Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Egrets...I've Had A Few...

Silence is the true friend that never betrays.
~Confucius

We continue to have surprisingly good weather, and so off I went to the Wacissa, my favorite place to be on such days. There were many other paddlers on the river.

There are more egrets there than any other bird, and it's wonderful to see them getting their breeding plumage now.



I saw a small gator at Blue Spring, but no sign of the large one that has been spending time on the swim rafts. The turtles were out enjoying the sunshine as well.



I happened to glance up while drifting downstream and saw this hawk at the top of a tree--what a great view there must be from up there!



I went downstream about as far as the Calico boat ramp before turning around. On my way back upstream I saw this egret fishing from some surface growth in the middle of the river.



Shortly after I took that picture, it flew off, passing by the kayak as it went. I couldn't pick a favorite photo from the series, so I am including several:



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It's got a twig or something stuck to its foot. I assume it got rid of it eventually...

I went back into Blue Spring on my way back to the boat ramp. There were no birds (or raccoons--where the heck are those guys?) in there. An egret was perched on the tree that stretches over the inlet just at the point where it joins the main river. It didn't see me coming as I was leaving the inlet and so I picked up the camera to get a photo.....and realized I would be facing almost directly into the sun. This is not usually the approved lighting condition....but sometimes I like the effect, so I took it anyway.



In fact, another into-the-sun-egret photo op presented itself shortly after that, so I took that one, too.



As I got close to the boat ramp, I saw the great blue heron that hangs out there. Hmm, maybe I can get another photo or two before heading home...



It took off as I approached



and flew in front of me and then downriver.



I miss the assorted birds that are off spending winter elsewhere, but even so, this is a fantastic river to spend time on. I have no doubt I will be back out soon. Stand by.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Piney Z Lake, Finally!

There is no secret to balance.
You just have to feel the waves.
~Frank Herbert

I have been talking about paddling this lake for a very, very long time. DH and I decided that since the boats were still loaded from the recent Wacissa trip, we would finally get to Piney Z Lake. When we left home, there were clouds in the sky and a very light and intermittent breeze.

One of the things that has kept me from paddling here alone is the long (and to my mind, totally unnecessary, but maybe there is reasoning going on that I don't understand) distance that you have to haul your boat from the parking lot to the ramp. There is a (locked) gate across an opening wide enough for a car, and the entire length of the path from the parking area to the ramp could be driven. It crosses a walking trail, but cars approaching could be easily seen by walkers, and signage could be put up on all sides. It's a long way to carry a boat before your paddling trip....and seems many times longer after it. They have erected paddling trail signs and offer maps, but this aspect makes it very paddler-unfriendly, at least to solo women paddlers of, shall we say, more advanced age than college students. Perhaps there is some concern about the integrity of the "fishing finger" on which the ramp is located as far as supporting vehicle weight--allowing vehicles acess to at least the start of the finger would be of great benefit since it would eliminate the incline from the parking lot (again, fun to climb lugging your boat after a day of paddling...).

While this was actually taken at the end of the paddling trip, here's a photo of the ramp from the lake (with DH and his kayak already on shore).



The parking lot is to the left, up the hill.

So off we went. There is an island across from the ramp and so we decided to explore that. We have often spotted gators and many egrets hanging out along the edge--but always through binoculars from the ramp area. This rather large guy was enjoying the warm day.



At one point the lake was nearly mirror-smooth. We saw a lot of anhingas. This one was perched on a platform on which we have previously seen osprey nests.



There are several fishing fingers on this side of the lake. Some people were fishing off of one of them as we went by. The breeze picked up a bit. We decided to head to the causeway that separates Piney Z Lake from Lake Lafayette.

This great blue heron was standing on one of the vacant fishing fingers as we went by.



As we appraoched the causeway, the breeze turned into wind and the water became quite choppy. Hmm, seemed like a good time to turn around, which would also put the wind at our backs. We were alongside an extremely long land extension and intended to cross over, hoping that the wind would be less along the banks of the lake. There are many spots, marked by high pilings, through which you can cross. As we approached one, DH spotted an alligator on the grass on the spit of land, which then slid into the water. He's not comfortable around gators and didn't want to cross anywhere near that one, so we continued on. We did finally cross, but the wind was no better on the other side. I was in my short Manitou since the new long one was mounted on the trailer (which we were not using for transport); it was easier before our Wacissa trip to just toss the short one into the pickup bed with his boat than take the new one off the trailer. It's a perfect boat for calm water...less than ideal for that kind of chop! I was bobbing around like a cork. The wind was too strong to hear each other so we just gestured that we would follow the shoreline back to the ramp. The waves were literally breaking over the bow of my kayak. It occurred to me that this was one of those things that would be great fun...once back on land safely and with my camera intact!

As I suspected would happen, the wind almost totally died down as we got closer to the ramp, the water calmed to mere ripples. ARGH. I really, really like this lake and had hoped to spend a lot more time exploring it than we had, and in a more relaxed manner. DH decided to head back to the ramp; I decided to take another turn around the island across from it. I just wasn't ready to leave yet, now that conditions were good again. I looked across the water and saw this egret flying by.



And then back to the ramp (which was when I took the first photo in this post). I was right--once off the water, I realized that it had been fun, and very exhilerating. Not conditions I want to encounter often, though....

Despite the problem with access, I will be going back to this lake many more times. We didn't see any wood storks, but during much of it, they could have flown right by and we wouldn't see them since we were concentrating on paddling through the waves. We missed a huge section of shoreline since we cut the trip short. There were more photos to be taken but even if I had wanted to risk lifting the camera, it would have been difficult to stay focused on anything. We barely scratched the surface of what the lake has to offer a paddler. I can't wait to try it on a calmer day.

Stand by.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more."
~ Dr. Seuss

When it's 75 degrees on Christmas, it seems better to go out paddling than to sit around the hearth. So off DH and I went, to the Wacissa, of course.

One of the first birds of the day was a little cardinal--I'm not up on my juvenile cardinals but this one seems sort of puffy and young-looking. At any rate, the color was right for today!



You know I'm going to post an egret photo, so we will get to that right away. The nares (part around the eye) is turning green, a sign that it is in breeding mode.



The great blue heron that is often found near the boat ramp was in the same general area again today, also with some impressive chest feathers.



As we progressed downstream we spotted a large bird up in a tree. It turned out to be a juvenile eagle. We looked everywhere for an adult, but had no luck finding one.



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We drifted down a little past the house on the right. The cormorant that is often perched on the branch sticking out of the water was there again. I have the hardest time getting a still photo of a cormorant, but I did get some of this one as it left the branch. They look extremely ungainly when they take off, with much splashing and repeated hops across the water.



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We went into Blue Spring twice on this trip--the gator that is usually on the swim raft was nowhere to be seen. Neither were the birds that were there on my last trip. They're off with their families today, I guess...

On the way back to the boat ramp we passed a grebe. These little ones are just plain cute! This one had been diving and was fluffing a bit to dry off.



It was a nice paddling trip. We saw quite a few other paddlers on the river. Aside from one air boat, it was very peaceful and a fine way to spend some of Christmas day. I hope you all had a great holiday. If our warm weather continues, we'll get out again soon. Stand by.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

No Grip of Cold Here....

The great egret is nature's haiku. There's poetry in its plumage,
which is white as a full moon and, in breeding season, sticks out
here and there like a pillow that's been through
one too many pillow fights.
~Unknown

Headlines on the CNN news site claim that winter grips the country. We were 75 degrees yesterday and so I decided to head to the Wacissa.

I was the only car in the parking lot when I got there, the only one when I left. One air boat passed me after about 2 hours on the water, and otherwise I had the river to myself. What a wonderful day.

I paddled into Blue Spring, of course. The gator is back and was sunning on one of the two swim rafts, which on this day were butted up against each other. An egret was on the other one.



I sat there for a while watching them. The egret left and a juvenile little blue heron flew in to land on the raft. This was how they were when I left:



As I was paddling out of the spring inlet, I saw this ibis off to the side.



I drifted on downstream. There were many, many lesser yellow legs on the river, as always this time of year.



These two seem to be conversing about how close that kayak is getting to them, and should they leave?



Here and there you can see bright red flowers poking out of the green leaves along the river's edge--showing some seasonal colors!



Those ducks are still there, and I followed them upstream after turning around.



Well, that is, until they left in a flurry of wings and water.



I think I might have spotted that diving egret pictured in the previous post, although this time it was perched on a log at the edge of the river, looking quite normal.



The giveaway was when it literally pounced on something underwater, again doing a dive, if not as impressive as from the air. Must have been the same one. This juvenile little blue heron was nearby and watched me approach.



As I was paddling/drifting upstream (I had a perfect upstream breeze moving me along), a great egret soared by me on the right, circled around, and glided back downstream. Thanks!



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As I got near the spring inlet on my way back upstream, I came to a juvenile ibis fishing on a vegetation island. The upstream breeze blew me close to it, and yet it seemed unconcerned, allowing me a chance to get a closeup as I moved by.



I was close to the boat ramp and considering putting the camera away in preparation for getting out and loading up to go home. But wait, what is that? Can it be? It's been a long, long time since a male wood duck appeared here, but here was this guy all by himself over to the right.



They just don't look real, do they? So many colors, and such interesting feather patterns.

A great paddling day. Warm weather is forecast for this whole week (get down here if you can!) and so I hope to get out again. Stand by.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Egret Who Would Be An Osprey

The bird thinks it a favor to give the fish a lift in the air.
~Rabindranath Tagore

We'll get to the egret in a moment. As mentioned in the previous post, I found myself with a free warm sunny afternoon yesterday to spend paddling, so I headed out with the new kayak to the Wacissa (of course). There was a bit of a wind, but all the better to see how well the skeg works.

Although I took this one after the paddling trip, I am going to start with a photo of the new kayak loaded on the trailer behind the car. The only other vehicle when I got to the parking lot and when I left was a truck and trailer, no doubt belonging to the seaweed harvesters I passed on the river. It's not that I'm that huge a fan of yellow (except in kitchens), it just worked out that way...



When I arrived at the head spring, there was a large group of ibis, both adult and juvenile, hanging out at the launch area. I knew I was going to cause them to leave once I took my boat down, so I walked over with the camera before unloading the kayak. One juvenile was having a good time bathing in the shallow water while the others just hung out.



It took a while with its bath (must have been a female).



As expected, they scattered as I approached with the kayak.

I was so happy to see the three otters near the top of the river.



So off I went, on a more casual paddle than the first one with the boat. I like it a lot, and again recommend it.

I paddled into Blue Spring, which was as beautiful and peaceful as always. Since the water level is so high, I decided to take the back way out to the river. It was nice in there, but the only wildlife I spotted was a couple of squirrels. I came out of the calm and back into the wind and continued downstream.

An anhinga was perched in a tree at the edge of the water. I haven't posted a photo of one of these for a while so I decided to include this one.



The wind got a bit stronger and so I turned around after a couple of miles of meandering. I spotted these ducks. While they look a lot like female wood ducks in this photo, they were actually larger than typical female woodies, so I am not sure what they are.



So then there I was paddling upstream. The wind was behind me so it was as much a drift as a paddle. I saw an egret flying toward me from upstream and so, just in case it actually continued flying toward me, I set the camera exposure and let myself drift to a stop in some surface greenery.

I have never seen an egret behave like this, and I have been paddling and observing egrets for a fairly long time. It must have been raised by an osprey, or perhaps a pelican. It hovered above the water (that's odd right there) and would then dive straight down into it--pretty much exactly like an osprey (or even more like a pelican). My camera can take about 6 frames per second, so I sat there and let it click away. I think I came home with about 30 photos of this bird, at least. Here we go--this was the first pass that I photographed. It starts out with hovering:



and then does a dive like I have never seen before from an egret:



That's not into some vegetation island or high bottom--that's slap into the river! So I waited, and here is the second pass, starting with the hover:



and then the dive,



followed by the lift from the water:



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At the risk of being redundant, I have never seen an egret dive for food like that. When I got home I looked in all my bird books for any reference to egrets feeding in this manner, and every one says that egrets "slowly stalk their food" in the shallows, or on land. This was just plain weird. I actually witnessed three hovers and dives before it flew off to the side of the river.

I followed it over, just to see if maybe it would change into another bird or perhaps speak to me... No such luck, it just stood at the edge.



I paddled on, feeling I had definitely seen something unusual. Returning to normalcy, this juvenile little blue heron was fishing in some surface greenery.



I paddled and drifted upstream. I decided not to go into Blue Spring again, but I did paddle over to the the inlet entrance since this young ibis was perched alone on the tree branch that extends over the river. It was uncommonly tolerant of my presence and let me take several photos from close by.



A great paddling day all around--wonderful weather, wildlife, new boat, and a very strange performance by an egret. That was yesterday....today it drizzled rain all day. Not sure when the next paddling day will be.

Stand by.