Dave's Yak Tales

Cedar Key Sunset

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hillsborough River

Sunday, December 30, 2007, I wanted to paddle the Mosquito Lagoon, putting in at the Canaveral National Seashore. Tuesday, the entry fee goes from $3 to $7 dollars. That hike will cause me to launch from alternate sites to paddle the Lagoon. But, NOAA reported a moderate chop, so I changed plans and went west to the Hillsborough River. I think one reason I had not paddled the Gulf of Mexico at Caladesi Island for over a year until Saturday is that the Hillsborogh is on the way to the Gulf, a 30-45 minute shorter drive, and is a spectacular paddle.
I put in at Trout Creek Park, one of three Hillsborough County facilities along an 8 mile stretch of the River. See my November 17, 2007 post for details on the Hillsborough.

This trip, I launched at 10:30. Two ladies arrived as I was getting ready, and launched before me. I passed them, paddling upstream. I think they were getting ready to fish, as I never saw them again, and I stopped for a long time soon after I passed them. I came to an cypress stump off the left bank. It must have been a big tree. I've seen alligators on it on prior paddles. Today, it was an aviary.

Great Egret, rosette spoonbill, tricolored heron, blue heron, snowy egret. Nice start to the day.
I paddled on, seeing ibis, limpkins and hundreds of vultures in the Natures Classroom section of the River. They occupied nearly every branch of every tree on both banks. Others stood on the bank. They are always here, in great numbers, for reasons unknown to this reporter

The Hillsborough is a good place to see alligators. I had not seen any since my December 9 trip to Alexander Creek. I saw some.

The alligator in the second picture, dark one on the bank, was in the same position 5 hours later on the return trip. I think it, and the others were taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to soak up heat. A cold front is forecast to arrive New Year's night.

After the fisherwomen at the start, I saw one other canoe the first quarter of the trip, to Morris Bridge Park. I went past the Park, past the gator in front of the ibis and egret, and stopped 15 minutes upstream at the ruins of an old logging road bridge. The road is now a bike trail, and a deck with benches overlooks the River. I paused here, for a bite to eat and to let some folks get ahead of me. The stretch from Morris Bridge to John Sergeant Park is the most popular on the River. The majority of paddlers head downstream, opposite of what I was doing. I saw plenty of red canoes from Canoe Escape. I recommend this outfitter. Last February, I paddled the Hillsborough with my friends Mike and Phyllis, who rented from Canoe Escape. Here is their website.


Canoe Escape's, not Mike and Phyl. The outfitter did a booming business this Sunday. But, utilizing the upstream paddle philosophy, my encounters with other people was brief, leaving more time for wildlife observation.

Another chance to note the difference between reddish egret and tri colored heron.

And still more wildlife.

I arrived at John Sergeant Park, 8 miles from the start, about 2 pm. Which was perfect as that is the time the last group from Canoe Escape goes out. The mini bus came in as I was walking around the park. 3 boats on the trailer.

I reentered the water, passing the 3 new arrivals in the canal that leads to the River and made my way downstream. I finished at 5:15. More alligators, birds, including this hawk.

On the way up, I had seen the one spoonbill pictured earlier in the story. One spoonbill won't keep the population going. Not to worry. Saw a pair on the way back.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Caladesi Island

Saturday, December 29, 2007 I visited Caladesi Island State Park. The barrier island is located off the city of Dunedin, just north of Tampa, Bay and city. A causeway links Dunedin to another State Park, Honeymoon Island. Caladesi is reasonably accessible only by water. "Reasonably" as it has been possible, since Hurricane Elena in 1985, to walk from Clearwater Beach to Caladesi. But, I have read, it is a trek. I parked the car on the south side of the causeway, between public restrooms and a rental concession, 'Sail Honeymoon'. Sail Honeymoon also rents kayaks.

I had to drag the yak about 40 yards to get it in floatable water. Low tide. The waters of St Joseph Sound were clear and shallow. And crowded. Powerboats, jet skis, sailboats, kayaks. I had never seen it so crowded. Then I realized my four previous visits were on weekdays. Caladesi is less then a mile from the causeway, but the main Park area, with dockage, coon conessions, ect., is a 2.5 mile paddle. The north tip of the island is low, sandy with the low tide. Pelicans, cormorants and gulls gathered in the shallows. More pelicans swam and soared in deeper water. When I see feeding pelicans, I keep my eyes open for feeding dolphins. I found some.

Two, dining on the delights in the sea grass beds. I was able to watch them for several minutes before they moved to deeper water.
I moved closer to the channel leading to the docking area of Caladesi State Park, easy to identify by the boats headed that way.

On shore, more birds, including rosette spoonbills.
I named the one one the left "Dizzy"

I entered the channel leading to the dock area. There are areas off the channel
where combustion motors are excluded. This is to protect sea grass beds. Past visits in these area have provided varied bird life. This trip, it was too shallow. I arrived at the dock area, 99 slips, almost all occupied this holiday weekend, and pulled up to the floating canoe/kayak dock and disembarked. Because of the low tide, I decided to walk the 3 mile trail through the interior of the park before paddling the 3 mile trail through the mangroves.

The "Twin Pine" has been photographed for over 100 years. Some old photos are on the kiosk to the left of the tree. I saw a hawk as I walked through the hammock in the interior. Approaching the Gulf side, egrets fed in shallow water
I then stepped out on to the Gulf side and a beach that is consistently rated as one of the nation's best. You can judge from the first picture on the post, and this one I think it is a special place. I know many of my readers have been to Sanibel Island. Caladesi is Sanibel without condos, hotels and restaurants- just beach and a wild interior.

After lunch, I explored more of the interior by kayak. A 3.25 mile, marked trail winds thorough the mangroves.

A paddle that can be take apart comes in handy in narrow passages. I saw a couple blue herons in the roots. The tunnels offer protection from the sun, which was warm. I heard the temp reached 84 in Orlando, a record. Yet, on the coast, things can change quickly. I exited the mangroves at the north end of the island, into a fog bank. The fog was soon gone, and I paddle along the east side of Caladsesi, fish jumping everywhere. Prime time for dolphins, but none appeared. I saw blue herons, Great Blue, osprey, belted kingfishers, in addition to the birds previously mentioned. These ibis were on the north east edge of the island, just before I rounded the tip and rode the Gulf surf for a while.
The time was 4:45, there would not be enough light to explore the scenic parts of Honeymoon Island, so I made my way back to the causeway. The walk from water to car was much shorter than it had been at 10:30.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Kings Bay Springs, or

Manatee Madness.
And, not only was it Jesus' birthday, but Jimmy Buffet's. Mr. Buffet is a mainstay of the Save the Manatee Club.
Another yaker arrived as I was getting ready, but I saw no other boat on the water until I arrived at Three Sisters Springs. I saw a few manatees on the way.

At the entrance to the Springs, more manatees. The kayaker was there, along with a pontoon boat from a local motel and another boat. Several wet suited snorkelers were in the water. I paddled past them, and a few manatees, into the Sisters. No manatees in the trio of springs, but huge schools of snapper. Lesser amount of bass, bluegills and sunfish. But I came for manatees, so I anchored the yak, donned snorkel gear, and swam out of the Sisters. Coming out of the short spring run, the area on the right, west, is a manatee sanctuary. Several manatees were in the area. I just snapped pictures.

One algae covered manatee posed for some closeups

I spent an hour in the water, then paddled to Kings Spring. On the way I paused at Magnolia Springs and watched at least another dozen manatees. One pushed the kayak of a man who was there with his wife. They told me that they had never been in the area without several other boats.

Three Sisters and Magnolia Springs are in, or near, residential canals. Kings Spring is located off an island in Kings Bay. The island, and others nearby are part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. No entry is allowed to the near shore waters during the winter manatee season. An exception is made at Banana Island, where a corridor allows divers access to the Spring. Boats must be anchored outside a buoy line. One boat and a canoe were anchored when I arrived. I paddled the edge of the buoys testing the depth, watching manatees. Turned out the canoe was in the best spot so I anchored nearby. I stepped out on the limestone bottom and snorkeled to the opening and into the Spring.

I was amazed at what I saw. Fish as big as manatee calves. Huge silver tarpon, easily six feet and bigger. In my last post, "Blue Spring, Snake Creek" I closed writing, "...what I thought were big tarpon" the ones in Blue Springs Run were guppies compared to these monsters. There was plenty of prey for these menacing looking- upturned jaw, looking fish. I described "huge schools of snapper" in Three Sisters. Well, there weren't schools in Kings Spring. It was a friggin university. Manatees too. Kings Spring is big and deep, a first magnitude spring. I was able to get a perspective I have not managed before, a manatee overhead I also got more closeups. The good folks at the Save the Manatee Club encourage observing manatees at a distance so not to affect natural behavior. But sometimes, a curious manatee will approach the observer, following him as he swims away. In that case, close interaction can't be helped.

The final manatee picture is the dark side of human-manatee interaction. Scars from being hit by a boat. Of all the manatees I saw, and I saw a least 50, this one had the most damage.

I left Kings Spring, which is also known as Tarpon Spring (for reasons that are now obvious), paddled around Banana Island, down River for a while, hoping to see dolphins. None, but more manatees. Including two I ran over. Good thing for them I'm not a fast, heavy powerboat. I got a good soaking as they surfaced from under the yak.

I was on and in the water 5 hours. Saw the usual birds, and some unusual, at least for Florida.

That's a Canadian goose behind the cormorant. Second one I've seen in Florida, both in Kings Bay, eh. I also saw a lot of these ducks, greater scaups, I believe. I ended the day with a visit to the nearby Crystal River State Archaeological Site, and a pre-Colombian site featuring several mounds. The usual shell trash heaps, plus larger burial mounds and mounds with flat surfaces, and causeways, suggesting ceremonial use. Nice site for some Florida history. Also a good view of the River, halfway between Kings Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Blue Spring, Snake Creek

As you can see, I did get out in the yak on Christmas Eve. I traveled to Blue Springs State Park, winter home of manatees in the St Johns River. I was curious as to how crowded it would be- both manatee and people wise. The human crowd was moderate. I arrived at the parking lot near the River. It was almost full, but I snagged the space closest to the water, and was in just before 10:30. I saw about six manatees at the mouth of Blue Springs Run. The pictures above are from later in the day. After watching manatees for a time, I headed south, towards the first canal.

On December 8, I paddled the "Hontoon Island Loop". North on the St Johns, around Hontoon Island State Park, south on the Hontoon Dead River, to Snake Creek, back to the St Johns. Today, feeling a bit under the weather, and having to work in the evening, I did a shorter paddle. St Johns, upstream (south) towards the northernmost of 3 19th century logging canals, north on Snake Creek to the Hontoon Dead River, south on the HDR to the canal, to the St Johns and Blue Spring. As I entered Snake Creek, I heard rustling on the bank. I paused to see what was the cause. Turkeys.

I last saw turkeys Thanksgiving Day, on the Wekiva River. Now I see them on Christmas Eve.

Along Snake Creek, ibis shared perches with blue herons, in other places, Great Egrets.

Soon, the ibis took over, like ornaments on a Christmas tree.

Snake Creek is shallow, often weed choked. At times, even a kayak can't navigate it. This trip there was one area of floating vegetation, but it was not thick and I easily pushed thorough. So, I was very surprised to see four people in a speed boat slowly coming towards me. They must have made it all the way, as I did not see the again. I saw one other boat, two guys in a canoe with a motor. They turned around. Near the confluence with the Hontoon Dead River, there are a few places the swamp like shoreline changes, moss covered live oaks and palm offer inviting lunch spots. Signs read " No Trespassing". This is the back side of Hontoon Island State Park, I am an annual Florida State Parks pass holder, so I was not a trespasser.

Back in the yak, to the HDR, and then the canal. The canals, after 100+ years are completely wild.

During spring and summer, the canal and both banks are full of alligators. I saw none all day today.

But as you already know, I did see manatees. And not just in the Spring Run. Out of the narrow part of the canal, paddling back towards the places where Snake Creek joins the channel, I paddled to the south bank, a place where I have seem manatees before. I looked around, saw nothing, until sediment rose from the bottom. A lot of sediment. Either an alligator, or more likely, manatee. Manatee it was. It moved to the middle of the channel. where I pointed it out to two oncoming yakers.

I then entered the main channel of the St Johns, and saw more manatees in the River. The manatees use the warm waters of the Spring at night, but during the day, forage the River. That is why the area outside Blue Spring Run is an Idle Speed Zone. Some bozos apparently can't read. I slowed down one pontoon boat, by shouting, "Slow down manatee killers".

I went to the Spring Run, got pushed around my the manatee in the first pics, saw these smoochers. I then went a nearby island is search of more manatees , or maybe a gator. No alligators, but manatees in the River, and one just of the island- I almost ran it over. Back to the Park, I put the yak on the car, then walked the boardwalk to the springhead. I had not been to the springhead by land in a while. The boardwalk is wider, with a covered area with interpretive signs at the spring head. Saw a few more manatee in the Run, and some big tarpon- or a least I thought they were big, looked about 3 feet long.