Dave's Yak Tales

Cedar Key Sunset

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Blue Spring, Snake Creek, Canal Loop

I was back at Blue Spring State Park, Sunday March 9, 2008. It has only been two weeks since my last visit. I came back so soon because the temperature dipped into the 40's last night. That meant manatees would likely be in Blue Spring Run. Only three were in the Run February 24.
Also, after March 1, the spring is open for swimming, another reason to visit.
A sign at the entrance station indicated that 26 manates were in the Run. I thought perhaps the Run would be closed to human activity, it is a sanctuary. I walked down the boardwalk along the Run, saw scuba divers gearing up. March 1 means March 1. I went back to the car for snorkel gear and camera.
There are two places to get in the water. The first, as you walk up the boardwalk from the St. Johns, is a large metal dock. This is at the end of the portion of the Run where swimming is allowed. The second is a wood deck about 2/3 of the way further up the Run. I entered at the second egress point.
Swimming against the current is a good workout. 85-100 million gallons of water creates a powerful flow. Some people walk up the Run. I prefer to swim. Walking stirs up the bottom.
Here's a tip. Use fallen logs to propel your self forward. Grab, pull forward, push off.
I made it to the Spring, where bubbles from scuba divers rose to the surface. The Spring, and Spring Run was cloudy. Last fall, I read about, and experienced the same cloudy conditions. At that time, it was unsure why the Spring was not as clear as normal. The curse of Florida, over development, is a prime suspect. I dove into the crevasse a few times, then floated downstream. I saw lots of gar, big schools of mullet, tilapia, some tarpon. Blue Spring tarpon are about a fifth of the size of Kings Bay Spring tarpon. No manatees. I had seen some in the Run, but all downstream of the swim/snorkel /scuba area. I reached the end of the swim area and headed back upstream to where I entered. It was much too cool to get out at the end and walk to where my towel and shirt were. Snorkeling against the current kept me warmer.
First Blue Spring swim since November done, I was ready to kayak. Several manatees were near the launch area. I did not linger as a Park worker had just chastised two other paddlers who were slow leaving the area. The Run is open to swimming, it is not yet open to paddlers.
Last time, I paddled north on the St Johns, south on the Hontoon Dead River (HDR) to Snake Creek, south on Snake back to the St Johns. Today's route was different, and shorter. South on the St Johns to Snake Creek, north on Snake to the HDR, south on the HDR to the northernmost of 3 old logging canals, east in the canal to the St Johns and north to Blue Spring. It took 2 1/2- 3 hours to complete the circuit with a sandwich stop.

Critter list includes alligators, turtles, blue, Great Blue, and green herons, black and yellow night crowned herons, wood storks, pileated wood peckers, wood ducks, red shoulder hawks, vultures, ibis, limpkins, snowy egrets, kingfishers, osprey, sandhill crane,and a harbinger of spring- a swallow tail kite

Back at Blue Spring Run, I watched as 10 or so manatees congregated just inside the buoy line marking the sanctuary. I paddled in, as if to land, and a huge one performed a barrel roll beneath my yak. I then went back outside the sanctuary. Half a dozen manatee also left the area. Four adults and two calfs. I shadowed them as the crossed the St. Johns, then made their way downstream along the west bank. I had to tell two illiterate power boaters to slow down.
The manatee herd split when they reached the island across from the French Ave, boat ramp. Two of the adults continued down river, the other four went on the backside of the island. I followed the larger group. They slowly swam in the this area away from traffic on the St Johns. Not as dumb as they look. They stopped at a huge mass of vegetation, and began to feed. I left them, and saw more manatees on the other side of the waterway. Coming from the other direction, perhaps they were the two that left the group, and having circled the island, were coming back. I saw another pair of manatees. One was not part of the group that left Blue Spring Run, none of those had five white scars like this guy.
I left my personal manatee sanctuary and returned to Blue Spring, paddling over at least 10 sea cows on the way to the landing. Got the yak on the car, then grabbed the snorkel gear, and fresh battery for a swim. To the first entrance, turned on camera, "Change Battery". Guess I had failed to charge it. Back to the car, put in the battery I had been using all day. To the swim entrance, where I left shirt, shoes, towel, then walked to the second entry point. In the water. "Change Battery". Noooo ! I walked backwards a few steps (flippers on) to the stairs, sat down, took the camera out of the water tight case, opened the battery cover, took it out, reinserted, now it was working. I snorkeled to the Spring, the only person in the water. I looked for manatees, but saw none as I swam. I had not seen any in the swim area as I walked the boardwalk back and forth to my car getting the battery. I dove into the Spring a few times, then did the Superman glide downstream- you know, legs and arms outstretched, flying. Lots of gar- three footers, but no manatees. Until....

I got to the first entry dock. The swim area has two buoy lines across the Run. Normally, I dive under the first set. This time I was distracted as a manatee headed my way. I realized I was at the buoy line when by snorkel hit the rope. I dove under. Then a second manatee headed my way, and a third and a fourth. I swam to the second buoy line, "No Swimming Beyond This Point". I turned around, and three of the manatees had also turned around. Two of the three had tethers with satelitte tracking devices and ID numbers. Had to be two of three rehabilitated manatees released at Blue Spring about three weeks ago. The trio came towards me. I tried to back away, then gave up and stood on the bottom, commenting to the crowd gathered on the dock, "It's hard to follow the no touching rule when they are pursuing you!" "They like to be touched" I did not ask what scientific evidence she had to back her statement. I had not touched them, something I have done at other locations, but a Blue Spring it is urged you do not touch so I complied. The manatees were not so rule abiding, as I felt the coarse hair of one on my leg as it rubbed against me. Manatees may like to be touched, that doesn't mean it is good for them. My biggest peeve is when power boaters lean over to stroke, feed or give manatees fresh water. Teach them to come near propellers, there's a good idea. Idiots.
I think the two tagged manatees could be too used to people. One followed me to the steps. Hopefully it and the other will get aclimated to the wild. As I was leaving three people went down to the dock. They came back up before I left, telling another group headed to the dock, "The manatees are so close you can touch them" I thought of commenting but let it go. Maybe they'll read this.


OldHorsetailSnake said...

That's quite a trip, Dave. You must be in wonderful shape. Thanks for the manatee and bird and alligator pix.

Dave said...

Glad you enjoyed it.

My shape is becoming more manatee like these days.

Dave said...

I received this informative response from the head research scientist at the Manatee Rehabilitation Project.

> Yes, the two tagged animals you saw on 3/9 were two
> of the animals released
> in Feb....their names are Rocket and Annie. Annie
> is a bit more curious than
> Rocket but both will begin to acclimate to a wild
> manatee's ways as soon as
> it warms up and they focus back on their new
> environment in the river. They
> did spend a week in the river before returning to
> the spring during a cold
> front. I am anticipating they will leave by the end
> of this week. Both are
> showing signs of desire to try any type of
> vegetation they can find in the
> spring which is usually the indicator they will be
> willing to venture back out
> into the river.
> Thanks for the great photos and the info you provide
> to the public. It was
> enjoyable to read!

Murf said...

Great story and good advice regarding touchy the manatee's