Author Archives: Cricket

Ocklawaha and Bear Creek – January 13, 2018

A cold, breezy and cloudy day for our Ockalawaha and Bear Creek paddle, but 8 people showed up at the Johnson Field Landing boat ramp – all bundled up to brave the 40 degree temps.  After seeing so many trees uprooted on the the trip earlier in the week on the Ocklawaha between Rodman Dam and SR 19 I was a little concerned about Bear Creek being open.  However there are a number of places to cross from Bear Creek back to the Ocklawaha and we strapped our saws to our decks and decided to go for it.

Bear Creek is a favorite wildlife viewing area.  It is a braid off the Ocklawaha between SR 19 and the St Johns River with usually a very sluggish current.  It runs parallel to the Ocklawaha and there are several places where you can cross back and forth between the two.  We generally float with the current the 5 miles down the Ocklawha to the St Johns, then after a short sprint upstream on the St Johns we turn into Bear Creek and follow it upstream almost back to SR 19.  This makes a great 10-mile paddle with varied landscapes and plenty of bird watching opportunities.

Leaving the Johnson Field Landing boat ramp we played slalom racers among the SR 19 bridge pylons due to the uprooted trees across the canal out to the Ocklawaha.

Slalom racing under the SR 19 bridge

Slalom racing under the SR 19 bridge

The trip down the Ocklawaha to the St Johns was scenic but uneventful.  We chatted back and forth, getting to know each other, talking about our boats, catching up on things we had done over the holidays.

All bundled up on the Ocklawaha

All bundled up on the Ocklawaha

We saw Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Little Blue Herons all around us, but few would hold still or come close enough for a picture.

Great Egret in flight

Great Blue Heron in flight

As we approached the St Johns River we were a bit concerned about the wind, but it was blowing out of the west, not down the St Johns, and there was NO motor boat traffic so our passage up the St Johns went very smoothly.  In fact, in our entire day we only saw 4 motor boats and they were all very courteous fishermen.

Paddling up the St Johns to turn into Bear Creek

Paddling up the St Johns to turn into Bear Creek

After turning into Bear Creek we stopped for a short lunch break.  The water level was high so what little dry ground we found was pretty muddy and few got out to investigate.  We simply huddled in our kayaks out of the wind to eat our sandwiches.

Lunch break on Bear Creek

Lunch break on Bear Creek

And now the fun began.  Bear Creek is one of my favorites for wildlife viewing.  The whole Rodman/Little Lake George Wilderness Area is a rookery for many types of water and shore birds and the narrow, winding nature of Bear Creek means you can get much closer to them than out on the more open Ocklawaha.

Great Egret on Bear Creek

Great Egret on Bear Creek

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We passed many uprooted trees and downed trees overhanging the creek, but nothing blocked our way through.  With all the recent rain, the Resurrection Fern enlivened the winter landscape with its bright green.

One of many trees uprooted by Hurricane Irma.

One of many trees uprooted by Hurricane Irma.

Resurrection Fern on overhanging tree

Resurrection Fern on overhanging tree

In addition to the Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Little Blue Herons we saw Pileated Woodpeckers, Black and White Warblers, Belted Kingfishers, and Yellow-Crowned Night Herons.  We were particularly fortunate in that on two separate occasions we were able to view an adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron along with a juvenile.

Adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron “giving us the eye” for getting too close

Immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron with his neck stretched in alarm

We also spotted a very large otter (which was too fast for us to get any pictures) and a Nutria.  With their large head, big incisors and furry reddish-brown body, Nutria here in Florida are often mistaken for small beaver – except Nutria have a long rat-like tail.  Nutria are an exotic invasive from South America that does a lot of damage, denuding wetland areas of vegetation and causing severe erosion problems.  Nevertheless, they are an interesting and retiring creature and it was fun to catch a glimpse of one, if only peeking its head out at us.

Nutria hiding on the stream-side vegetation

Nutria hiding on the stream-side vegetation

As Bear Creek continued on its way, getting narrower and narrower we enjoyed winding through the trees until we finally popped out to rejoin the Ocklawaha River just east of the SR 19 bridge.

Twisting Bear Creek

Twisting Bear Creek

Winding through the trees on Bear Creek

Winding through the trees on Bear Creek

 

Reaching the Ocklawaha River just east of SR 19

Reaching the junction with the Ocklawaha River

We once again we wove in and out of the bridge pylons and the downed trees to arrive back at our boat ramp, chilled but happy with the day’s paddle.  Everyone had a good time and vowed to return – when the weather was a little warmer. 🙂

Johnson Field Landing boat ramp through the downed trees

Johnson Field Landing boat ramp through the downed trees

 

Ocklawaha River – January 10, 2018

Due to Hurricane Irma, personal family issues and the January Canadian winter blast that reduced temps in the eastern U.S. to well below normal, there has been little time or inclination to get out on the water recently.  But Wednesday I was able to hold my scheduled monthly Florida Trail Association paddle on the Lower Ocklawaha from Rodman Dam to Johnson Field Landing on State Rd 19.

(I also must apologize for the pictures.  My good camera quit on me in December and temporarily I’m reduced to using an old, old point-and-shoot camera with no zoom.  Between the older camera and the misty rain, I couldn’t get any good wildlife pics on this trip.)

With spitting rain we really did not expect many of the 20 people who had signed up to actually show up, but 10 paddlers were in the parking area by 8:45 and decided they were not going to melt if the drizzle continued throughout the day.  At least it was warm, with temps in the 60s to 70s all day.  In fact, with the recent warm up the water temp was lower than the air temp, so we paddled through misty waters all day making for a very atmospheric ride.

Near the put-in, paddling into the mist

Near the put-in, paddling into the mist

With the drizzle and mist we saw little wildlife in the morning.  A Great Blue Heron flew ahead of us down the river for a couple of miles.  A committee of Black Vultures roosted solemnly in the tops of the stream-side trees and  eyed us from on high.  And a Pileated Woodpecker swooped across the river.

Paddling in the mist

Paddling in the mist

On this trip we again stopped at Davenport Landing for lunch and a leg stretch, chatting with a young couple from New York who thought our unseasonably cold Florida weather was at least a relief from their deep snow and sub-zero temps.

At lunch the drizzle stopped and in the afternoon a few turtles and gators appeared along the river banks.  We saw one HUGE and well-fed gator (approx 11-12 feet) as well as one little guy (around 30 inches) still with some of his baby stripes.  Also a few turtles basking on logs.  A Red-shoulder Hawk fluffed out his down at us from a perch on an overhanging tree.  More Pileated Woodpeckers were seen and heard in the forest and a couple of Kingfishers swooped over our heads.

HUGE (and very well-fed) gator

HUGE (and very well-fed) gator

 

A young gator, still showing some baby stripes

A young gator, still showing some baby stripes

We saw many big and small trees uprooted by Hurricane Irma along the river, so we stuck to the main channel all the way to the SR 19 bridge, passing up the braids we sometimes take to create a more adventurous trip.  Everything was clear on the main channel until we turned in after the bridge.  Many trees had come down on the canal to the boat ramp, stretched their limbs all the way to the bridge pilings in places.  Our maneuverable, shallow draft kayaks and canoe had no trouble weaving around them, but a motor boat might have to pole out from the boat ramp to the river.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

 

 

Suwannee Quest II-01 – November 18, 2017

Last year I lead a fun paddle series that we named the Suwannee Quest.  It was an attempt to paddle the entire Suwannee River within the state of Florida, one weekend a month.  The first paddle was  January 16, 2016 and the last one was April 29-30, 2016.  On the Saturday night before our final paddle we all ate dinner together at a local restaurant in the town of Suwannee and I asked the group what river they wanted to do next?  The response was “Let’s do the Suwannee all over again!”  Thus, the Suwannee Quest II was born.

Our first paddle of the Suwannee Quest II was on Saturday, November 18, 2017 from Roline Landing boat ramp to Cone Bridge Rd boat ramp.  A distance of 16 paddling miles.  We were late getting started because the street sign for the turn into Roline Landing was missing and it took extra time for everyone to meet up in the right place.  On the way out I noticed that the sign post was still there, but the sign at the top was gone.  Probably knocked off by one of the logging trucks since there was evidence of a major timber harvest all along Woodpecker Pkway.

Map of the trip

Map of the trip

With the water level so low there was a wonderful beach at the bottom of the Roline Landing boat ramp where we were able to unload and prep our boats.  After shuttling most of the cars down to Cone Bridge Rd ramp, we finally hit the water at 10:15.

Getting started at Roline Landing boat ramp

Getting started at Roline Landing boat ramp

One of the things I love about this upper section of the Suwannee are the lovely, gnarled old Tupelo trees.  They only line the banks for about 30 miles in Florida, reaching their southern-most limit and disappearing totally by the time you reach White Springs.

Giant Tupelo trees line the upper Suwannee this far north

Giant Tupelo trees line the upper Suwannee this far north

The cypress trees were all aflame with their yellows and oranges, reminding us that in spite of the balmy weather it is really autumn in north Florida.

A little fall color from the cypress trees

A little fall color from the cypress trees

Since we got such a late start due to the missing sign, our first break was for lunch at Turner Bridge boat ramp.  It’s a very steep ramp, but there is a little park at the top with a large grassy area and two picnic tables, making it a lovely place for a lunch stop.

Turner Bridge boat ramp

Turner Bridge boat ramp

After Turner Bridge it was a short way to the shoals above and below CR 6.  But there was still several inches of water over the rocks, so we didn’t even scrape bottom, much less have to get out to line our boats through.  And just enough ripples to provide a bit of a “Wheee!” factor to the paddle.

Shoals north of CR 6

Shoals north of CR 6

Shoals south of CR 6

Shoals south of CR 6

Below CR 6 the sandy banks are interspersed with limestone outcroppings, some displaying small miniature seepage waterfalls.  If you canoe/kayak camp along the Suwannee you should collect your water from these small waterfalls since the river itself is full of “floaties” that will clog your water filter within minutes.

A weathered limestone bank

A weathered limestone bank

Limestone bluffs

Exposed limestone banks

Seepage waterfall

Seepage waterfall

Seepage waterfall

Seepage waterfall

Limestone bluffs

The many sandy banks provide good resting places.  Also good swimming in warmer months.

Sandy banks

Deep sandy banks …

... make for great rest and swim breaks

… make for great rest and swim breaks

After many more small twists and turns of the river we reached our take-out at Cone Bridge Rd boat ramp with just enough time to load all our boats and get on the road before dark on this short late autumn day.

The Suwannee this far north is narrow and winding

The Suwannee this far north is narrow …

... with lots of twists and turns.

… with lots of twists and turns.

Cone Bridge Rd boat ramp

Cone Bridge Rd boat ramp