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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lower Wekiva River - From Katie's Landing

Gator in the Wekiva River
When you live 40 minutes away from a place where you can kayak and have a heck of a day, regardless the season, you are lucky. I consider myself lucky then. Today kayaked the Lower Wekiva River from Katie's Landing. It was one of those things you have to do. My wife told me last night she did not want to wake up early. That means she did not want to go to a place too far. But this morning she had a change of heart and told me she did not want to go kayaking and told me to go alone. I did just that at a place that is close from home and where always there is a lot to see.

Lower Wekiva River
Put In / Take Out: The Put In and take out was Katie's Landing, which is located in Sanford. From I-4 Go West on SR46 and turn right on Wekiva Park Drive. Katie's Landing is about a mile to the left. Cannot miss it. There is a big sign. Once there pay at the station, $3.00 per car, hang the stub in your rear view mirror and drive close to the river, leave your canoe/kayak and go back to park in one of the designated spaces. That is pretty much it. I am forgetting something...Ah...enjoy your day in one of the most beautiful rivers Central Florida has to offer.

Katie's Landing Put In ( from the river)
Today it looked like everybody came to kayak here. There were cars all over the place, an armada of kayaks already in the water, and a whole fleet lined up ready to go out. It is the first time I see so many people  at Katie's but it is also my first Memorial Day Weekend kayak here. A nice lady asked me if I was Jack, someone they were waiting. Later we crossed paths in the river and told me Jack never made it to the put in. I did put in and proceeded to explore the area in across the put in. Spent almost 30 minutes there, which gave time to the fleet and the armada to leave. It caught my attention the large number of little gators I saw. There are always a few gators here and there in front of Katie's but today it was incredible. Every where I went there were small eyes coming out of the water. I was glad they were babies and no big ones. That would have been stressful. As a matter of fact, the gator's activity on the river today was off the charts, at least based on my limited experience.


Green Heron
Some habits are hard to break. Even when my wife did not come today I did what we usually do: Took my sweet time to go down river. With the armada out of sight, and from audio range, had the river for myself. A guy fishing from a  kayak near a small island down river was the only person I found in the water for a while. Since had nobody to talk to it was somehow different. Today paid more attention to the sounds of the forest and the river. It was quite different since sometimes you can go minutes without seeing a form of wildlife but they are there.

My trip downriver was lazy. Did use the paddle to correct every now and then but was more interested on listening and observing. Lots of gators in the water went under on my approach. It seemed like there was a gator at every river bend, some bigger than others. I also heard the characteristic chirp of baby gators, which was really cool. Did not even try to find the little ones. One thing is to not be scared of them and other thing is to disrespect them. Where are babies there is mom, and mama gators are no picnic (at least that is what I have read). I was happy enough to be able to hear them.

Did You Know That?: Young alligators are known as hatchlings and are about 6 to 8 inches at birth. After birth the hatching alligators form groups called "pods" and may stay in the vicinity of the nesting site for several years. The female alligator will stay near her brood until the next mating season and will defend it against predators. The first few years are the most dangerous for the hatchlings since anything that can eat a small alligator will. Snakes, wading birds, osprey, raccoons, large bass, garfish, and even larger alligators will  feed upon the young alligators. Once they reach four feet only the man  is the predator for the alligators. Talk about turning the table!!!!!

Baby alligator

There is a small pool to your left if you are going down river. It is wide enough that the first time we thought it was the mouth of Blackwater Creek. I always explore it because there is something to see all the time. Today it was a gator...and a Limpkin...and aLittle Blue Heron...and a Green Heron...and an Anhinga...and that was it. I was coming out of it and back to the river when another kayaker approached and asked me how long to Blackwater Creek. I told him that maybe one hour. Shortly after that a fleet of twelve kayaks came down the river. I was able to hear them five minutes before having a visual. Paddled a bit up river and when the last one went by me stopped. Kept going down river when was not able to hear them any more.

Wekiva River (from the mouth of Blackwater Creek)
The traffic in the river was heavy. Many motor boats and kayakers coming up and down. A group of about 10 came up river. I saw the other group of twelve in a high ground area taking a break. Kudos to them. I took a break there on my way back to Katie's and it was clean. Did not leave any trash. If any of you is reading this...Thanks folks!!!! That is how you do it!!!! I made it to the mouth of Blackwater Creek, went a little bit more to the North and came back to the creek. Tried to explore it but found a downed tree less than a minute into the trip so decided to turn around at that time.

Here are more pics of what I saw today on the Wekiva River. Did miss a chance to take a pic of an otter and a Tri-Colored Heron. The otter was out of the water on the east bank and the tri-colored flew by me. Had a good look but it was out of range when the camera came on.





Great Blue Heron

Great and Little Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Green Heron

Immature Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron






Prothonotary Warbler

Here is the link to the Photobucket slideshow with all the pics from today's solo trip and past trips pics...SlideShow

Thanks for reading and hope you come back next week for another Views From Our Kayak!!!!!
Wekiva River

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fort De Soto

Black-Hooded Parakeet
Today, Saturday May 21st, we kayaked at the Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County. Left the kids at Bush Gardens since their aunt and uncle came to visit and we agreed to join them in the afternoon. Thought about going to the Hillsborough River but we were there not so long ago. Visited Green Wave, one of the kayaking sites I use to plan my trips and checked places to paddle in South West Florida. There is also a link for this website in my preferred link list. Found two lonely reports on Fort De Soto and decided to give it a try. Have to say that this is one of the most interesting places we have put our kayak. There are choices for every taste and style and I will explain why do I say this. Better than that, check this link and you will see. Take a look at this link ( Fort De Soto ).

Laughing gull
Put In / Take Out: As we kayak we gain more experience and the more we improve. The put in selection is one of the things that we have to improve for the next Fort De Soto trip. I selected the boat ramp just after you cross the bridge over Bunces Pass. Here is the map   to use as a reference: Fort De Soto map. The boat ramp is massive, and when I say massive means MASSIVE, and it has easy access. But is it designed for boats and concrete and kayaks do not get along well. Other than a feeling of being out of place, even when we found a spot to put in our kayak in a little corner, there are no other problems with the put in but next time I am choosing a different, and easier, spot to do so. Note to myself: Next time do not rush and read the instructions at the paying machine first before use it. Ended up paying $6.00 when $2.00 were enough. Next time I am not using the boat ramp area anyway.

Rudy Turnstones

Immature Ibis
Right at the boat ramp my wife started shooting pics. A pic friendly Great Egret and a sea gulls where at the ramp so she had a quick start while I parked the minivan. As I said before the boat ramp is massive. I did not count but there is room to put in several boats at the same time. I have never seen something like that at any place. It was 10:45 when we finally put in. We headed South to one of the lagoons showed in the map between Madelaine and St Jean Key. We did not spend even 5 minutes in the water when we saw a dolphin. It surfaced at 2 feet from our kayak, went under and did not give a pic chance. Next time it came back to the surface was too far from us.That did not go well with my wife, who did regret not being ready with the camera. Sadly it was the only dolphin we saw during our paddle.

The small lagoon between Madelaine and St. Jane key proved to be rich in wildlife. Wifey spotted an immature Ibis in the mangrove and near the entrance we heard the characteristic call of an osprey. There were several of those beautiful birds in the area using man made and natural nests. There were another birds we had never seen before flying around but were too fast for an id or for a pic. The noise it was making seemed like a parrot to me and we had an opportunity to id it when one of them stopped at the top of a dead tree. It was a Black Hooded parakeet. Had some problems finding what it was until decided to search for a green bird with a black head. It is an exotic specie, which takes us to our Did You Know That? of this post.

Did You Know That?
The Black-Hooded Parakeet is also known as Nanday Parakeet or Nanday Conure. It is probably the next exotic specie that will become widely established in Florida. Looks like there are large flocks of these birds living in the St. Pete and Clearwater areas. Are considered extremely social and intelligent birds.
Black-Hooded Parakeet (a.k.a. Nanday Conure)
We circled the lagoon and saw cardinals, great, snowy and reddish egrets, a great blue heron, a red-breasted merganser, and a manatee. We were leaving the lagoon when I saw two circles in the water. Told wifey "There is a manatee here", and showed her the ripples. The manatee surfaced to breath but it was far from us. We paddled to the area where we saw it and then stayed still for several minutes. Usually it works since the manatees come to check due their natural curiosity. This time it was not working at all so we decided to leave. It was then when she saw it swimming under our kayak. It circled us but did not come close. Surfaced to breath some meters in front of us but it left and did not come back. We also left the area.
Manatee tail
After the lagoon we paddled to the South from some minutes and then crossed all the way to the other side. I wanted to explore what is called in the map Soldier's Hole. But at the time we arrived the heat was starting to take a toll on us. Wifey was uncomfortable and, other than mullets and terns, we were not seeing too much. Also we needed to go back to Bush Gardens to join our kids and my sister in law. We agreed to turn around and go back to the boat ramp and did that close to the shore, where we saw several sting rays. We took a break before starting our return trip and ate some fruits in the yak, which made my wife feel better.

More pics of what we saw...

Great Egret



Snowy Egret



Red-Breasted Merganser

Laughing Gull

Least Tern (non breeding)

Reddish Egret


Little Blue Heron

Royal Tern
Brown Pelican

Bunces Pass Bridge
Brown Pelicans
Tri-Colored Heron
We decided to come back as soon as possible. We have to put in earlier, way earlier than today, and also explore other areas of this spectacular place. We drove to the fort area to find out that is closed. Pinellas County is doing some kind of restoration work. We also tried to take a pic of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge but wifey did not realize she had changed the settings for a pic and did not come good. She wants to go back and get one pic of the bridge. It looks great from the distance.

For more pics of this trip please click on this link: Fort De Soto slideshow

Thanks for reading and see you next week for another Views From Our Kayak

St. Jane Key and Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the background.