Dave's Yak Tales

Cedar Key Sunset

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tomoka River

I went to Tomoka State Park on Sunday, November 25, 2007 and paddled four waterways on this fourth trip of the four day holiday weekend. Tomoka is located in Ormond Beach, just north of Daytona. On the drive, I saw a bald eagle near the junction of I-4 and I-95.
Located on a peninsula separating the Halifax and Tomoka Rivers, bisected
by two creeks, Thompson and Strickland, with additional old mosquito
control canals and nameless waterways, this Florida State Park offers mile upon mile of scenic and secluded paddling. The road to the Park entrance is through a canopy of moss covered live oaks. This is part of "The Loop" a scenic 23 mile drive/run/bike route.

The Park has a boat ramp on the Tomoka River, a short paddle from the tip of the peninsula. Kayak rentals are available. I put in and headed south . The Tomoka is fairly wide, little current. Trees line the east bank, then both banks are dominated by marsh grass as seen here.

A few homes are visible at the start, then nothing until Thompson Creek, when more homes can be seen at a distance. With many canals cut through the marsh, the entrance to Thompson Creek can be hard to find. I found it, but then took a wrong turn and spent some time in the mosquito control canals. Time well spent, as I saw a bald eagle fly over head. A compass should be part of every paddlers gear. The marsh is excellent for viewing wading birds like egrets and herons.

Can you find the green heron in this picture ? I almost deleted it. The stripes on the breast make effective camouflage.

Thompson Creek meets Strickland Creek in a residential area. There is a city park with boat ramp and long fishing pier on the east side of Strickland Creek. May be a good place to take a break, if so inclined. I have yet to stop here, in four or five trips, preferring to stop on the bank a bit north for views like this. The area where I stopped for lunch was covered with shells, mostly oyster. I don't know if it is ancient sea floor or ancient civilization. The area was occupied when the Spanish first visited in 1605. This marker is near the tip of the peninsula.

Several sections of the Tomoka, and all of Thompson and Strickland Creeks, are manatee zones. I have seen them in the Tomoka, in the summer, never in the Creek. I did not expect to see any, after not seeing any a few weeks a ago in the Canaveral Seashore are, which is south of Ormond Beach. I did not see any. I have seen dolphins in the Tomoka, but none this trip. I have never seen alligators. They likely are hiding deep in the marsh grass.

I came out of Thompson and back to the Tomoka River. Instead of staying in the main channel, I went up a narrow shaded one. It dead ends, but the main channel is just across a narrow land bridge. I dragged the yak over, and was back in the main channel. I proceeded past the boat ramp, to the tip and around the peninsula in the Halifax River. The Halifax is part of the Intracostal Waterway, entering the Atlantic Ocean at Ponce Inlet.

I spent about 5 hours on the water. After putting the yak on the car, I walked a one mile interpretive nature trail, from the Visitor Center to this 40 foot tall sculpture, which I saw from the Halifax River

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Chassahowitzka River

Saturday, November 24, 2007, I drove to the little town of Chassahowitzka, Florida, to launch my kayak from the Chassahowitzka Campground, to paddle the Chassahowitzka River, which is formed by several springs, the largest being Chassahowitzka Spring, into the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge and the Gulf of Mexico. The Chassahowitzka (hereinafter "Chass") provides diverse paddling pleasures because not only can you paddle the Chass, which begins as a clear single channel spring fed waterway, widening and braiding through a maze of islands on its way to the Gulf, but also a dozen are so tributaries to explore, some spring fed, others not.

All this water means there is a great variety of wildlife. I'll show and tell you some of it.

There were two spots left in the parking lot when I arrived a bit past 10:30. The parking fee for a car without a trailer is $2.12. A one boat asphalt ramp is the only spot to launch a boat on the Chass. Next to the ramp is a sand/ grass area (depending on the tide) perfect for yak launching.

I launched and checked the area just east of the ramp and dock for manatees. Chassahowitka Spring is located just off the ramp. I saw manatees here my last visit, in September. None this time. I thought of paddling over the main spring, up a short run to a series of beautiful, small, interconnected springs. But seeing the full lot, I thought that area would be crowded, so I headed downstream. A spring run enters the Chass from the north a few hundred yards from the ramp. I considered checking them out, but a line of canoes was coming out, so I stayed on the Chass. My next destination was Houseboat Spring, a third of a mile from the launch, on River left.

Houseboat Spring forms a circular cove, right on the River. I have seen manatees here on prior visits. I paddled in. This is not a classic clear spring, visibility is someone limited. Not so limited that I could not see snapper. Hundreds of snapper. But, after several minutes, no manatee. I was about to move on when one surfaced, briefly. I decided to get in the water. It took a while. There is no good place in the cove to get out of a kayak-or any craft. The entire shore has muck that sucks your leg in as soon as you step on it. I have snorkeled here before, so I knew there had to be a way. I went to one downed tree, not good. A second tree, this may work. Hung my shirt on a limb, made sure things were secure and stepped out , on to a branch below the surface- and rolled the yak over. It completely filled with water. I took out all my stuff, put it on the log, then emptied the water. Which was hard to do balancing on the underwater branch so I would not sink in the muck. Finally, I was ready to get in the water. The snapper population was amazing

The manatees were pretty cool as well. One youngster, and two adults.

One uncool thing, the nasty prop scars on both adults. That red spot may be blood. The other, unpictured adult had a vertical gash. A flap of skin along the scar reminded me of a cut in an old leather chair. The little one, has not yet encountered a boat, or so it seems from its smooth back.

Hopefully good parenting will keep it away from boats- but as with all kids, curiosity may get it in trouble. It began to follow me. I'd see it below me, move off as I felt I was to close, and there it was again. I stood on the bottom, and it rubbed against my leg. Like a kitten, I thought. Like a kitten indeed. Later, canoers came in the cove, and one said the little one was nursing. Yup, just like a cat, leg rubbing when hungry. Several canoers, kayakers, and a rowboat came in, maybe 10 in total. Not all at once, but enough for me to jokingly say, "so much for my secret manatee spot". And otter. As I carefully removed my snorkel gear and got back in the yak, and otter began to swim and dive in the spring. All those fish made it otter heaven.

I continued down the Chass, which was very low, lowest I've ever seen. Then I remembered, its a full moon, so the tide is extreme. That made birds happy, feeding on exposed mud flats along one of the many tributaries

Prior to that detour, I saw two dolphins, just before this Refuge sign.

I saw one dolphin on my first visit to the Chass, back in 2005. These are the first I have seen since that time. They zoomed past me, aggressively feeding. I tired to turn back and watch, hoping to maybe see some of the same teamwork I saw on the Homosassa on Thanksgiving (if you have not read that post, I highly recommend it), but the wind and current took me away from the action and I decided to go with the flow.

Manatees, otter and dolphins. So far so good. But Iwanted more. Bald eagles. I have seen them several times near the spot where Crawford Creek, a spring fed creek enters the Chas. I arrived at Crawford, headed up it a ways, but saw no eagles. I went back to the Chass and paddled upstream. The wind and current/tide diminished, so the paddle back wasn't bad. And, I saw a bald eagle, flying overhead. No picture, but here is a Chass avain gallery, Woodstork, yellow crowned night heron, blue heron.

There were a lot of storks along Potter Creek, a beautiful spring fed creek entering the Chas from the north. Potter is influenced by the tide, when I passed it on the way out, there was no way I could have entered it.

This is Potter Spring. The Great Blue Heron you see had company. A Great Egret, a blue heron and a couple wood ducks were in the area when I arrived.

Potter is nice. At the back of Potter, extremely clear water flows into the spring. This is Ruth Spring Run, a short, narrow, jungle like spring run of less then 200 yards. One of the most scenic I have seen. Here is Ruth Spring.

This is Ruth Springs Run.

On the way out Potter, I saw another otter. Back in the Chass, another bald eagle.

The final picture is my yak over the interconnected springs I mentioned at the top. The "Solution Holes" are blue, beautiful and fun. I have entered one hole, swan thru a short tunnel and popped out on the other side. Did not do it today, as it was getting late. Longtime readers may notice I did not visit Baird Creek, and "The Crack". The Chass has so much to offer, a November day is to short to do it all.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wekiva River, Katies Landing, Downstream

Friday, November 23, 2007, I kayaked the Wekiva River from Katies Landing. The same launch I did Sunday the 18th, but I went in a different direction. North, downstream 5 miles to the St. Johns River.

The west, or left bank is the Seminole State Forest. Homes line the east bank for the first 3/4 of a mile. This dosen't prevent wildlife viewing.

The last sign of devolpment is Wekiva River Haven, featuring bait, beer and rental motor boats. I was happy to see all the rental were still at the dock at10:45 am. Past Wekiva Haven, the River enters the Lower Wekiva State Preserve. Lots of wildlife. I've seen deer and one bear. On some days, lots of alligators. Yesterday started out overcast and cool. I wore a windbreaker for the first time since last Feb or March. Saw only two alligators. Here they are.

The one on top is about a foot long, bottom. six

>I saw, including mine, as many kayaks as powerboats, three, for the first hour plus on the River. The usual litany of birds. Ibis were by far the most prevalent species. Roosting in trees. Feeding among the cypress knees, Taking off in a frantic/frenetic burst.

At the four mile mark, Blackwater Creek joins the Wekiva. The additional flow lets larger boats in from the St Johns. Bass and ponton boats mostly. Later, the Little Wekiva joins in. The deeper water allows not just larger boats, but manatees to enter the final mile of the Wekiva. I've seen them about four times. None this trip, water may be a bit cool and the Wekiva manatees have moved on to Blue Spring.

Passing a bass boat, I briefly entered the St. Johns, then turned back. Passing the same bass boat near the mouth, I saw one guy's rod bend sharply. I saw the big mouth of the large mouth breach the surface. I watched the fight, the bass tried to go under the boat, but was reeled in. Nice fish. Eleven pounds. After taking their own pictures, the anglers released it.

The clouds lifted, it was a beautiful mid 70's day. I made a short trip up Blackwater Creek, then back to the Wekiva, continuing upstream, back to Katies. I was no the only person to have Thanksgiving Friday off. I saw a lot of the rental boats from Wekiva Haven. Fishing, families touring the River. To my pleasure, everyone I saw, renters and owners were courteous, slowing down when the saw me. That is not always the case. I made it a point to say thank you.

Here are some lower Wekiva scenics.

It being the day after Thanksgiving,I have to include turkeys. I knew that a flock is often present on the lawns of some of the riverfront homes. And so they were. I paddled up a short canal to get a better look as the troop (what do you call a group of turkey?) made their way across the lawn and into the forest.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Homosassa River

I saw something very cool this Thanksgiving day on the Homosassa River. Better then this manatee.

Some of the best teamwork this side of Brett Favre and Donald Driver.Two dolphins on the hunt. One would charge into a school of fish, causing them to leap in the air. The second, in the path of the flying fish would rise out of the water, mouth open, teeth flashing, catching fish. Like at Sea World when a park worker tosses fish, but this was in the wild, not a tank. This happened several times, I assume the two changed roles, one herding, the other in the catching role. If only I had a picture !

div>The Homasassa is a spring fed river, located in Citrus County, south of Crystal River, north of Chassahowitzka. The source is a first magnitude spring, which is joined by several smaller springs that create a wide waterway flowing 9 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. I put in 2.5 miles from the head spring, at McRaes. McRaes as motel rooms, bait, a waterfront bar, and dockage. The bar was not open, somethingI knew in advance, having been here last Thanksgiving.

It was raining as I prepared to launch. Two fishermen, having more sense then me, came in. As they got the boat on trailer, one said "dolphins !" I did not see them, but the fisherman, said they were headed upriver, as was I. The Homosassa has much development, homes, restraunts, resorts, line the banks. I wonder what is was like when this home was built ? Little traffic on the River this rainy Thanksgiving morning. Even the monkeys stayed out of the rain. Yes, monkeys. A resort just upstream from McRaes has 4 or 5 monkeys, two chimps, and another species, on a small island in the River. I know they are not rhesus, which as you know from my Silver River report, can swim. and if you don't know, go to the October posts and read about the Silver River.

There are a few green patches of green shore line on the Homosassa, and ahead, I saw a large splash. Dolphin, or pelican diving. Turned out to be both. I'm not sure who found the fish first, but both pelicans and two dolphins were feasting. I assume the dolphins were the two that passed by as I was launching. As mentioned at the top, the dolphins teamwork was something to behold. They turned back towards the Gulf, just before another river , Halls River, joins the Homosassa. perhaps too much fresh water.

More kayaks then powerboats were on the water, first two, then a trio- with wetsuit tops- I figured they got in the water near the head spring. I wrote "near", as the head spring cannot be accessed by boat. It is part of Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. The Spring can be viewed from an underwater platform in the Park, I have yet to visit. From the River, the Spring is blocked by bars that prevent large objects from entering. Or exiting. The Park aids in the rehabilitation of injured manatees. This time of year, with the mercury falling, wild manatees seek the warm water coming from the spring. As in the Crystal River, areas near the Spring, on both sides of the River are manatee sanctuaries. Also like Crystal River, swimming with manatees, outside the restricted areas, is allowed. An observation deck allows visitors to the Park to view, the River, and manatees. A kayak was beneath the deck. Still raining, it seemed like the place to be. The kayaker was a Park volunteer, making sure no one harassed the manatees. She said another group of kayakers got in the water, and saw one manatee. The three wet suited folks I saw earlier. I had met this volunteer earlier, last Thanksgiving. She had showed me a spot to get out of my yak and into the water. I thanked her, and paddled over to a bridge, where a concrete shelf is perfect for getting out of the yak and donning snorkel gear. Clear spring water flows under the bridge, from several small springs in a residential area. I saw fish as soon as got in the water. Freshwater, bluegill and bass. Saltwater, sheepshead, needlefish, and mangrove snapper, seen here.

And manatees. Six of them. Only two good pictures as they were resting in a heavily sedimented area. When they would come up for air, massive amounts of organic matter rose with them,clouding the water

The rain continued. Neat to see underwater, not so much when I got back in the yak. I stayed under the overlook for a bit, hoping the rain would stop. It did not. So I decided to cal it a day,and find a place to watch the end of the Packer game.

On the way back, the rain did stop. Just as I reached the Halls River. Unlike the Homosassa, the Halls is mostly undeveloped. I paddled up Halls, until the wind picked up and the rain returned. Worse then ever, blowing in my face. But,when I returned to the Homosassa, a bit of blue sky. It grew, and the rain stopped. I passed a river front bar and asked a couple "Who's wining the Packer game ? " "They're killing them".

Making monkeys out of the Lions, perhaps ?

Here are some bird pictures.

The little one is the common, but elusive, belted kingfisher. Hard to photo, as they don't perch for long.

I arrived at McRaes, and heard a TV on the deck near the docks. I walked over, the place was closed, but a group of people was milling about, some fishing, a few beers on tables and in hands. I saw the score was 34-12. I went back to the yak, put it on the car, put on dry clothes, grabbed a beer from my cooler. When I returned to the TV, it was 34-26. What the ? So, I saw the game clinching field goal drive. I asked a guy if this was the employee Thanksgiving gathering. No, it was the extended family of the owner. Nice of them to let me hang out.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wekiva River from Katies Landing, Upstream

Sunday, November 18, 2007 I kayaked the Wekiva River. I did not launch from Wekiwa Springs State Park, but from a site 12 miles downstream, Katies Landing. Katies used to have rentals, docks and other facilities. Little remains, a concrete pier along shore used by fishermen. The State of Florida now owns the property, and it is solely a canoe, kayak launch. The only structures left are a Port-O -Let and a kiosk with a river map.

The first picture is the view from the launch (which is slope to the river). Too bad I could not get the bald eagle that flew over the trees as I was walking back from the small dirt parking lot. The St. Johns River is five miles downstream. I headed the other way, wanting to have the current with me on the return.
Turtles began to appear on logs, soaking up the sun. This usually means alligators will soon follow.
Or, the other way around.

While paddling, I often see colored ribbons tied to trees. Sometimes, it is obvious they are directional markers. In other instances, I am not sure what they are for. Perhaps markers for wildlife, maybe a nesting site. Whatever the purpose of the red ribbon below it, along with they tree roots and curved body of the gator makes a good photo.

My float plan was to turn around after two hours. But, the scenery was god so I made it two and a half. On the way back I stopped at an ancient Indian site, Twin Mounds. The site is in Rock Springs State Reserve. The informational board below is viewed from a short boardwalk overlooking one of the two mounds. It is at the end of a long trail- if you enter overland. From the River, its a short walk, past the other mound.

In the first hand picture, I hold clam shells on top, a snail shell at the bottom, and in the middle, a piece of ancient pottery ? I'm no archaeologist, but is the dark portion of the sample between my fingers charring from a 1000 year old fire ? I found these on two sides of the mound near the River. I left them where I found them, as removing artifacts from State property is illegal.

Few modern residents were on the river, maybe 10 fishermen and canoers. Most of the canoers came from Wekiva Falls, a RV campground that rents canoes. There is a spring as well. Not freshwater, but a sulfur spring. Depending on conditions, it can be smelled at quite a distance. I could not smell it this tip as I passed nearby. One canoeing couple asked if I saw any "crocodiles" . No , but plenty of alligators. From the man's accent, I should put an ad in Le Monde, or some other French newspaper and offer guide services. I could point out birds, and gators, as seen from the obligatory bow of the yak shot.
I ended the day taking an hour long walk on a trail in the nearby Lower Wekiva State Preserve, fininishing as the sun set through the trees