I was able to avoid the crowds for over two hours by getting an early start. I woke up, looked at the clock, 4:30. I decided as long as my eyes were open I may as well get moving. I was on the water, 90 miles away at 7:10. No one at Rogers Park but a two man clean up crew, preparing for the day. I arrived early enough that the entry fee was not being collected.
Paddled up River, having to use the flash as the sun was not yet over the trees. Flash and movement can result in poor pics, as with this great blue heron. This great egret, 5 minutes later, had a steadier hand.
Four woodstorks atop a pine.
I also saw ibis and belted kingfishers. One kingfisher teasing me. Landing, I'd lift the camera, it would take off. And repeat. I thought I might see some deer with the early start. None seen. No manatees observed on the way up. Just one person on the water. A kayaker.
One person, that is, until I got close to the launch area at Weeki Wachee Springs. As mentioned, I paddled more than two hours before encountering other paddlers. Other than the one kayaker, who had to have launched from her own property. Two paddlers went by, then near an island, the only island on the upper part of the River, another group came down stream. One of them had her camera pointed at me. I called out what I always do when someone is taking my picture. "Best picture you'll get all day" We passed, and I thought, I recognize this paddler.
"Diane?, Yakdave." Diane is a fine photographer and videographer (is that a word?). Put flkrakr in your search engine and you will find some good stuff. We had met, in person, before, Thanksgiving, 2008, at Three Sisters Springs.http://www.davesyaktales.blogspot.com/2008/11/kings-bay-crystal-river.html
She was with two friends. I did not get the name of one, but recognized the other. Tracy, a kayak tour guide and manatee advocate in Crystal River. I've linked her site before, here it is again. http://www.naturecoastkayaktours.com/about_us.html If you can't paddle with me, contact Nature Coast Kayak Tours. Tell them, YakDave sent you.
More paddlers came down stream. There are now two downstream launch sites. The concession at the State Park, and the former concessionaire. Both open at 9 am, which explained the armada on the water when I near the Park launch site. Not sure where the other place puts in. If you do rent, or launch from upstream and need a shuttle back, use the State Park operation. They will pick you up at Rogers Park. The other folks use the Christan Camp, further upstream. Land there, and you miss Hospital Hole, a sink/spring and winter manatee hangout.
I reached the No Vessels Beyond This Point sign at 9:40. It took 2.5 hours to get there from Rogers Park. Time for the down river float.
I passed all the people who had gone down the River as I paddled up. Wanting to get ahead of folks yaking, instead of yaking, if you know what I mean.
Such a beautiful River. Even though I was not seeing a lot of wildlife. A raccoon, turtles, a snake. The snake swam across the River. Yellow stripes. An eastern rat snake, I think.
About 50 minutes after I turned around, I caught up to Flkrakr and friends, taking a break on a sandbar. I drifted into the bank as we chatted, pushed of a tree, and felt something pinching my arm. I brushed it off. My first thought, "walking stick" I lifted it out of the water with my paddle.
"Praying mantis" said Flkrakr. I don't think I've see one before. I have a feeling they can't swim. I wanted to bring it to land, but with the current, it was hard to paddle with it on the blade. I had to immerse the blade in the water with the mantis clinging, and perhaps, praying, on the top edge. It was gone when I raised the blade.
I remained close to the ladies, hope they didn't mind. The Weeki Wachee was getting busy. People paddling and motoring up River. Most of the WW is idle speed. More of the blue rentals, with noisy stinky 6hp motors, than I have ever seen.
One nice thing about tagging along with a guide. She'll spot manatees. Two. I did not see them, at first, the ladies went a bit back up River to observe one, I remained where I was, and a calf popped up in front of me. I watched for a while, until one of the noisy rental motorboats caused it to seek safer water. I departed from the trio, who went to explore a canal. I ate lunch as I paddled, came around a bend, and was told there were manatees. Eight to ten people in the area. "I touched it !" "Why pet it? It's not a dog" At least what I saw, was just one hand, briefly on the manatee. I saw three manatee in the area.
I left, past the Christian Camp, and arrived at Hospital Hole. The water was clear and cool. I could not resist.
I returned to Rogers Park at 12:25. And kept paddling. Taking the route less traveled, under a low bridge, into the northernmost channel of the WW, house on just one side, into a narrow tidal creek, to the Mud River.
The Weeki Wachee idle speed zone ends at the confluence of the Mud and WW. A marked channel leads to the Gulf of Mexico. I paddled outside the channel. It had to be near high tide, I was able to stay closer to shore than I have on other trips to the Gulf. One sign of high tide is how low I had to duck to get under the pipes at the bridge. The photo is from the return trip, after the tide had gone out some.
Hoping to see dolphins, I paddled past the Bayport Pier, around a small island, into the Gulf. No dolphin sightings.
I returned via the Weeki Wachee, where I paused to admire this sign.
The banner was in the right spot, as two manatees surfaced. Big one, with impact marks on her (I assume her) back, and a little one. I finally got a photo on my fourth manatee encounter of the day. They went up the River. I shadowed them. Smart, they went into the less busy north channel. Where a boat came. I told the captain to keep an eye out. He did, and I saw the manatees enter a side canal, out of harms way. It was the last I saw them, or any manatees, before landing at 2:50.
I had been on, and in, the water for seven hours, twenty minutes. A large crowd was waiting for transport back to Weeki Wachee State Park. I saw a guy with a clipboard. Asked him how many boats had gone out. "46, we have 70" I'd hate to be on the water with all 7.
On the way home, I stopped at the Van Fleet State Trail. An eight mile ride to compliment the nearly eight hour paddle.