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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂