Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Coolest Place to Be

Our bodies are molded rivers.

It really does seem 10 degrees cooler on the water, particularly when you have a light breeze wafting across the 73-degree surface. Clearly I am not the only paddler to have discovered this; there were several others on the Wacissa.

As I was drifting downstream, I saw this well-camouflaged young night heron. If I had not been looking for such things along the river's edge, it never would have caught my eye.

This was a day to just drift with the gentle current rather than make the effort to paddle (at least during the downstream part...). What a great way to spend a morning.

This snowy egret was sitting on a jagged stump as I floated by.

I guess it didn't like the look or sound of the camera (or me), since it decided to leave.

And off it went downriver.

The gators were also out enjoying the sunshine--most of the ones I saw were small. Must be the most recent batch.

I saw a young ibis perched along the side of the river. I assumed it was alone; I didn't see any others. But when I drifted on over to see if I could get a picture of it, several more flew out from the nearby trees. This one stayed where it was, though.

I turned around after a couple of hours of meandering downstream. There was little wind and the current never picked up, so it was an easy, slow paddle back upstream. I spotted a female wood duck with babies swimming along the edge. When she saw me, she stopped, which caused the babies to all sort of mill around, not sure why they were stopped. Several looked over at me, but didn't seem particularly alarmed. I took the picture and moved on so they could continue on their own little meander.

At the time I took that photo of the woodie babies, I was paddling between the river's edge and a line of reedy tussocks, with the main part of the river on the other side of the reeds. Immediately after leaving the woodies, I saw the resident pelican coming swooping downstream only inches from the water. Not much I could do about the reeds between us, so this photo has a somewhat you-are-there quality (meaning that it is technically not very good, but is very real and of the moment):

There are always many, many little blue herons on this river. I rarely photograph them; I don't find them all that interesting in the adult stage. But this one kept fishing even when I was within a few feet of it, so I couldn't resist.

And speaking of little blue herons, I did see this juvenile. Its feathers are in the process of changing from the white color they start out with to the dark adult coloring.

They look striking when they fly and the new color pattern shows up on their wings.

I missed a photo of a green heron because I was too slow to get the camera up and ready. After it flew away, I continued paddling upstream and within minutes saw a tricolored heron. I've gotten a lot of tricolored heron images lately and so I decided to just pass by and enjoy watching it without photographing it. But something didn't look quite right about it--the neck was too short. I kept staring at it as I drifted closer and closer. It's a good thing no other humans were nearby to hear me laughing at myself. I had been sitting there doing nothing as I got closer and closer to another green heron--the bird I had been looking for and had already let get away once. Sheesh.

The entire time I was on the water, I was hearing prothonotary warblers calling. These are such vivid yellow birds, but yet are very difficult to spot in the greens and yellows of the shoreline vegetation (unlike, say, male cardinals). I stopped several times to see if I could find the source of the calls, but after a few minutes it just seemed futile. As I approached the Blue Spring inlet on my way upstream, I could hear two, or maybe even three, warblers in the area near the entrance to the inlet. It's nice and shady there and so I pulled over and got out of the current and just sat for a while trying to find them. Until they found me. Perhaps they felt a kinship with my bright yellow boat... For whatever reason, they flitted around me. These birds are peculiarly and remarkably difficult to photograph (at least I find them so)--the sunlight bounces off of those bright yellow feathers and they end up looking like little balls of glowing yellow light. Out of many images that I captured of them, these two were the only ones I kept:


It was a great day on the river and no doubt the most comfortable place to be outside.

DH is on vacation this coming week and I don't know if paddling is in the cards or not--I think we have more things planned than we will have time to do. I'll get back out soon, though. Stand by.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Heat Index? What Heat Index?

I walk without flinching through the burning cathedral
of the summer. My bank of wild grass is majestic and
full of music. It is a fire that solitude presses against my lips.
~Violette Leduc

On my way to the river I heard the weather guy on the radio warn about the "dangerous" heat index predicted for this day--from 105 to 107 degrees. La di da, la di da. And yes, it's true that it is not even officially summer yet.

I planned on a short paddling trip, needless to say. As expected, there were only two other cars in the parking area.

As I drifted downstream, I saw wisps of steam rising from the river here and there. Not surprising--this river is a constant 73 or so degrees, in contrast with the air, which was even by then (mid morning) over 90 degrees. But the real show was at Blue Spring. Here's what I saw as I paddled through the inlet toward the spring.

As I got closer, I saw that the swim floats were shrouded in the mist.

It looked so magical that I stayed for a while taking pictures. I liked the view of this half-submerged branch emerging from the haze.

But then it was time to move on. The mist was dissipating as I left--I must have gotten there just in time to see the last of it.

Once again the tricolored herons were out and about. This one had been busy plunging into the water after tasty morsels.

This, of course, led (as shown previously) to the need to fluff.

I was once again trying to limit my photos of white birds, but when this snowy egret stayed calm and still as I drifted close by it, I couldn't resist a closeup.

I spotted a great blue heron coming in for a landing to the left.

This one was also very still for me (I think they just overestimate their camouflage). This was a day for getting closeup photos of heads and necks!

This egret was straight ahead of me as I drifted downstream, so of course I could not resist lifting the camera.

It decided it was time to go elsewhere right about then...

I turned around after drifting only a little more than a mile. As I was paddling slowly upstream, I was thinking about how odd it was that I had yet to see any green herons--surely by now they had returned to the river. Less than thirty seconds after having that thought, I spotted a familiar shape in the leaves of an island to my right. Was it? Yes! Unfortunately, it spotted me at about the same time. I got this right before it took off. Shy little guys.

Another tricolored heron totally ignored me as I paddled by.

As I approached the launch area after passing Duck Island, I started to prepare the camera for leaving--reversing the lens hood and replacing the lens cap. I almost never see any birds to photograph that close to the ramp. But wouldn't you know, on this day a yellow crowned night heron was preening off to the side. So I took off the lens cap and put on the hood and drifted over that way. It seemed totally unaware of me.

I actually sat there for a fairly long time before it looked up and saw me.

So I left it to its preening and finished paddling.

In many ways the river is the best place to be on these hot days. Sitting so close to the cool water seems to counter the air temperature, at least a little. Of course hat/shirt-dipping helps cool you down a lot. And the river, as long as you don't get too close to the shore, is nearly bug-free, unlike my yard. Hopefully I'll get back there soon. Stand by.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Herons on the Wacissa

Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone
you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.
~Mark Twain

This was the day to see herons--great blue herons, tricolored herons, little blue herons, night herons...they were all out and about! This great blue heron flew by as I drifted downstream from the boat ramp.

I followed it with the camera as it landed on the jagged top of an old tree stump that protruded from the water.

This was an unusually large and very impressive bird.

As I approached the only dock in this part of the river, I saw another great blue heron standing on it, this one facing away from the river drying its wings.

This snowy egret was sitting in the leaves of a vegetation island, looking very regal.

There was a little blue heron to the left of the snowy as I took the above photo. I sat for a spell with the camera on the snowy, wondering what it was going to do next. I pressed the shutter just as the heron decided to leave; the camera is very quick to focus and zeroed in on the heron as it passed between me and the egret, producing a somewhat you-are-there moment, if not the photo I had intended.

I saw three different wood duck families, the mother always in front with the babies following single-file behind her. These were swimming alongside the river's edge.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had not seen any yellow crowned night herons yet. Well, I more than made up for that lack on this trip. They were everywhere. This one posed for me as I drifted by.

I turned around after a couple of hours of drifting downstream. There was very little breeze and the current was light, making the upstream paddle an easy one. This great blue heron seemed to think it was well camouflaged in some reeds. It held stock-still as I got closer and closer, and was still there as I was leaving it.

An air boat tore through the peaceful silence on its way downstream, sending birds scattering in all directions. This one flew over me as it tried to escape the roar of the engine.

Meanwhile, I watched a gator glide silently through the water.

This was a great day for seeing tricolored herons. This one had been fishing and fluffed its feathers as I passed by.

A little while later I saw another. I find that these birds look the most primitive of the smaller shorebirds, with their long pointed beaks and serpentine necks.

This snowy egret came in for a landing on some surface growth

and proceeded to do some fishing.

I paddled into Blue Spring on my way upstream--there were neither people nor birds in the inlet channel or the spring itself....strange to have it so empty. I didn't linger there long.

I couldn't resist getting one more snowy egret photo before arriving back at the launch area.

These are hot days, with the temps going well into the 90's, and this river is an ideal place to spend several hours. It's nearly bug-free (the yellow flies will find you, though, if you linger too close to the wooded edge--one got into my cockpit and managed to bite me on the bottom of my (bare) foot right at the arch....a terrible place for such a bite...), and the water is wonderfully cool. And it's just so pretty there that you forget how hot the air is. A great way to spend a summer day.

I hope to get out again soon. Stand by.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Good Day Sunshine....

If I had a tale that I could tell you,
I'd tell a tale sure to make you smile.
If I had a wish that I could wish for you,
I'd make a wish for sunshine all the while.
~John Denver

What a great day to be on the water! I was up and out of the house and on my way much earlier than usual, eager to get back to the river.

As I was drifting downstream after leaving the boat ramp, I saw many snowy egrets lining the channel. I thought I have so many photos of egrets, and have posted so many, I think today I will not take any photos of white birds. I'm only taking non-white birds today (and wondered if I would end up with any images...). Just after passing Duck Island, which is nearly opposite the launch area, I saw a bird splashing ahead of me. I could see that it had brown wings, so I assumed it was an enthusiastically fishing limpkin. A non-white bird!

Well, I wanted to post somewhat different photos this time. I hit the jackpot on this trip; here's a bird that has never been posted in a Wacissa trip post since this blog was started in 2005:

Yes... a brown pelican. On the spring-fed Wacissa River. It was staying on the water (rather than looking for fish from the air); it would see a fish (why search from overhead when the water is crystal clear?) and with great flapping and splashing, it would plunge its head in after it. Needless to say, I sat there for quite some time photographing it.




I finally continued on downstream. I decided to go into Cassidy Spring to check out the possibility of getting out for a swim (didn't; too buggy in there). As I turned the bend to enter the spring area, I looked up and saw this night heron about four feet directly above me, just watching me go by while it sat there drying its wings. I slowly paddled away and turned around to get a picture of it.

It was a nearly windless day and I drifted slowly downstream. A very large group of paddlers went into Blue Spring so I passed it by. About a mile downstream of the spring I saw this female wood duck leading her chicks around. She saw me coming and headed for the greenery along the edge of the river. I was able to get a photo just before they vanished into it.

A little while later I saw this pair.

I turned around after a couple of miles and slowly paddled back upstream, stopping at one point to have the lunch I had brought (I had skipped breakfast altogether in order to get to the river sooner).

On my way upstream, a tricolored heron flew past and settled on some surface vegetation ahead of me and across the river. I paddled over to get a few photos. It ignored me as I approached and continued fishing. In fact, it ignored me until I brought the camera up and pointed it--must be camera-shy. Off it went.

It didn't go far, though. It settled on the next patch of seaweed. These birds have such interesting coloring, and I love the long wispy reddish feathers on their backs.

The pelican was still there when I got back to Duck Island. I don't know exactly how far it is to the nearest saltwater from the Wacissa as the pelican flies (so to speak), but it seems like it is a fair distance. I wonder how long it will stay on the river.

Regular readers of this blog most likely didn't believe me for a second when I said I was not going to photograph my beloved egrets. I mean, really.


The rain predictions are down for this whole week, so I hope to get back out again soon. Stand by.