Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Tip of St. Vincent Island

Click on an image to see a larger view, then use your Back button to return to this blog.  Enjoy!
That's 'Tip', as in 'tip of the iceberg'.  In two short days that's all one can possibly see of this big diverse wildlife refuge (especially since you can't camp there). The island is an easy paddle by kayak across Indian Pass, and there's a day ferry there as well.  Susan Cerulean is writing a book about this part of Florida, so Crystal and I joined her and Jeff for a couple days visit to IP and St. V. last month.

I had noticed the Railroad Vine with its Beach Morning Glory flowers right away, so I was out crawling in the sand setting up the photo (above) well before sunrise the next morning.  I hadn't realized that the flowers would be still furled asleep until mid-morning, but decided they still made good (if not better) subjects when curled up.  That's St. Vincent Island in the upper right.
May means the shorebirds are in full breeding plumage - much more showy than most of the year.  I saw (or noticed) my first Red Knot - a red-breasted sandpiper.  The little Sanderling boys dominated with their battling and posturing all up and down the beaches.  We saw many other sandpipers, egrets, herons, oystercatchers, terns and gulls, eagles and osprey... and the list goes on.  
Least Terns were nesting on a remote beach gulfside of St. Vincent.  We watched the guys bring minnow-gifts to their coy sweethearts.   And the females fiercely defending their nests from potential predators like ghost crabs.

 We passed another spit covered with Black Skimmers, presumably many on their nests.  As we were leaving, an eagle soared over sending the flock into synchronized flight.

One long walk on St. V lasted through a magnificent sunset which shone orange light across the sand.  I had carried only one large telephoto lens in my little kayak, so all my photo subjects that evening had to be small (like a bird) or a detail from a distance (like wolf tracks).  It was an interesting exercise (and repeated reminder to come prepared.)

A massive storm front was moving in fast on our final morning giving us a dark-brooding-sky sendoff.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Life at Dead Lakes

Click on an image for a larger view, then use your Back button to return to the story.  Enjoy!

"Surreal", I thought as we idled out into Dead Lakes from the ramp.  Hulking sculpted tree bases filled and lined the lake.  Stumps rose up to 15 feet above water while others hid treacherously just below the surface.  The lake is the result of backed up water in the final 10 miles of the Chipola River when the Apalachicola River is high.  The Chipola ends at the mighty Apalachicola.  But there is more to the story - a dam that was built in the 1960s and then removed in the 1980s.  Many trees were killed by the massive flooding, hence the name, but why it's plural I don't know.

Crystal, Sue, Jeff and I slowly weaved through the skeletal trees in search of shade and a swimming hole.  The day (yesterday) was a hot one which gave me opportunity to try out my experimental bimini-top shade extender over the bow deck of the jonboat.  Pieced together from Tyvek housewrap and electrical conduit pipe, it proved to be a lifesaver (well, at least skinsaver).

We explored northward from Wewahitchka.  Pretty soon we got used to the eery landscape and started noticing the abundant life in the Dead Lakes.  The lake was full of fish and birds, and probably gators, though we saw none.  And from the thousands of stumps, young cypress trees and other plants had sprung up.  Islands have formed.  We even found a sandy-ish beach where we picnicked and had a swim.  The water was around 85 degrees fahrenheit - Coldwater-Phobic-Jeff declared it perfect!
By hanging out in that spot, nature returned to her rhythms and the wildlife resumed its activities.  A pair of grackles repeatedly flew from their cavity nest carrying their nestling's fecal pellets out over the lake and dropping them.  An osprey dipped and weaved past us with several grackles in hot pursuit.  As one of the blackbirds pecked the raptor, the osprey dropped what had to be a baby grackle it had stolen from a nest.
Prothonotary warblers called all around us.  We saw two males fighting.  Later, one male came to the tree over our boat and proceeded to gather insects for his nestlings.  His beak was stuffed by the time he headed home.  Turtles sunned and plopped off logs, and all sorts of herons and egrets fished, flew, and posed for us.

Banks of clouds grew in the sky on this hot summer day, reflecting on the windless water surface... and life was good.