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.

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.