hatch in about a month and the chicks fledge when they are about two months old. Great blue herons nest in colonies. They usually nest in the same spot from year-to-year and may even use the same nest.

Tricolored Herons:

The tricolored heron is about 22 inches in length and has a wingspan of about three feet. Males and females look alike. The nesting territory is selected by the male. The female lays three to four eggs on a nest of sticks placed on a bed of reeds or in a tree. Both the male and female build the nest and incubate the eggs. The chicks hatch in about three weeks. Both parents care for the chicks and feed them regurgitated food. The chicks fledge in a little over a month. The tricolored heron is also known as the Louisiana heron. It sometimes wades in deep water when looking for food and all that can be seen of it above the water is its body.

Yellow-Crowned Night Herons:

The yellow-crowned night heron is a short, stocky wading bird about 24 inches in length with a wingspan of a little under four feet. In breeding season it has a yellow plume of feathers on its head. Males and females look alike. Immature yellow-crowned night herons are a mottled grayish-brown. The yellow-crowned night heron forages for food both in the day and at night. Most of the yellow-crowned night heron's diet is made up of crustaceans such as crabs and crayfish, although it sometimes eats fish, eels, mussels, frogs, tadpoles, aquatic insects, snails, and small snakes. The female lays three to five eggs on a nest of sticks placed in a tree or sometimes on the ground. Both the male and female build the nest and incubate the eggs. The eggs hatch in about three weeks; both parents care for the chicks and feed them regurgitated food. The chicks fledge when they are about 25 days old. The yellow-crowned night heron is more solitary than other herons and prefers to nest separately from other birds.

And last but far from least, my photo subject of choice, the Great Egret. I took this photo during breeding season.

The great egret is a little over three feet tall with a wingspan of almost five feet. When the great egret is in breeding plumage, it has long lacy, delicate plumes on its back that curl over its tail. Males and females look alike, but the males are a little larger. The great egret is also known as the American Egret and the Common Egret. The great egret feeds alone in shallow water. It stalks prey like frogs, crayfish, snakes, snails and fish. When it spots its prey, it pulls its head and long neck back and then quickly stabs at the prey. On land it sometimes stalks small mammals like moles and mice. The great egret usually feeds in the early morning and evening hours. The male great egret chooses the nesting site and builds a nest platform of sticks and twigs in a tree or bush before he selects a mate. Occasionally, the great egret will build its nest on dry ground near a marsh. The female great egret lays three to five pale green-blue eggs. The eggs take about three to four weeks to incubate; both parents incubate the eggs and feed the chicks. The chicks fledge in about six weeks. If the nest is on the ground, the chicks will walk around the nest before they fledge. Both the male and female aggressively defend the nesting territory. Great egrets nest in colonies, often with herons and ibis. In the early 20th century, the long feathers of the great egret were used on ladies hats. The species was almost hunted into extinction.

So there's a little background on a few of the birds pictured here in my regular posts. I miss them and eagerly await the next warm day so I can get back out on the river. Stand by.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Mid-Migration at the Wacissa

Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.
~James Allen

Another wonderful fall day to paddle. This particular day was a tad prior to my writing this, given that my ISP has been a dead zone for almost a week as a result of a network "upgrade." It's surprising how much we have come to rely on the internet and how inconvenient it is when it is unavailable for a relatively extended period of time. But tonight I can connect, so let me tell you about my last paddling trip.

There aren't many people on the river these days, which makes these outings peacefully sublime. The top of the river, however, is curiously bird-free right now. Of course the resident great blue heron is there, and since the photos of him have cycled off the front page now, I can feature him again!

He left shortly after that. What an impressive wingspan they have!

I headed into Blue Spring, as always. This juvenile little blue heron, still sporting white feathers, was fishing in a strip of sunlight.

I didn't see the resident gator while there. Back out on the main river, I was again struck by the lack of birds. However! The yellowlegs are back in numbers now and a welcome sight.

I didn't stay out long on this day. On the way back upstream I spotted an eastern phoebe--another bird that is welcome back on this river!

This is Florida, and so there is not much fall color to be seen. But this cypress tree sported some colorful leaves near its base--sort of a complement to the photo posted on this blog a few months ago of a green sprout making its way up from the base of the huge cypress tree trunk.

I had gotten a very late start on this trip and was heading back to the ramp much later than usual. A wee bit past Duck Island, near the ramp, I came to a group of ibises looking for a meal. I took a lot of photos of them as they were lit from behind by the setting sun.


Here's another one coming in for a landing:

Touch down!!!

I lingered there for a while watching them. As I left, I got this final photo of an ibis coming in to join the rest. Technically a flawed photo on several levels, but yet one that conveys so well the feeling of the last moments on the river as the sun dipped lower in the sky.

I am looking forward to future trips to the river when we will start to see migrating birds, particularly my favorites, the mergansers.

Stand by.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Finally Paddling Again!

Let us be silent, that we
might hear the whispers of the gods.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yesterday was my first extended, relaxed trip on the water for a long time! (The puppy, healthy and happy, was napping the afternoon away safely in her pen.) It was a fantastic day, though a bit of a downstream wind kicked up toward the end. That didn't put even the smallest dent in my enjoyment of the day.

I have missed the peace of the river; it's been a long time since I have heard that much silence. What a joy; and it smelled good, too.

I could not resist taking a picture of that beautiful great blue heron that is usually found near the ramp. When I was processing my photos this morning, I discovered that it is virtually the same photo as in the previous post, except he was facing the other way, so I am not including it.

I paddled into Blue Spring. There were three people there who had come into the spring in a small boat with a trolling motor. One guy was sitting in the boat, a woman was sitting on one of the swim rafts, and the younger fellow was going for dips in the water (brrr--seemed like a bit of a nippy day for that...). When I got to the spring I said "So I guess the gator that hangs out on the raft isn't here today?" and, to my surprise, the swimmer said "Oh, he was here when we got here." Call me overly-cautious, but I would not have gotten in the water knowing it was around--that is no small gator. At any rate, on my way out of the spring I was pleased to see an eastern phoebe flying among the low branches over the water. It held still enough for me to get a photo.

(I hope Gene is reading this since he has asked me if I ever get photos of small birds!)

As I was leaving the spring inlet I saw a pair of yellowlegs coming in for a landing near the opposite bank--this is a sure sign of cooler weather; these are the first I have seen for several months, but soon they will be the most common bird on the river.

They settled in the surface growth and began searching for food.

The water level is about 6" higher than it was a month ago, which is good. The current seemed stronger than usual in the first two miles as well, and with the wind coming in, I turned around before reaching the calico hill boat ramp. Just before turning around I saw this egret in the shoreline greenery. It was a bright sunny day, and our leaves are all still in their summer colors. I thought it made a pretty scene.

However, as I was taking that photo, the wind was pushing me rapidly toward the bird, who flew away past me on my right, scolding me all the way (sorry, egret).


I headed back upstream at that point. There was another paddler on the river, and one more fishing boat with a trolling motor, and that was it for this gorgeous day.

I saw a huge bush of blooming flowers along the west side of the river so I paddled over to take a picture. Not my usual fare for this blog so I had fun framing it a little differently.

I came to another great blue heron shortly after turning around. As I approached, it also flew away, also scolding me (sorry, great blue heron).


I went back into Blue Spring on my way upstream, in part to check on the swimming person (they were gone), and in part to take a break from the wind. The other paddler was fishing in the inlet; we chatted for a short time. He had seen the gator on the raft on his way downstream and also had seen the guy swimming--and also thought that was perhaps unwise.

The rest of the paddle was peaceful but somewhat bird-free. Perhaps the birds that migrate out have left but the ones that migrate in have not arrived, except for the few yellowlegs. It's my guess that the green herons are gone for the season. I saw a few coots, which are few in number here during summer but gather in the winter.

Jefferson County bought the 10 acres of land at the head spring of this river, which includes the boat ramp and paddler access. Right now this seems like a good thing--it was previously privately owned and could have been closed off at the whim of the owner. It remains to be seen what the county will do with it, and whether they will use its popularity to produce revenue or will continue to support it as the natural recreation site that it is.

I'll be back. Stand by.