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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.