Monthly Archives: December 2016

Basic Safety – December 16, 2016

Two important aspects of basic kayaking safety were brought home to me recently.  The first is group cohesiveness and the second is making sure everyone is on board with the trip agenda from the get-go.  Without the second you will never achieve the first.

On my formally led trips, after everyone is gathered and before we get on the water.  I have a little “safety talk”.  First, I give an overview of the trip.  This is basically a review of the trip description I previously posted in the Meetup group with a bit more detail now that everyone is on site.  I go over our basic route, how long they can expect it to take, what they can expect to see, where we will stop for lunch, whether we will take it slow or need to paddle quickly to make it to the takeout on time, etc.  Everyone then has the opportunity to question the arrangement one last time or opt out.

Second, I always stress staying within sight and sound of the other members of the group.  That does not mean that everyone has to paddle in a little clump, but does mean they need to stay aware of the group as a whole.  To me this is simply a sound safety rule.  If something happens, major or minor, there is someone to help or at least someone to go for help.  For me as the leader, I need to keep track of everyone to ensure their safety.  If someone falls way behind I cannot know about any problems they may encounter.  If I have someone paddling too far ahead of the group I cannot anticipate problems they may run into or inform them of upcoming situations they need to be aware of – for example, the approaching lunch stop or a shoal area that needs to be negotiated on a certain side.  For the participants, being able to see/hear the other members of the group gives them the reassurance that if they do have a problem, someone is there to help.  Again, I expect when I state this principle of safety that everyone is buying in on it and will comply.  And again, if they do not understand they can ask questions or opt out and do their own thing.

Safety and cohesiveness – watching out for each other and sharing the common goals of the paddle – make for a good paddle trip.

Silver River – December 10, 2016

Back to the Silver River today with a different group of paddlers.  It was 41 degrees with a brisk breeze when I left my house – a bit chilly.  About half of the group that had signed up for the trip woke up on Saturday morning, took a look at the thermometer, and canceled.  So it was a small group of only 5 of us that paddled today.  Although the skies cleared to a bright blue and the temps warmed to around 65, the brisk wind kept up until lunch time so it was still chilly at the start, but after lunch the wind dropped and we were in shirt sleeves.  The great thing about Florida is that you can paddle year round.  It may be cold, but never frigid, and usually when cold the water temp is still warmer than the air temp. But you have to dress properly in layers to stay warm and safe.

Heading out to the head spring, all bundled up.

Heading out to the head spring, all bundled up.

 

This trip was set up as an out-and-back so participants could rent kayaks there in the state park.  (The state park concessionaire does not provide shuttles and does not allow their boats to be shuttled.)  So the plan was to put in at the state park launch, paddle the main stream down to around the half-way point at the state park dock, then return via the Ft King Paddling Trail.

We had heard that due to the chill a manatee had been sighted on the Silver, and we looked high and low for it all day  But it must have moved back out into the Ocklawaha because neither our group nor any other on the river today caught sight of one.

We saw the usual herons, Anhingas and Cormorants and in the afternoon the turtles came out to bask on their logs.

Close up of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) allowed me to get closer than they normally do.

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) on a mat of floating vegetation

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) drying out his wings

A beautiful Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana)

A beautiful Florida Cooter (Pseudemys floridana) basking with others on a log

Our big treats of the day included a Southern Bald Eagle that posed for us against the bright blue sky.

Southern Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus leucocephalus) posing

Southern Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus leucocephalus) posing

And a troop of monkeys (Rhesus macaque) marching east along the river.

A little monkey peeking at us from the trees

A little monkey peeking at us from the trees

An adult monkey warming in the afternoon sun.

An adult monkey warming in the afternoon sun.

Near the end, along the Ft King Paddling Trail, we experienced some of the last of the fall foliage here in north Florida.  Along the route you can see the remains of some of buildings built by the private attraction for their jungle cruise trips.  There are facades of historic Ft. King (The Fort King National Historic Landmark is located a few miles to the SE), a river trading post, an sunken boat on which the turtles love to bask, and some little cabins and store rooms.

Paddling by "Ft King" in the state park.

Paddling by “Ft King” in the state park.

 

A bit of fall foliage on the Ft King Canoe Trail

A bit of fall foliage remaining on the Ft King Paddling Trail

 

 

Silver River – December 7, 2016

After a break for the Thanksgiving holidays it was back to the river again.  A large group of us (15) gathered at Silver Springs State Park.  The day was crisp with bright blue skies and the water was the clearest that many of us had seen in months.  We unloaded, set up the shuttle to Ray Wayside County Park, then headed out.

First to the head springs where we were able to see the faces on the statues sitting on the bottom through 30 feet of water.  There were originally 12 statues of Greek gods, placed there for the filming of an “I Spy” TV episode back in the 1960s.  Three statues remain and they have been recently cleaned so even the faces were visible.

Statues on the bottom of the head spring in 30 feet of water.

Statues on the bottom of the head spring in 30 feet of water.

After admiring the head spring we backtracked under the Ross Island boardwalk and turned into the Ft King Paddling Trail which we then followed for about a mile to where it rejoins the main stream. We like the paddling trail because it is narrower than the main stream and always full of turtles and birds.

Nature trail bridge over the kayak launch canal.

Ross Island Boardwalk bridge over the kayak launch canal.

Along the canoe trail today we saw several gators (Alligator mississippiensis), including a big one about 9 feet long.  And, of course, a lot of turtles.  Most of the basking turtles along the Silver River are Florida Cooters (Pseudemys floridana), but you will see an occasional Red-bellied Cooter and Yellow-bellied Slider.

A big gator (9 feet) sunning on the bank and showing his pearly whites

A big gator (9 feet) sunning on the bank and showing his pearly whites

Florida Cooter showing off her beautifully patterned shell

Florida Cooter showing off her beautifully patterned shell

Also, a bit unusual, we saw many Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias).  Although we always see a couple of these stately birds, today we counted 14 of them.  Since the GBH is very territorial they were spread out along the entire river.

Great Blue Heron preening

Great Blue Heron preening

The Little Blue Herons (Egretta caerulea) always delight us.  They start their life white, probably as a protective mechanism so they blend in with the large flocks of Ibis.  During their second year they start to morph into their adult slate blue plumage.  When mixed with other white birds you can identify them by their greenish-blue beaks and legs.

Immature Little Blue Heron, hunting across the matted vegetation.

Immature Little Blue Heron, hunting across the matted vegetation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adult Little Blue Heron looking for fish from a log

Adult Little Blue Heron looking for fish from a log

 

We had a little fun photographing a Green Heron (Butorides virescens).  If you get too close they will start stretching their necks high to get a better view of you then lift their head feathers in alarm.  At that point you should back off and give them their space or they will take flight, expending energy they need for other things, such as finding food.

A Green Heron lifting his top knot at us

A Green Heron lifting his top knot at us

Along the way we ran into a Common Gallinulle (Gallinula galeata) pair with their red-orange face plates.  We HEAR them a lot as they are very vocal birds, but they are rather shy and usually scurry into the stream-side vegetation before we can get close enough to take their picture.  Maybe this pair will have little baby gallinules following them in a few months.

A pair of Common Galinules

A pair of Common Gallinules

And near the bottom we ran into an old friend, a Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) who posed on his tree for us for quite a while.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

Overall, it was an excellent wildlife viewing day and the people in the group who were there to enjoy the river and each other had a great time.

A "silvery" winter day on the Silver River

A “silvery” winter day on the Silver River