Dave's Yak Tales

Cedar Key Sunset

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Silver River, Salt Springs

Sunday, October 28, 2007 I kayaked the Silver River, known for monkeys and glass bottom boats. The Silver is on the west edge of the Ocala National Forest. The launch is a Marion County Park, Rays Wayside. A $3.00 fee, two ramps for powerboats and a seperate "Hand Launch" area for padddle craft. I launched at 9:40 am into a short canal that leads to the Silver River. A left turn takes the paddler downstream a short distance to the Oklawaha River, right, upstream to Silver Springs. I turned right. The Silver is formed by 530 million gallons of water gushing from several springs. The main Spring, is by some measures. the largest in Florida. The outflow creates a broad and deep river. Also very clear. Out of the canal, the waters are part of Silver River State Park. Wakes and fishing are prohinited. That leaves plenty of fish for ducks and cormorants


It took me two hours to reach the Silver Springs attraction area. I saw two other boats. One kayaker, who probably had launched well before me and turned around. Rays is the only practical place to launch a boat. There is a landing half way, but it is a long way from the a parking lot in the State Park. The other boat was a pontoon, one I've seen before- a guy giving a tour to two customers. Once I arrived at the attraction area, the glass bottom tour boats plied the water.

There are at least 9 Springs near the source of the Silver River. Unfortunately, they cannot be snorkeled, scubaed, or swum. For some reason the State has allowed a private concession to lease the waterway near the head springs. Probably tradition has a bit to do with it. Glass bottom boats have been around for 130 years. The clear water and jungle like foliage have made Silver Springs a movie and TV set dating to Johnny Weismuller playing Tarzan. The monkeys are not descendants of Cheetah. They are rhesus monkeys not chimpanzees. The monkeys are the descendants of a a few placed on an island in the river by a tour boat operator in the 1930's as a tourist attraction. It seems he did not realize they could swim. They have multiplied and are found all along the Silver River. From time to time, reports of monkeys come from other parts of the state. I saw one near Blue Spring this summer.

The sun, which did not make an appearance Saturday on Alexander Creek, came out under partly cloudy skies. Turtles took advantage, as in this high rise unit. Birds also, cormorant sunning and an ibis probing the water. Turtles sunning and wading birds feeding means alligators will soon appear.

They did. But, I did not come to the Silver River for alligators, or birds, or turtles, or gators and turtles, but monkeys. I have made several trips to the Silver River, and other than than my first time, have always seen monkeys. Looking back on that trip, what I thought was an otter, probably was a monkey. On another occasion, I saw none on the Silver, but I continued to the Oklawaha and saw a large troop there. Thus, this trip I told myself if I saw monkeys before Rays, I'd end my trip, if not,I'd continue to the Oklawaha. I passed the halfway point, where I stopped for lunch. River traffic increased, more kayaks than powerboats, but never a crowd. On the left bank, a tree limb crashed into the water. Not just the small branch, but the squirrel that was on it. First time I've seen a squirrel swim as it scurried to shore. A few minutes later, again on my left, and ahead, something crashed into the water. A clumsy cormorant diving, I thought. Then I saw it get out of the water, and climb the tree. I came closer and thought, cormorants can't climb straight up. That's a monkey. It had misjudged its leap from high branches, and fell in. I came upon a large troop. Three big ones in a tree on the right bank. The elders, watching the kids and grandkids frolicking on te other side. After my paddle, I drove 22 miles to snorkel Salt Springs. Two people were in the water. They left, and I had the amazing Springs to myself. Several shafts emit a powerful flow, making it hard to reach bottom. Getting to the surface is easy, the outpouring of water shoots you up. Pictured are a few of the critters in the Srings and nearby water. No blue crabs, somethingI have seen here by the dozens before. When I got out, three otters got in. They found dinner, and took it to their den to eat.

I ended the day with a hike on the Yearling Trail. The place to see the elusive Florida scru jay/ They are common here. I got a few pictures, but i was dark, so I'll wait until I get some better onesto post these bright blue birds. I also saw a deer during my 2.5 mile hike.

The Ocala National Forest and Silver Springs is a special place.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Alexander Creek and Spring

I made a return visit to the Ocala National Forest Saturday afternoon, October 27, 2007. The paddle was Alexander Creek. I left work at 12:30, ( working a half day today allowed me to do a half day Wednesday for the Turkey Creek yak) and was in the Creek about 2.

Alexander Creek begins at Alexander Spring, a first magnitude spring discharging 72 million gallons daily. Like all spring fed waterways in Central Florida's interior, it flows into the St. Johns River. The length is about 10 miles. I paddled only about 3. My first two times on Alexander, I put in at a primitive ramp 7 miles downstream. If you rent a canoe at the Alexander Springs Recreation Area, this is where a shuttle picks you up. The takeout is at the end of a five mile dirt road. The first time I paddle Alexander, a sign at the Rec Area read, 'Shuttle Out of Service" I asked why. Rains had made the road too rough/ And I had just driven it with my Cavalier. My second time, road a bit better but the Creek was impassable due to weeds. So ever since, I have launched from a bridge, Lake County Highway 445, one mile from the Spring. This allows quick access to one of the best Springs in Florida.

Deep, wide, clear, interesting limestone formations, Alexander Spring has it all. In addition, the vegetation just outside the Spring contains a variety of life.

After snorkeling,I took a stroll on the Timucan Trail. Just over a mile, half boardwalk, half trail through the forest.

After the walk, it was back in the yak. I paddled past the bridge for 45, minutes then reverse course. Here's a sample of the wildlife. No alligators on an overcast day.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Turkey Creek

I worked until 1:00 PM, Wed., Oct. 24, 2007, then went kayaking. I wanted to go to Alexander Creek and Spring, to get quality underwater pics after Sunday's turbid conditions at Blue Springs. Thanks to weather.com, I was able to see the forecast for Ocala, near Alexander called for a 60% chance of rain, dropping to 50% later in the afternoon. On the other hand, the forecast for Palm Bay, home of Turkey Creek was a 30% chance of rain until 3, then increasing to 50%. My decision was clinched just before leaving work when the current weather in Ocala showed rain. If my employer sees this, it is easy to monitor the weather while on hold.

Palm Bay, Florida, is on the Indian River, south of Melbourne, north of Vero Beach, in Brevard County. I launched from Goode Park, at the bottom of the above map. Map cut and pasted from the Friends of Turkey Creek website. This City of Palm Bay facility has a concrete, one boat ramp, plenty of parking, a fishing pier, and restrooms. It can be crowded on weekends. Today, one other car in the lot, one woman standing on the pier. She did not have a pole, she was enjoying the view of two manatees just off the ramp. Turkey Creek is a major manatee hangout, I would have to review my trip reports, but if I have failed to see seacows here, it can't be more than once. After observing the manatees for a bit, I headed upstream, figuring I'd see more.

This is a short paddle. It only takes an hour to reach the end, a dam/water control structure. The first half hour passes a few homes, and low vegetation- small trees, bushes, I'm no botanist, but, its not very impressive. Still, water brings birds like these ibis on someone's lawn. After 30 minutes, oh boy, the scenery changes. Past the Port Malabar Ave, Bridge, the shore is lined with majestic sabal palms and gnarled live oaks. Turtles occupy every log, and sandy bluffs tower above the creek. Downstream of the dam, is the Turkey Creek Sanctuary, another Palm Bay City park, with a mile of boardwalk and other trails .
through 100 acres of river front habitat. Take a virtual stroll. I wanted to have a picture of a gopher tortoise, but they were to fast, turning the fable on its head. I spent 45 minutes on land, then got back in the yak. A paddle back to the dam. looking for manatees and/or alligators. None that I saw, but did get a green heron photo.

One unpleasant note. A large amount of trash was in the Creek, near the Sanctuary. Bottles, shoes, a football. I notice similar debris my last visit. I believe this happens after heavy rain, and the gates to the water control structure are opened, and everything that as fallen into a large drainage area ends up here. But soon I was past the trash, passing the bluffs and turtles. I kept eyes and ears open for manatees, but did not spot any as I moved downstream. Turkey Creek has a couple of alternate channels, one takes the paddler past houses, the other, narrow route does not. I took the latter.

The sky grew dark, the 50% rain hour arrived. I hoped a patch of blue sky would increase, but sprinkles began, just as I saw two small alligators. All right! I might get the trifecta-Manatee, Alligator and Dolphin on one paddle.

I have seen dolphins before in the Palm Bay portion of the Creek. The rain increased, thunder rumbled as I passed under the railroad bridge, then U.S. 1 into the Bay. The only other boat I saw all day, two fishermen in a canoe, paddled hard to get out of the rain. I briefly entered the Indian River before reversing course. As I did, a shape broke the surface of the water in the distance. Dolphin ? I waited for it to resurface, but it did not. So, I did not have a confirmed sighting, and therefor, no trifecta.

I made my way back to Goode Park as the sky cleared, rain stopped. Several manatees were near the ramp and dock, others dispersed further out. I tried to get pictures, but due to sunset, dark water and short appearances on the surface, have none worth sharing. I prepared to land, but stayed out as a couple manatees showed interest in the yak, following me like big dogs. One rolled over a few times next to me, then swum below, just below. I let my open hand glide across its back as it passed.

I did get some good wingspread photos. Osprey taking off. Great Egret landing. Anhinga drying.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hontoon Island Loop

Sunday, October 21, 2007 I paddled a route I call, "Hontoon Island Loop". I began at Blue Springs State Park, paddled north, upstream on the St. Johns River to Hontoon Island State Park, south on the Hontoon Dead River, to Snake Creek, back to the St Johns and Blue Spring. Its about eight miles, took me 4.5 hours with one stop.

Faithful pre Dave's Yak Tales readers know this paddle can feature encounters with alligators, manatees, bald eagles and deer. They also know I launch the yak from the French Avenue "ramp" just outside the Park, then paddle upstream 5 minutes to Blue Spring where, depending on the season, I either snorkel the spring or watch manatees. That scenario changed Sunday.

Now that I have an annual State Park pass, I decided to launch directly from the Park. I had not entered Blue Springs State Park by car since Feb. 2006, when Steve Rozga saw the manatees with me.

I'll save wear and tear on the car driving the paved park road instead of the packed sand road at French Ave. The nice thing about French Ave is the road ends at waters edge, not much of a carry. At the Park, I had to carry the yak about 30 yards to the water, where I left it and walked the boardwalk along Blue Springs Run for a swim.

Blue is yet another first magnitude spring. Recently, though the water has been cloudy, visibility low. Here is the lasted info, from the Park's website:

Cloudy water conditions in Blue Spring have improved daily and are no longer a hindrance to divers.

Not a hindrance, but not as clear as I am used to. The likely suspect-overdevolpment, over-fertilization, over whelming the water table with nutrients causing algae and other contaminents to flourish.

I snorkled up the Run to the Spring. Scuba divers preparing to dive, two other swimmers were present. A large log, about twenty feet down was barely visible. I did not go very deep, and the floated downstream. Took pictures of, gar, none worthy of publication due to the cloudy water. I probably won't be back to swim here until March, 08. On November 15 the Run is closed to all activity- other than watching manatees from the boardwalk.

That means the above photo should be the last one of the yak in Blue Springs Run this year. That's a swimmer off the port bow. The Run is about 1/3 mile from the Spring to the St. Johns. I entered the River, passed a pair of kayakers, and continued downstream. Saw an alligator on the surface, turned out to be the only one I saw all day. Passed a large group of kayakers getting in at French Ave, then I circled an island that often provides large gators, the occasional manatee and lots of wading birds. Only moorhens this time. Back to the main channel and upstream.

A quiet day, maybe 5 moving boats as I headed upstream, a few more fishing. No development on this stretch of River

I observed Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, cormorants, ibis, red shouldered hawks, belted kingfishers, vultures, osprey, and ahingas sharing perches with blue herons.

I'm not sure which intruder the heron is squawking at, me or the anhinga.

Just over an hour of paddling took me to the north tip of Hontoon Island, and the concession, docks, museum. picnic area of Hontoon Island State Park. A pontoon boat ferries landlubbers from a parking lot on the mainland. I continued around the Island into the Hontoon Dead River. "Dead" for lack of current. That, and a minimum wake restriction make it a great paddle. Another hour and I landed at about the only place you can land, the shore being a cypress swamp with little solid ground. But here. two hiking trails meet and there's a small spot to land. One trail starts back at the north tip of the Island and ends at a huge Indian Shell Mound. It's a short walk to the mound from my spot through a beautiful hammock of moss draped live oaks, sabal palm magnolia and laurel oaks. The mound is about 3o feet high and old- a massive oak stands atop it. It must have a few bones and antlers as well.

I walked back to the yak, ate lunch, then got back in the water. To get back to the St Johns, I could take either Snake Creek or one of the century old logging canals. Snake Creek is often impassable, due to low water and weeds. I was a bit surprised I made it through on my last visit, in August, with the water lettuce and other plants in full bloom. But I knew I could make it this time, thanks to the group of paddlers I had seen at French Ave. I met them coming up the HDR, and asked, Snake or Canal ? Snake.

This group of about 10, followed by another pair, is by far the most I have ever seen on this trip. I think kayaks outnumbered powerboats- at least until later when I returned to the St Johns. I wonder if the yakers were inspired by my story on Paddling.net


Snake Creek, is winding, no room for powerboats. Same birds as earlier. I've seen otters here, none today. Back in the St. Johns, I entered a lagoon just south of Blue Spring Run. In June of 06 I saw a large group of manatees here. I always visit, hoping for another herd, but am still waiting. But soon, the temps will turn cool, and when the St Johns drops into the 60s, 200 or more manatees will seek the 72 degree water of Blue Spring. I'll send a picture.

By the way, if you watched Monday Night Football tonight, 10-22-07, the water in the shots of Jacksonville is the St Johns River