Saturday, October 19, 2013

Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve

Ellie Schuler Environmental Education Center
On Friday October 18th, 2013, I attended a presentation at the Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve facility near Yankeetown, Florida. The program was about rebuilding the coastal environment via re-establishing sea grasses, mangroves and oyster beds.
Attendees were students from the University of Florida College of Law, and local residents. The program was put on by Florida Sea Grant personnel and UF College of Wetland professors.

We received instruction on plant identification, and the methods being used around the State of Florida in regards to re-seeding oyster bars, and re-establishing mangroves.

Part of the programming included a botany blitz where teams of attendees went out into the coastal /upland interface habitat and collected plant specimens for later identification. There were numerous plants in their fall bloom. Yellow, pink, and white were the main flower colors observed.

Coastal Oak Hammock
Golden Rods
Groundsel Bush
There were other plants in bloom of which I didn't have my camera with me on the initial field walk in order to take pictures. After the class room sessions and botany collecting, there was a paddle tour leading out from the onsite dock. Tides are real critical at this launch site, with the optimal times being during the flood or higher tides to provide plenty of water in the shallow creeks.

The coastal, tidal marsh creeks are one of my favorite areas to paddle. This is in part due to the fluctuating water levels, ebbing and flowing with the ever changing tides bringing different experiences.
Looking Northwest out onto the Gulf of Mexico, with abundant marsh vegetation, islands in the distance and tidal creeks galore. View from the top of the 35 foot observation tower.
The Observation Tower
The Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve is open during day light hours only, and is a great place to get out and explore another unique type of Florida habitat.
Something new around the next bend!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Cedar Key Father's Day Sunset Paddle

Our sunset paddles at Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast of Florida are very popular and occur quite often during the warmer months. But as we found out this past Sunday June 16th, it is also insect season. We paddled across to the island named Atsena Otie, which is loosely translated as 'cedar island' in the ancient Muskogee dialect. At one point the island was called Depot Key from its days as a supply depot during the Seminole Indian and Civil Wars.

The coastal islands are full of mosquitos and unless there is a nice constant breeze blowing, you're going to get eat up. One insect that isn't shy of anything, short of a strong hand slapping it, is the yellow or deer fly. These biting insects don't announce their presence until they've started to bite. You don't really feel them lighting on your exposed skin. But they sure do hurt, and a lot of times, the hand is too late to slap them dead as they've already gotten their little micro meal and flown off.

 Speaking of flying, we also saw lots of animal tracks upon landing at this white sandy beach. More than likely the above tracks were of some long legged wading bird, but I'm not sure what kind. Looking at these tracks from above, they appeared like little flying objects dragging something through the sand.
We also lots of the usual crab tracks and holes of the ghost crabs. These nocturnal crabs will dig holes that bely their size, so you will see different sized holes along the dune lines.

Another oddity seen sometimes along the shoreline are egg cases. The ones above are from a mollusk, more than likely a lightning whelk. As we walked the waterline, we saw numerous empty egg cases both in the water and upon the sand, left by the last high tide.
Though not the best photo of what we observed, there were lots of crown conchs moving about in the shallows with the incoming tide, among the oyster clumps. At one point we saw at least ten of the conchs within four feet of each other and of different sizes. Moving about with their proboscis' extended in search of food.
We attempted to go ashore to view the historical cemetery on the island, but the mosquitos were so bad, it was a case of don't stop running or else. It didn't matter if we had run or not, as soon as we got back in our kayaks and paddled backwards, they stayed with us for over five minutes of buzzing and biting, yards from shore.
We finally escaped the onslaught and made our way through the middle of the island to the western side, serenaded by red-winged blackbirds perched on the black mangroves. We observed a lone roseate spoonbill flying west towards its evening roost on Seahorse Key.
By the time we arrived back to shore, the sun was showing its colors in the western sky.
All in all, a great day to be out in nature within the coastal environment.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

National Trails Day 6/1/13

Every year there is a national celebration of trails on the first Saturday of June. Whether you bike, hike or paddle, its a good excuse to get outdoors and enjoy nature's offerings.
Due to my hiatus from paddling (cataract surgery) I offered a walk on the Levy Lake Unit of the Barr Hammock Preserve. We would take advantage of the man made dike or berm, to walk a short portion of the 6.5 total miles that this trail/berm entails. This property which totals over 5,000 acres in the south western portion of Alachua County was purchased with conservation monies, via the Alachua County Forever program.
There were three people that signed up for the walk and we met at the trail head at 9 AM to get started. I had already biked half of this property with Buford Nature and SW several months ago, so I was familiar with the northern and western trending route.
This day we chose the southern portion as it was in the shade and thus cooler. The berm encircles a mixed wetland with some woody plants, and trees such as sweet gum, red maple and coastal plain willow along the perimeter of the wetland. Birds were not as present, though we did see three great egrets, and heard red wing blackbirds vocalizing in the wetland.

Almost immediately we came upon these prolific bloomers, a thistle like flower in the Lactuca genera. They occupied both sides of the trail, and had a very light fragrance and ranging up to eight feet tall. Match heads, elder berry, water hyacinth, morning glory, cattails, and sweet clover were in bloom along the berm trail too.

We came upon a water control structure, a remnant from the early cattle farming practices when this property was under private ownership and the area de-watered for more grazing acreage.

This view above is looking to the east away from the wetland prairie. Opposite this structure was a holding pond of sorts on the other side of the berm where we observed a large American alligator slide noisily into the water, and under the water hyacinths.
This is a view to the north looking out over the wetland.

We walked approximately 1.25 miles and then turned around for our return to the trail head. Along the way we saw this small alligator in the vegetation sitting motionless, apparently awaiting its next meal.

I don't know why it is, but the return always takes less time! Back at the trailhead, we recouped and said our goodbyes after a nice 2.5 mile walk.

Until the next adventure, ssssseee you next time!


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cedar Key Sunset Paddle on 5/18/13

After our Hands Across The Sands event at Shell Mound earlier in the day, I waited around the area to conduct a kayak tour out to Atsena Otie Key. This island is right off the coast at Cedar Key within the Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge, and the one that most people see when strolling along Dock Street and the Pier. Views of the Gulf of Mexico can be spectacular.

I was fortunate to have some last minute customers that flew in from South Carolina to the local air strip in their private plane. So, there was a total of eight paddlers for this kayak tour. The breeze was slight out of the SWW at around 8 mph, and it kept the insects at bay, not to mention a great natural cooling effect.

When planning tours to this island, I try to schedule them to take advantage of the incoming tide so that we may explore the nooks and crannies, and not worry about snagging our kayaks on oyster bars.
And it lets us paddle through the middle of the island among mangrove islets full of red-wing blackbirds and other perching species. The roseate spoonbills have not reappeared as of yet, and they like to roost for the evening on this island when they migrate back into the area.

Once on the island, we visited the cedar mill ruins, the cistern, windmill tower, and historical cemetery. I like to share my knowledge of headstone symbols to my guests, when we visit this 19th century burial spot.

After about two hours of paddling, walking, resting and paddling some more, we headed back in time to witness the beautiful sky colors of the setting sun.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Hands Across the Sands 2013

Today for our Hands Across the Sands/shells event, we had a great day on the water, Though our numbers were small, we picked up lots of trash in the estuary of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. Plastic containers (bottles) were the greatest item found, along with glass, aluminum cans, Styrofoam, and other litter. We saw dolphins within minutes of our launch as if they were thanking us ahead of time for helping to clean up part of their habitat. Later on, we observed a bald eagle, and several great egrets. Even the mullet were jumping! Tomorrow, we switch to fresh water at the Ichetucknee Springs/River for a tour.