Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Still not paddling!

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth,
for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:
it is the time for home.
~Edith Sitwell

I came so close to getting out paddling today! Within 15 minutes of leaving DH to finish putting in the new kitchen counter tops and sink and faucets. And then.... the new counter top back lip is lower than the last one, requiring more tiles for the splash guard behind the sink, the purchase of which must be done by me so that we don't end up with Finding Nemo tiles or whatever else was the first thing DH came to (explaining upon arriving home that "a tile is tile, isn't it?"). So that's an hour trip to the nearest Lowe's, shopping, hour trip home, apply tiles...and there goes my paddling trip on this first sunny, non-windy, acceptably chilly (50 degrees) day we have had for weeks.

Ah well.

Meanwhile, it's not that I have been completely idle. While it may be too cold, rainy, or windy to paddle, it has been just fine for camping, and I have been getting out often. My last trip included photos of the type usually posted here, and I even considered double-posting them. But no need, I'm going padding today! Or not.

If you have the time, head over to the recent post in Camping Tales to see the latest birds. Maybe I can get out paddling tomorrow...

Stand by.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mid-November on the Wacissa

Even if you're on the right track,
you'll get run over if you just sit there.
~Will Rogers

After a few weeks of a lot of camping, I am home for a spell, and so it was time to return to the Wacissa. As often happens this time of year, the birds are few and far between, but the river itself is still a joy to experience. This was a warm day with a calm wind. When I arrived at the river I was the only one in the parking area; later a power boat passed me, and later still a woman in a canoe went by. Very peaceful paddling.

When I launched, I saw the great blue heron that is often near the boat ramp fly downriver. And so I wasn't watching for him as I started drifting downstream. And then all of a sudden he was right next to me, looking as regal and yet prehistoric as always.



I miss all the snowy egrets that line the upper banks other times of year. I paddled into Blue Spring to see what I might find in there. A juvenile little blue heron was fishing in surface greenery. I was going to pass by without lifting the camera, but it was so unconcerned with my presence that I changed my mind. I didn't have to take the photo, it gave it to me.



I was thrilled to see a raccoon walking along the river's edge--it has been a long time since I have seen one in there, no doubt due in part to the gator that took up residence at the spring for so long. The raccoon was well hidden behind tree branches and I couldn't get a picture of it--but I did stop and watch it for a long time.

The entire time that I was drifting downstream and then later paddling upstream I was accompanied by belted kingfishers swooping across the river from side to side, chittering away. These are the most frustrating birds to try to photograph, even though they are almost always right near by (as any "yakographer" will confirm!). During my upstream return to the boat ramp, one of them landed and perched at the end of a branch ahead of me. I got less-than-ideal photos of it, but I tend to think that any recognizable images of these birds are worthy of posting!



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As I drifted closer, hoping for more, it left. It had already lingered in one place much longer than they usually do.



I had gotten a late start and it gets dark earlier these days. I took a very typical photo of an egret flying by, one that I might not normally include since it is so typical. However, I think that this one has a very late-November-afternoon look to it and so it belongs in this post.



Unusually few images for a paddling trip that lasted several hours, but that's the way it goes sometimes, particularly as we approach winter.

I look forward to getting back out soon. Stand by.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Not Paddling at St. George Island

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles; and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea
~E. E. Cummings


I camped at the state park last week with a friend. I have been to St. George often, but not for a long time; I had forgotten how much I liked it there. So I made reservations to return to camp for a couple of nights this week. My timing was fortunate--they had evacuated the campground the night before I arrived as a precaution against tropical storm Ida. Ida had passed by the time I got there. I didn't paddle, but I am posting the photos here since they include birds that are less common in this blog, as well as some photos with nary a bird in them. And I have to make up for lost time in posting over the summer. We'd best get started, there are a lot of photos.

The sky was still dramatically dark and stormy when I arrived, though the sun was working at peeking through here and there. The beach was darker than it had been last week, with vertical stripes of rain showing in the distance. A lone great blue heron was standing in the surf.



I walked slowly closer, hoping to get another picture of him. Herons show up a lot in this blog...but rarely with surf around them... As I got closer, the sun came through a hole in the clouds.



I moved away from the water and planned to pass him at a distance I hoped would not alarm him. That didn't work. So I took some photos of him as he flew by over the sea oats (no doubt headed to one of the freshwater ponds near the campground).



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I walked along the water for a while. A pair of pelicans approached from ahead of me.



I watched as they came closer and flew by me.



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Here's one of them as it flew by:



The wind was blowing strongly, sending up plumes of water above each breaking wave. A larger group of pelicans flew past, just ahead of a wave.



After a while I walked back to the campground.

The next morning brought a return to sunshine and blue sky. I took my chair down to the beach to just sit and enjoy the day. A sandpiper made its way through the little tidal pools and puddles in front of me. These birds are just too cute.



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I keep the camera in a bag on the beach when I am not using it, having already experienced a problem with sand getting on the sensor (previous camera). So it was in the bag on the ground next to my chair when I saw a really large splash in the water not too far from shore. Too big to be a diving pelican. I watched and saw a dolphin leap out of the water, its body completely in air, Sea World-style. Before it had hit the water, I had the camera out of the bag. I was lifting it and turning it on during its third jump. Just one more...just one more... But no such luck, it was done jumping. I kept the camera out just in case, and in a few minutes saw a pod of dolphins swim by. None of them did any jumping, but I had to document their presence anyway.



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Some time later I picked up the chair and camera bag and headed back to the campground. On the way I saw the heron again, this time next to one of the ponds.



I also saw the bufflehead that hung out at one of the freshwater ponds, this time on blue water reflecting the sky.



Before I left for home the next day, I decided to take another walk on the beach. The first thing I saw was a large group of pelicans just hanging out at the shoreline.



There was no way to get by them without scaring them off, so I turned around and went the other way. This pelican appeared overhead. I love it when they are about to dive; their webbed feet look somehow comical to me.



Last week there were a lot of jellyfish along the beach, as is fairly typical. This week, possibly as a result of Ida, I saw a lot of starfish washed up.



As I was strolling along, something moving across the sand caught my eye. A crab was scuttering toward the water. These guys are so funny. When they see you, they turn to face you and hunker down and freeze in place. Makes for easy photography.



I stood there for a long time and apparently seemed less threatening. The crab moved slowly away from me, but I swear those eyes swiveled around so as to keep tabs on me.



It may not have felt completely secure about turning its back on me; it decided to scuttle sideways away from me.



I left it alone and moved on.

And that was the end of this camping trip. I included info on the campground in a post last week in the Camping Tales blog (which is another reason this post is here instead of there). I have plans to camp again elsewhere this coming week, this time hopefully with paddling included. Or I will get back to my regular river. Either way, stand by.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Remembering How to Paddle...

I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me...
~Steve Miller

This has definitely been the longest interval between paddling trips for me for years, for a couple of reasons. I will spare you my whining about our endless summer heat. This was also the time for my North Carolina (non-paddling) trip, so that kept me away for a week.

Despite the weather, I took advantage of yesterday being rain-free, if hot, and headed to the Wacissa. In my absence they have applied some paving compound to portions of the parking lot, which will eventually harden and be very convenient. It was nice to see that. Otherwise, the only cars were three with kayak racks on top. A good sign!

A less favorable sign was the lack of flashes of white along the top edges of the river, as seen from the ramp. Where are the egrets? I saw fewer on this trip than I have for a long time.

It was great to be back in the boat, and I still remembered how to paddle it. I drifted down to Blue Spring, which was bright blue, clear, and very peaceful. When I got there, three paddlers were exiting out the back way. I paddled around the spring and then headed back to the river. This little bird (I can never recall what these are--some kind of flycatcher?) was perched on a tree limb in the channel leading out.



They are so small and cute.

Eventually I caught up to the paddlers that had been exiting the spring and drifted a medium distance behind them. They were unusually quiet as they moved downriver (no nonstop chatter), which was fantastic. After awhile I came to this juvenile ibis perched on a tree branch above me. His body feathers are starting to get their adult white coloring.



There was a similar juvenile on a lower branch. As I got closer, they flew together a short way downstream, where I caught up with them.



They were very close to an adult ibis, which may have been one of their parents.



I turned around shortly after passing them.

There are yellow wildflowers lining the river on both sides. When the sun shines on them, they seem to be lit from within. Very nice effect.



There had been an egret standing in one place for a long time--I spotted him across the river when I was photographing the ibises. He stayed standing as I approached him. Maybe he was meeting an egret friend there and was waiting patiently.



I decided to work my way over to the other side of him. I gave him a wide berth as I did so, but I guess he started to wonder what I was up to. Or maybe he just got tired of waiting.



And so I paddled back upstream toward the boat ramp. When I was in the top section, which has a lot of surface growth on it now, I saw a sign that winter may actually get here this year--the lesser yellowlegs are back on the Wacissa.



As I was approaching Duck Island, which is nearly across from the boat ramp, I saw the shadow of a large flying bird cross the tree tops just ahead of me. I looked up to see what it was. Imagine my surprise!



The eagle continue to circle right above me and fairly low. I took many photos of it, needless to say.



It swooped lower with each spiral and I wondered if it was going to dive for something. I had just enough time to back off on the camera zoom and find it again in the viewfinder to get one photo as it splashed down and then lifted off with its prey.



Now that's a fine ending for a paddling trip!

The forecast promises cooler weather next week. I hope to not have such a long time between trips any time soon. Stand by.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Back to Lake Seminole From Three Rivers State Park

Travel only with thy equals or thy betters;
if there are none, travel alone.
~The Dhammapada

I was amazed to see a sudden drop in the forecast of overnight temperatures, and so of course I immediately made plans to return to camping, which I have missed. There has been a change in my camping dynamic. I was a tenter for many years but decided to upgrade to a camper. I always enjoyed the coziness of my tent and felt no need for much more space, so I went with a small 13' Scamp. Having a door that closes (with a latch, not a zipper) and a sink and a stove (and lights!) seems like the height of luxury and suits me just fine. However, this created a problem with the kayak on those camping trips that also include paddling. I did not relish the idea of having to wrestle my boat on top of my (tall) Xterra by myself (particularly in the event of a strong wind). The logical solution was to purchase a boat that would fit inside the Xterra, and so that's what I did. I ended up with a 10-foot-long, bathtub-wide Santee 100. This worked out extremely well, although I can't recommend a 10' boat to anyone not faced with serious transport issues. Here's the new gear at the campsite (this is Florida; of course I got the optional screen door for the camper!):



It was too windy to paddle the first day, so I spent that time reading and relaxing. The next day I was able to get out paddling and was out for over 3 hours. I have missed paddling on this lake, though wildlife is usually pretty scarce. I was fairly lucky on this day.

My first bird sighting was an egret, standing in the sunshine.



The birds on this lake are very skittish around paddlers. That one took off right after I got the above photo.



And off he goes.



This anhinga was drying its wings as I approached, but folded them in while I drifted by.



Great blue herons can be very difficult to see when they stand still in front of a gray tree trunk. Time after time I passed close by one and did not see it until it flew off in front of me. I was finally able to get a photo of one of them as it soared by.



I love to watch egrets land. They are so graceful for such large birds with such a wide wingspan. This one flew past me and then landed on the walkway next to the public boat ramp (not the one I launched from, in the campground). The approach:



Landing gear down...



And touch down...



There's a little inlet next to the campground, and coots and moorhens hang out there (their calls are wonderful and eerie in the dead of night). As I was crossing it on my way back to the site, I saw a coot to my right. I had a feeling that it was going to make a mad dash for the safety of the inlet to my left and so I had the camera ready when it did.



Running hard:



It decides that ought to be far enough and puts on the brakes.



And back in the water...



Later that day I hiked for about an hour and then had dinner. After dinner, as the sun was getting lower in the sky, I walked down to the lake and took a few photos.

This one was taken from the boat ramp, which was directly in front of my campsite (#8), so this was basically my view while I was there:



About 20 minutes later I got this one from the same spot, but looking to the right at a larger area of lake:



I have a long list of campgrounds I hope to visit this season, many of which include new paddling spots for me. Hopefully our lower temperatures will hold. Stand by.