Thursday, February 25, 2010

Waccasassa River Exploration

Today, fellow explorer Buford Nature, and a guest (Jim) met up in Gulf Hammock for a kayak trip up the Waccasassa River. It was still around 45 degrees when we met at 10 am, but sunny, clear skies, and a slight breeze.
The water level at the ramp was super low due to the northeast wind having blown the water away from the coast, which in turn affects the water level miles inland.
The river was slightly tannin stained but somewhat clear.

Lots of bird life througout the day, which started with an osprey, carrying a fish to a resting spot on a cypress tree to wait for us to pass. Both black and turkey vultures, some perched, some soaring, and some picking at a boney carcass along the bank, dumped by hunters.
The tall giant cypress trees of which there were about a half dozen along the banks, are still without leaves, but looked like some possible leaf activity coming up.

No alligators or turtles sunning yet in the morning. After passing the Wekiva confluence, we started looking for flowering plants. Saw some Golden Clubs, which was the predominant bank bloomer today.
Also Red Buckeye was in different stages of bloom and emergent leaves. Walter's Viburnum was another prolific bloomer today too. And Swamp Dogwood getting ready to leaf out.

At our turn around spot, this is where we went ashore or abank to explore the karst topography. The native Violets were in bloom everywhere. You couldn't go two yards without seeing them. A single Yellowtop was spotted, along with numerous interesting ferns. Buford identified some other shrubs, along with bromeliads earlier that were pointed out. I pointed out Yaupon Holly and its use as a beverage by the Native Americans in the Southeastern U.S.
'Eupatagus antillarium' or Antilles Sea Bisquit, our state fossil was located for a round of discussions on Florida when it was under water eons ago.

Palms were another topic we discussed, such as the Needle Palm, Blue Stem Palm, Cabbage Palm, and Saw Palmettto.

Animals sighted included the above mentioned birds, also red shoulder hawks, belted kingfisher, Eastern phoebe, armadillos (3, and a first for me on this river), several deer, and on the way back, one turtle falling off a log.

A recurrent comment throughout the day was, 'what a beautiful day' and it was, not too cold, sunny, and great to be out in nature, on the water, and in Gulf Hammock exploring nature.

Monday, February 22, 2010

My (potential) Reading List

as part of the art component of this blog, I thought I would share some books that I'm currently involved with. It will include a little blurb as to subject if I've read them. And they aren't listed in any particlar order, though I may include books I've recently finished reading. This will become an intermittent entry as books come up in the rotation.

Recent reads:

"Crab Wars: A tale of horsehoe crabs, bioterrorism, and human health" by William Sargent. Set mostly in the mid Atlantic states, this book is all things horseshoe crab and 'limulus amoeboecyte lysate' or lysate for short. Lysate being the derivitive substance that is the basis of biological research using this blood component. The story starts in the 1950's and goes up through current times.

"Disaster at Dawn, the Cedar Keys Hurricane of 1896", by Alvin Oickle. Those of you that have been on the Atsena Otie tour, have heard me talk of this storm and its affects on the area. I've read some of the news articles at the CK museum, and you could get just as much doing that. The book is repetitive with regards to stats.

"Cedar Key Florida, A History" by Kevin McCarthy. Short historical account of the Cedar Key area from prehistory to modern times. Chapters are divided up by decades, with most of the information coming from newspaper articles, interviews, and other books.

"The Wilderness World of John Muir" edited by Edwin Way Teale. A compilation of stories from John Muir's books. Starts with the history of Muir back in Scotland and his family's immigration to the US. I'm finishing up the book/section about his experience with glaciers. Excellent source of all things Muir.

"A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf" by John Muir. Gulf meaning Gulf of Mexico, and he started off this trek in Indiana in 1867. Walked overland to Savannah Ga. took a steamer ahip to Fernandina, and then continued his walk along the Yulee railroad tacks from there into Cedar Key. He was in Florida before he made his famous journey out west and discovered the Sierra mountains. Survived a bout with malaria while in CK.

The following are in the wings waiting to be read:
"Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S." by Cynthia Barnett;
"When the Rivers Run Dry: Water-The Defining Crisis of the Twenty First Century" by Fred Pearce;
"The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise" by Michael Grunwald;
"Ditch of Dreams: The Cross Florida Barge Canal and the Struggle for Florida's Future" by Steven Noll and David Tegeder (former customers via SFCC);
"Paving Paradise: Florida's Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss" by Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite;
and my newest acquisition- "Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals" by Joy Williams.

And one (of many) reference book of continuous use for my outdoor adventures - "Stalking the Blue-eyed Scallop" a field guide, by Euell Gibbons.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Madhouse of Manatees

Traveled to Citrus County today for some guests of Wild Florida and the viewing of manatees at King's Bay.
The internet weather hacks had a 40% chance of rain, and that was worrysome. But they turned out to be wrong again. Clear, with scattered clouds, light wind around 8 mph, and in the lower 60's.

We paddled over to Jurassic Spring first, and noticed right away the water clarity was excellent. About six swimmers inside the roped area along with maybe four manatees.
Left there and headed around Pete's Pier towards Shatz Is. for a break, plant id session, and equipment adjustment. I pointed out the numerous Brazilian Peppers that lined the shore, and the invasive nature of this exotic species.

After watching some idiot motor boat manuevering in the canal, we paddled up towards Gator Hole, spotting upwards of a dozen manatees along the way. Another half dozen at the Hole. Continued up to Idiot's Delight.
In passing some residents seated along the seawall, I asked them how the circus was today, and they replied 'same as always'.

Boats to the left of us, boats to the right of us, it was boats everywhere. Not many swimmers on the outside at Idiots Delight sanctuary, so that meant only one thing, they were ALL up inside Three Sisters. We headed up into the chasm, I mean channel, and had to wait while a cow and calf exited. No wonder, it looked like a Guiness record attempt inside to see how many scubas, and snorkelers could fit inside the area. Paddle skills were at their highest level of performance while running the obstacle course of human bodies.
And though it was the most people I've seen up inside, there were also more manatees inside the area than I've ever seen before. Eight individuals resting in the northern section, six in the middle section, and up to eight more just swimming back and forth among the southern area and the middle section. All the while the swimmers/scubas were splashing about. And this on a very warm day.

Back on the outside, we noticed the manatees were packed inside Idiots sanctuary like sardines. Again, odd it being such a warm day, so it must have been some cold stressed animals staying close to the warmer water.

From there until we reached the bay, we must have counted another 20+ individul manatees. Ball park figure so far around 50+, not counting what was inside the sanctuary (25-35+).
Made a detour to a hidden cove to see if the dolphin were hunting mullet. They weren't there, though we did see a multi jumper mullet.

Back at Hunter's Springs Park, it was some what crowded with new arrivals getting ready to launch on their own excursion to see the manatees.

Over all, a crowded day for boats, though not the worst I've seen, and more manatees counted yet, than in the past.

Other wildlife sighted included: immature bald eagle, cormorants, pelicans, osprey, kingfishers, mullet, mangrove snappers, needle fish, many species of ducks, and lots of vultures.

February is quickly giving way to March, and not too many more trips south to see the over wintering manatee. Going next Sunday, come along!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Suwannee River

Yesterday, 2/17, I attended several meetings in Fanning Springs. Between the meetings, I went and looked at the Suwannee River to see how high the water level was. It wasn't too bad, though there are reports of reaching near flood stage further up river near Branford. The FWCC has placed an idle speed/no wake zone rule into effect for the time being in the Santa Fe/Ellie Ray area.

Over on the Dixie county side at Joe Anderson park/ramp, the water was up about 4-5 feet above 'normal'.
And the current looked to be moving about 5 mph. Might be fun to paddle down stream with the current, making for a shorter run/time from Fanning to Clay Landing to the south.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Manatees of Citrus County

Yesterday (2/15) we had a kayak/manatee viewing trip at King's Bay in Crystal River. I was leading 6 people in 5 kayaks. Launching from Hunter Springs park, we made our way around Pete's Pier into a head wind of about 12 mph. Just enough to cause some waves and spray over the bow. The day was sunny, with air temps in the mid to upper 50's, perfect paddling weather.
Stopped at Shatz Island for a leg stretch and part two of the lesson on navigating in wind, and a look at the bay. Saw our first manatee exiting the canal into the bay. Several swim/harass boats were leaving as well. But there were more to come.

Made it along the canal under the bridge and saw several more heading out to the bay. Stopping at Gator Hole, had about 6 individual manatees including cow and juvenile, lazing about breathing and moving slowly.
Its always an anxious moment heading further up the canal to Three Sisters/Idiot's Delight, as you don't know how many swim/harass boats are going to be there.
Approximately 6 more manatees along the way before rounding the bend to take in the Idiot's corner. Low and behold, we sight a USFWS boat tied up next to another boat at the santuary ropes. Approximately 15 swimmers in the water, and some filming going on.

We staged for a few minutes and then made a deliberate insertion through the pipes, avoiding bodies in the water and up into the rocky canal of Three Sisters.
It was ooh and ahh for the visitors from north of the border as they spied the spring area for the first time. I had to break the news that all the white sand they were appreciating, was more un-natural due to the affects of human feet, nutrients causing algal growth, and the lack of re-growth.
The water temp was nice and warm to the touch, with only about 4 people in the water back in the springs. No manatees were present here, being chased out earlier by swimmers.

After a pause of about 15 minutes with some picture taking, it back out through the gauntlet of bodies, and drifting over the dozen or so manatees in the main canal/channel.

After being nearly hit by an incompetent fedaral employee with lack of seamanship skills in motor boat backing, we made it safely out of the area and down the canal. Only one other blip, in telling a speeding boat in the canal, the same one that had been doing business with the USFWS boat earlier, to slow down to idle speed, we saw at least a half dozen more manatees before hitting the bridge area.

Then it was a nice tail wind at our backs, helping to push us along around 5 mph, round the corner of Pete's Pier and a semi-straight shot back to Hunter's Park. We were out around two hours, and saw upwards of 40 manatees. All in all, a good day for observing the over wintering manatees.

At the launch site, I spoke with some visitors from Ohio about their canoe registration decals and the lack of service or amenities that they receive for paying $22 every three years. After loading the kayaks on the trailer, it was off to a Heritage Village area eatery called The Highlander.
Owned and operated by a Scottish family, with great soup, and sandwiches.

We're going back next Sunday, 2/21....

See you on the water!!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rally for the Rivers

Headed over to Rodman/Kirkpatrick Damn at the resevoir this morning to participate in the annual Rally for the Rivers. This event is put on by the Putnam County Environmental Council which advocates for the removal of the DAM and the restoration of the Ocklawaha River. The creation of the cross Florida barge canal was responsible for the destruction of the natural flow and route of the Ocklawaha on its journey to the St. Johns River south of Palatka. Read the book "Ditch of Dreams" by Noll and Tegeder for the story.

Anyhow, my trip was to supply kayaks for the river cleanup and some paddle lessons for festival goers. It was 44 deg. at 10 AM, and only the stoutliest paddlers with their own kraft ventured forth, all five of them. They made quite the haul, 6-7 large trash bags.

Sat around until 2 PM, and talked politics of paddling, nature, and tourism. Lots of birdlife in the sky included immature bald eagle, osprey too numerous to county, anhinghas, and black and turkey vultures.

Had five brave souls for the paddle lesson which started at 2:30 PM. They enjoyed their hour of learning how to mix up right from left side, going forward and turning. May even get some future customers out of the endeavor.

Talked with a retired biologist from the FWCC about the evolution of air boats and the Everglades, and the complicity of the FWCC in supporting those noise makers. Then listend to recipes for fish including mullet, catfish, gar, and 'jacks'.

All in all a low key kind of day with only the sound of the water rushing over the dam, osprey's and red tail hawks vocalizing over food and territory, and some guitar music.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My New Blog

What an experience in trying to figure this out. But, I will.

Today I'm going into Gainesville for an eye appt. Then gather petition signatures for a noise ordinance to get on the November ballot. Stop by the downtown library this afternoon and help out by signing one.
Then the executive committee meeting of the Sierra Club tonight, SFC downtown campus.
The Harn Art Museum ia having its "Museum Nights" tonight from 6-9 pm on the UF campus, free.
Annual Rally for the Rivers in Palatka this weekend and starts tomorrow,