Friday, January 23, 2009

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Today was good.
Today was fun.
Tomorrow is another one.
~Dr. Seuss

Finally a warm day for a paddle! When I got to the Wacissa there was a strong upstream wind, but it was not a chilly wind and so I didn't mind that at all. How great to be back on the water! Mine was the only car in the parking lot when I arrived and for much of the day I had the river to myself.

The path leading from the head spring is getting quite narrow, with surface growth closing in on both sides. There was a snowy egret fishing in the vegetation.

And a little farther along I saw the great blue heron that is always near the boat ramp. It left as I approached.

(Didn't quite get all of the feet in that one! It's a long bird when it stretches out in flight!)

I paddled on to Blue Spring. I haven't see the large gator that was often on the swim raft for a while now, but this is the third trip in a row on which I spotted this little one (probably not even 4 feet long). It was pretty well covered with green stuff from the surface, and just watched me paddle by.

On the way out of the spring inlet, I saw an egret standing at the edge. It also watched me drift by.

You can see in the photo how their eyes are on a little bit of a slant to face downward into the water (or bushes). They look so odd when they look right at you.

It left shortly after I took that photo and as I was drifting closer.

The little yellowlegs are still here and can be seen in groups all along the river. Very common sight right now.


I passed a juvenile little blue heron. Two things have struck me as odd this year. First, we have been seeing these juveniles for months and in some numbers. It seems that in the past there have been seasons for seeing juveniles, and then you don't see them any more. But lately there are always juveniles on this river. The other odd thing is that although I often see several of these on every trip, I have yet to see any in the process of changing to their adult coloration, as I have in other years. Why are there so many young ones for so long a period of time, and why aren't there any maturing ones? This one seemed to have just a touch of the adult coloration on the tips of its wings.

I watched him (her?) for a while, hoping to get a photo of a successful catch. I don't think he liked me being quite so close and flew to a nearby patch of surface vegetation.

So, having nothing else to do, I drifted a few feet and continued watching him. He did the wing-spread thing that they do to try to lure fish to the shade created by their wings.

After a bit he must have gotten tired of having me watch his every move so he flew by me heading upstream.

At about this time I noticed a slightly smoky smell in the air. I continued downstream into the wind. After about 10 more minutes, the air got more smoky and occasionally a bit of ash would blow by. I decided it wasn't going to get any better downstream, so I turned around and let the wind take me back upstream.

Usually when I take photos of flying egrets, they are over the water, or heading out toward the water. I saw this one flying through the woods next to me (how very bird-like of it!).

It landed with a very impressive show of wings (behind me...wish I could have gotten a photo of it!). I saw breeding plumage blowing in the wind and so I turned around to see if I could get some pictures of it. It sat nicely for one photo.

After I took that, it hopped over to a nearby low bush, so I followed it and took more pictures.

I love these birds to begin with, but when they get that plumage, they are so impressive! Just gorgeous. I don't think it was that crazy about my being parked in the horticulture for so long directly facing it.

It took off somewhat unexpectedly and flew right by me.

I continued upstream. The air was getting very smoky now, with more ash drifting by.

There are several juvenile ibis on the river these days, including this one that passed by on its way downstream.

These two yellowlegs were standing side-by-side and so I stopped to photograph them.

There were two paddlers heading downstream toward me and it occurred to me that if they startled these two little birds, I might be able to get a good picture of them either taking off or flying. That didn't work out, but I did chat for a while with the other paddlers. They were from Panama City and eager to see Blue Spring for the first time. By this time it was very smoky in the downstream direction but very clear and sunny upstream. I mentioned the smoke. They said they had passed a large prescribed burn on a nearby road on their way to the river, which explained that. We talked a while and then they continued downstream and I continued back toward the boat ramp.

Now it was very smoky, and the smoke had caught up to me in the wind and was ahead of me upstream. I turned around to see what the river looked like behind me. Very eerie, with the sun filtered through all the smoke.

The wind was still pushing me upstream so I took advantage of not having to use the paddle; I decided that there would be no more photos today so I might as well take off the lens hood, replace the lens cap, and get ready to get out of the boat. I was approaching the island across from the boat ramp. The great blue heron was still there and flew through the smoke ahead of me. Might as well take one more photo, even if it's through smoke!

Kind of a shame to have the day cut short because of the smoke, but the wind probably would have prevented a long paddle anyway. It was great to get back to the birds! It looks like our weather may stay mild for a few more days, hopefully I can get back out on a clear day. Stand by.


Beverly said...

Wow! I'm in awe once again. I am smitten with your photos of the egrets and herons.

Katney said...

You get such incredible shots. I am amazed at how well you can capture so many birds in such a variety of circumstances on the river.

I am also amazed that you get that close to the gators.

We will go snowshoeing tomorrow--I guess it's our version of your outings. We will not likely see a lot of wildlife, but the last time we were on the hike we will take there were tracks that might have been a cougar.

Suzanne said...

I loved your photos! The shot of the egret in the woods, the breeding plumage, and the heron in the smoke are especially striking. I love hearing about you being on the river and the behavior of the birds -- you make it real for me and I really appreciate that. Thank you!!

Nature Nut said...

I'm so envious of the wonderful opportunities you have to photograph such magnificent birds!

Robert V. Sobczak said...

Your photos and observations cut to the core. Interesting question mark about the juveniles, and great capture of egret flying under the tree line.

Stacie said...

Those straight on egret shots crack me up! I LOVE Them!

ps..I tagged you :)

Sandy said...

Wow, wow, gorgeous shots! I'm so glad I checked in so I could see these.

Bhavesh Chhatbar said...

Can't express how beautiful this is!

monsoon-dreams said...

came here thru sandy's blog.wonderful snaps!

WOODY said...

Peggy, I don't envy you paddling in the cold weather...your photos seem to be getting better all the time. I continually use them for my computer background. Take care.

Libby Maxim said...

fabulous shots, makes me want to move to FL

thanks so much