Category Archives: Wildlife

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

 

 

 

 

Suwannee Quest 10 – October 29, 2016

Stage 10 of the Suwannee Quest – the YakPak’s attempt to lead the Sandhill Chapter of the Florida Trail Association in paddling all 206 miles of the Suwannee River in Florida – one piece at a time.

Today we paddled from Manatee Springs State Park to Fowlers Bluff.  Nice ramps at both ends, altho wheelies are a help in the state park to get your kayak from the parking lot to the ramp. Right at the start we had a difficult decision to make – where to eat after the paddle – since there is a nice little river-side restaurant at Fowlers Bluff and good BBQ available at Manatee Springs. On our last trip we elected to eat at the Treasure Camp restaurant so this time we went back to Manatee Springs for the BBQ and were not disappointed.  The 3 Meat Plate was as good as we remembered it and I took home 1/2 of it for dinner Sunday night.

Since it was close to Halloween some of us decorated our kayaks and dressed the part.

Skeleton relaxing on the Suwannee

Skeleton relaxing on the Suwannee

Halloween Spiders

Halloween Spiders

 

 

 

Paddling down Manatee Springs run in our Halloween finery

Paddling down Manatee Springs run in our Halloween finery

 

 

 

Kayak pumpkin

Kayak pumpkin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween pumpkin with autumn pinwheel

Halloween pumpkin with autumn pinwheel

Kayak spider

Kayak spider

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a bit windy on the river, enough to make paddling a little more strenuous than normal since in the Suwannee River valley it’s almost always a head wind. (Or at least it SEEMS like it’s always a head wind.)  But offsetting the wind there were very few motor boats on the river today.  I think everyone must have stayed home to watch the Florida-Georgia football game.  So there were only a few power boats to avoid on this stretch and they gave us plenty of room.

One of the few power boats of the day

One of the few power boats of the day

Choppy water from the wind

Choppy water from the wind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the highlights of the trip were all the blooming Late Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens) bushes along the river teeming with various species of bees and butterflies.  We all had a lot of fun trying to get close enough and stay still enough to get some good pictures.

Late Purple Aster bloom

Late Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens) bloom

Honey Bee

Honey Bee (Apis spp.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carpenter Bee

Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa spp.) ???

Bumblebee (Bombas spp.)

Bumblebee (Bombas spp.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)

Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)

Gulf Fritilarys (Agraulis vanillae)

Gulf Fritilarys (Agraulis vanillae)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

Queen (Danaus gilippus)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another neat thing we ran into along the banks was a Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) nest hanging from a tree.  These guys of actually not hornets, but wasps and are pretty bad news, especially if you are allergic to wasp venom.  If you disturb the nest they will swarm en mass, so slow and gentle is the rule around them.  They are one good reason for avoiding any overhanging trees and branches on your river paddles.

Bald-faced Hornet nest as seen from the water.

Bald-faced Hornet nest as seen from the water.

This Bald-faced Hornet nest measured about 24 inches long and 12 inches across.

This Bald-faced Hornet nest measured about 24 inches long and 12 inches across at the widest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here you can see the white faces that give these wasps their name.

Here you can see the white faces that give these wasps their name.

Bald-faced hornets also have 3 white stripes on their tails.

Bald-faced hornets also have 3 white stripes on their tails.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After we took out at Fowlers Bluff we returned to Manatee Springs State Park for BBQ dinner.  Just as we arrived the Goodyear blimp passed overhead on its way to Tallahassee for the Florida State-Clemson football game this evening.  Here are a couple of pics from the park.  A great place to spend a hot day.

Sign at Fowlers Bluff. Only 20 more miles to the Gulf of Mexico!

Sign at Fowlers Bluff. Only 20 more miles to the Gulf of Mexico!

The Goodyear blimp at Manatee Springs.

The Goodyear blimp at Manatee Springs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manatee Springs head spring

Manatee Springs head spring

Looking down the run from the head spring

Looking down the run from the head spring