Silver River – August 12, 2017

Back for my second Silver River paddle for the week, this time a little out-and-back from the Silver Springs State Park hand launch down to the state park metal ramp and back via the Ft King Paddling Trail.  12 participants on this trip.  Originally set up for newbie paddlers so they could rent kayaks from the park, everyone who showed up had their own boats, so no newbies on this trip.

In my last post I commented on the rocks placed at the foot of the refurbished hand launch ramp.  When we got there the concessionaire had placed some plastic mats over the rocks, tucking the leading edge of the mats under the geo-textile that covers the ramp surface.  It was NOT working.  Everytime they pushed a kayak out the mat went with the boat.  The concessionaire was pretty peeved with the whole thing, so I held my tongue and just agreed with them.

 

 

Silver River – August 9, 2017

Another wonderful day on the Silver River leading a paddle for the Florida Trail Association.  The boat ramp at Silver Springs State Park as closed for 3 days while they replaced the geo-textile on the surface, so a last minute change was made to put-in at Ray Wayside County Park, paddle up to the head spring then paddle back to Ray Wayside via the Ft King Paddling Trail.  This turned a planned 5.2-mile newbie all-downstream paddle into a 10.8-mile trip with 5.2 miles of that distance paddling upstream against a 3 mph current.  After informing folks who had signed up about the change I had 11 people show up at the put-in, some with quite a bit of experience and some with very little.

The first cool thing on this paddle was one of the participants brought her Oru Bay folding kayak and I got to watch her convert it from a case about the size of an artist’s portfolio to a 12-foot kayak in about 15 minutes.  You can read more info on Oru kayaks HERE.

Assembling an Oru Bay origami kayak at the put-in

Assembling an Oru Bay origami kayak at the put-in

The paddle on the upstream 5.4 miles took us 4 hours, including a short break at “The Cove” and a longer lunch break at the Silver Springs State Park metal ramp near the half way point.  The trip back downstream took us a little less than 2 hours.  Not too shabby for a group with half relatively inexperienced paddlers.

Three of my paddlers had inexpensive 10-foot boats and I was a little worried about how they would do on the upstream paddle.  Short, light boats tend to track poorly, weaving from side to side with each stroke, especially with wind or current working on them. And they did have problems rounding bends when the current would catch them and shove them sideways, but they all persevered and had big smiles on their faces, so I was really proud of them.

Short boats struggling in the turns, but smiles all around.

Short little boats struggling in the turns, but smiles all around.

Fist thing when we hit the river we saw some Saltmarsh Mallows on the river banks.  They are related to the hibiscus and look like them, only smaller – 2-3 inches across compared to the Swamp Scarlet Hibiscus which is generally 6-8 inches across.  And contrary to its name, it grows very well in fresh water as well as salt water.

Saltmarsh Mallow (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos)

Saltmarsh Mallow (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos)

RED - Swamp Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus)

Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus)

On the way up we went slowly and watched a lot of wildlife.  It seemed to be mamma and baby day on the Silver.  Gators, Gallinules, Wood Ducks, Little Blue Herons, turtles, Anhingas and their young ones, to name a few.

Mamma Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata) and days-old babies

Mamma Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata) and days-old babies

Baby Common Gallinule - a face only a mamma or pappa Gallinule could love.

Baby Common Gallinule – a face only a mamma or pappa Gallinule could love.

Mamma gator with one of her dozen or so babies behind her.

Mamma gator with one of her dozen or so babies behind her.

Mamma Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) and babies

Mamma Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) and babies

Baby Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) in nest

Baby Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) in nest

After the head spring we headed over to the State Park hand launch (our planned put-in) and checked out the refurbishment.  It looked pretty much the same except for some additional fencing to keep people from dropping their boats off to the side of the ramp and the addition of some rock at the end of the ramp.  ROCK!?!?  At the end of a canoe/kayak ramp?  I’ll have to ask what’s up with that when I return with my next group on Saturday!

Silver Springs State Park hand launch

Silver Springs State Park hand launch

From there we headed back downstream via the Ft King Paddling trail.  Just as we hit the river again we head some thunder in the distance and 3 of the group took off down river quickly.  So quickly, in fact, that we didn’t see them again until we hit the take-out back at Ray Wayside.  Not great for group safety, but there was no way I could catch up with them and they were some of the more experienced paddlers.  Actually,  the storm was not close, and in fact it didn’t hit on us for another 3.5 hours, so the rest of us had plenty of time to float slowly down the river, grabbing some more pictures on the way.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) displaying intensely turquoise eyes

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) displaying intensely turquoise eyes

Cooter with beautiful markings

Cooter with beautiful markings

Cormorant and Cooters

Cormorant and Cooters

Baby Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) in nest

Baby Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) in nest

Great Egret (Egretta alba) displaying aigrettes

Great Egret (Egretta alba) displaying aigrettes

The group had done so well I presented each of them with a Silver River sticker for their kayaks – stickers usually reserved for members of the 5-Star Yak Pak.

5-Star Yak Pak Silver River Completion sticker

5-Star Yak Pak Silver River Completion sticker

 

The Crack - a little turbid from all the recent rain

Chassahowitzka – July 26, 2017

A couple of weeks ago a paddling friend mentioned she had never been on the Chassahowitzka River (aka The Chaz).  Since she was due to return to her work in the local school system shortly we sent out a few emails and put together an impromptu little trip to introduce her to a special place.

We met up at Chassahowitzka River Campground at 9 am to make sure we were on the river before the crowds.  The parking fee there remains $5 per vehicle ($7 for car and trailer).  I was pleased to see that the hand launch area next to the concrete boat ramp had been improved since my last visit.  It’s much wider (maybe room for about 8 kayaks to pull up at one time) and full of nice sand.  You can pull your car up into the unloading area only 30 feet from the water.

Sandy beach now at Chassahowitzka River Campground boat ramp

A nice sandy beach now at Chassahowitzka River Campground boat ramp

From the boat ramp the 5 of us headed upstream 0.2 miles to the “Seven Sisters”.  This is an area with at least 7 visible spring vents.  The tide was high, just turning when we arrived, so we were able to paddle over all the vents and look down into the clear water below.  The best part? We had it all to ourselves!   It was a little early for a swim or leg-stretch break, so we just admired and took pics.  As we were leaving 2 female kayakers paddled in and we were able to leave them to enjoy the springs to themselves.

Entering Seven Sister creek

Paddling up the Chaz

The Seven Sisters

The Seven Sisters

Spring vent at the Seven Sisters

Spring vent at the Seven Sisters

Heading back downstream, just past the boat ramp we ventured into Crab Creek where you can usually find some ducks and other water birds.  While the springs were clogged with vegetation and algae and really looked quite ugly we did see some String Lilies and a Yellow-crowned Night Heron.  Exiting Crab Creek I found the entrance to Lettuce Creek on river right, but the way looked blocked with lots of trees down, so we passed it up this trip.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) on Crab Creek

Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) on Crab Creek

String Lily, also called Swamp Lily (Crinum americanum) on Baird Creek

String Lily, also called Swamp Lily (Crinum americanum) on Crab Creek

From there it was on to “The Crack”.  We reached Baird Creek just as a couple of canoes were coming out and they were the only other people we saw until we were on the way out ourselves.  So once again, we had the place to ourselves.  On the way up we saw bunches of Saltmarsh Mallows in bloom which brightened up the salt grass banks and watched several immature Little Blue Herons stalking the shallows.

Paddling up Baird Creek through the salt grass

Paddling up Baird Creek through the salt grass

Saltmarsh Mallow (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos) on Baird Creek

Saltmarsh Mallow (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos) on Baird Creek

Saltmarsh Mallow (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos) on Baird Creek

Saltmarsh Mallow – related to Hibiscus – on Baird Creek

Immature Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) on Baird Creek

Immature Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) on Baird Creek

About 1/2 way up we diverted into a little cove on creek left.  It was occupied by a nice-sized gator, about 7 feet in length, and clearly Lord-of-All-He-Surveyed in his little patch of water. And passing through the narrow passage to get back out to the creek, we saw a Water Moccasin (aka Cottonmouth) coiled up under a palm tree, warming in the morning sun. Fortunately he was not at all interested in us, even though we passed less than 3 feet from him.

Well-fed gator in his little cove.

Well-fed gator in his little cove.

Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) on Baird Creek

Water Moccasin aka Cottonmouth basking under a palm tree

Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) on Baird Creek

Closeup of the Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) on Baird Creek

From there it was rather uneventful until we got to the upper end of the creek.  We paddled under lots of leaning and downed trees and got a bit of a work out navigating them in shallow water, but with the tide close to high we were able to paddle all the way up to where the cypress knees block the creek – only about 150 feet from “The Crack”.  We beached the kayaks and waded through ankle-deep water the rest of the way.

Beaching the kayaks just before The Crack

Beaching the kayaks just before The Crack

With all the rain in recent weeks “The Crack” was not as clear as I have seen it in the past, but it was lovely in the morning sun with lots of little Blue Gill, Sheepshead and minnows swimming in the deeper water.  We swam and had a snack break as we enjoyed the water and each others’ company for almost an hour – all by ourselves!.

The Crack - empty of the summer weekend hoards

The Crack – empty of the summer weekend hoards

Little fishies in The Crack

Little fishies in The Crack

The Crack - a little turbid from all the recent rain

The Crack – a little turbid from all the recent rain

Paddling back down Baird Creek, we passed the two female kayakers we had met at the Seven Sisters and well as some men in canoes paddling up.  We also had even more fun with the down trees, this time with the current carrying us along.

Paddling down Baird Creek

Paddling down Baird Creek

Paddling through a network of leaning trees

Paddling through a network of leaning trees on Baird Creek

When we hit the Chaz again we headed downstream again and decided to paddle up Salt Creek to see if we could find some of the springs there.  With the tide going out we weren’t sure how far we would make it up, but wanted to give it a try.

Palms meet pines on the Chaz

Palms meet pines on the Chaz

Navigating the downed trees on Salt Creek

Navigating the downed trees on Salt Creek

Searching for springs on Salt Creek

Searching for springs on Salt Creek

And we did make it to the first spring on the eastern fork of Salt Creek, but from there (and on the western fork) our way was blocked.  We had some good wildlife sightings however, with Osprey, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Green Herons, a Tricolored Heron and several more Yellow-crowned Night Herons keeping us company.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) on Salt Creek

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) on Salt Creek

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor) on Salt Creek

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor) on Salt Creek

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) on Salt Creek

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) on Salt Creek

With the tide going out, we paddled back down Salt Creek to the Chaz and headed back upstream to the boat ramp, ending our day of paddling around 2 pm.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron on the Chaz

Yellow-crowned Night Heron on the Chaz