Who   8 comments


Who
~

A neighbor in our community let us know that he had a Great Horned Owl nesting in one of his pine trees. Since he knew the mother’s behavior, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to photograph this rather rare bird.

In order not to startle her out of the nest, we had to climb a ladder along the side of the house, up to the roof, and carefully peer over the peak. Setting up a tripod there was rather challenging. I looked through the lens at 300mm, and… no bird.

My neighbor told me that she never spends more than about 5 minutes out of the nest, so I waited. Sure enough, she came back to the area in a short while. As she flew from tree to tree, she was constantly badgered by other birds, with jays, crows, and mockingbirds all making a racket.

She eventually flew into the nest, settled down, and proceeded to have a staring contest with the human on the roof. (She won handily.)

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The Guardian   3 comments


The Guardian
~

If looks could kill.

While kayaking along the Silver River in Florida, we encountered our first group of wild monkeys, the backstory of which you can learn in Shelter from the Storm.

The monkeys weren’t hard to spot. The mother and child seen in “Shelter…” were sitting on a cypress stump near the water. Just on the other side of the large cypress tree, this alpha male was standing guard against the onslaught of other members of the troop. Just behind him, in the woods, there was a cacophony of howling and screeching as monkeys chased each other through the trees. It seemed more serious than just play. I don’t know what the problem was, but there was clearly upset in the tribe deeper in the woods.

Meanwhile, the male’s attention was drawn to a number of colorful boats approaching from the river. Threats all around.

He kept a careful watch on the mother and child. If a rambunctious member of the troop got too close, he’d climb up on a flexible downed tree, bouncing up and down while grunting his warnings. The other monkeys seemed to respect that, and kept their distance.

As did we. This guy gave me a look, so I backed… away… slowly…

~

Handheld from the kayak, ISO400, f/6.3, 1/250s, 210mm

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So I’ll Follow the Sun   4 comments


So I'll Follow the Sun
~

Despite being on the road in Florida for almost two weeks, the winter weather dictated that we would get only one kayak paddle trip. Fortunately, the Silver River was loaded with wildlife of all sorts.

Passing by one of the many downed trees along the way, we spotted a primordial procession of turtles leaves the water, seeking the warmth of the sunshine. Given that we were bundled up against the cold north wind, it seemed like a good idea.

~

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‘Gator, Resting   7 comments


'Gator, Resting
~

It was early January.

We had come to the Okefenokee Swamp to shelter ourselves from the oncoming storm, the ferocity of which we couldn’t even imagine at the time… rain, high winds, bone-numbing cold. (Okay, so the state park at Okefenokee has really nice cabins, you see.)

Late in the afternoon during a break in the rain, we wandered around to see what we could find, and discovered this guy. We were surprised to see him at all, as alligators are markedly less active and visible in the cold weather. He didn’t mind at all as I snapped a few pictures. Good thing: This was taken at 55mm, a rare opportunity to get so close without being chomped.

~

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Shelter from the Storm   7 comments


Shelter from the Storm

~

Yes… monkeys.

“You’re not going to see any monkeys today,” an experienced outfitter told us at the launch ramp before we started out. “It’s too cold and dank.”

My advice is to take local knowledge — usually quite helpful — with a grain of salt. We came across lots of monkeys.

After snapping the cormorant (Cormorants) while paddling the Silver River in Florida, we rounded a bend and found the first troop of monkeys cavorting near the edge of the water. They were creating quite a ruckus deeper in the woods, swinging from the trees and challenging one another.

There were about twenty individuals, ranging from the dominant male and young-buck upstarts, to teenagers, and pairs like this adorable mother and child. Here, the mother is taking a break from grooming the young one long enough to warm him up. Just on the other side of the tree, the dominant male was posing and bouncing up and down on a fallen tree, warning other troop members not to approach.

You might ask: Why are there wild monkeys in Florida?

At the Silver Springs headwaters, you can find a number of attractions, including the famous glass-bottomed boat rides. In the 1930s, the operator of the Silver Springs Jungle Cruise put the monkeys on a small island in the river in order to spice up the ride for customers.

He didn’t realize that monkeys are excellent swimmers.

The monkeys escaped the island, of course, and began to populate the surrounding woods. As civilization approaches closer to the Springs, some monkeys have been seen in the nearby city of Ocala, or raiding citrus groves, or free-ranging on livestock farms. Some people have claimed that the monkeys pose a threat to humans, as they can carry the Herpes-B virus, fatal to humans, though the threat is surely overblown.

An animal shelter worker studying the monkeys once stopped 15 tourists in the park and asked them what drew them there. Fourteen said they came to see the monkeys (as did we.)

~

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Cormorants   2 comments


Cormorants
~

As I mentioned in my previous post Full Retreat!, not all of our recent trip was a downer. On the one day that we did get to paddle the kayaks, we took a trip up the Silver River to the headwaters of Silver Spring.

Now, Silver Spring is an interesting place. It was the location for the “Tarzan” movies featuring Johnny Weissmuller. “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” was filmed there. The first glass-bottom boats plied the river in the 1870s. “Sea Hunt” with Lloyd Nelson was filmed there. Silver Springs was, and still is, the site of various tourist attractions both active and defunct.

But, we were there to paddle the river. Because Silver River is restricted to paddle boats and idle-speed-only motors, it seems that the wildlife has become accustomed to the presence of humans. This allowed us to get very close to the animals — while still maintaining a respectful distance, of course.

Here, a cormorant dries his wings after diving for sushi lunch. Getting this close let us notice, for the first time, how their feet wrap around and grip the perch. We could see individual patterns of feathers and coloration, each bird a bit different.

This proved to be the case with other wildlife as well, including wild boar, great herons, ibis, and monkeys.

Yes… monkeys.

Here, Susan is doing her impression of a cormorant…

Susan's Cormorant Impression

~

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Full Retreat!   4 comments



Full Retreat!



Full Retreat!


~

Okay, I can take a joke, but…

Susan and I had devoted the month of January for a road trip to Florida, camping and kayaking the clear springs across the state. We worked for weeks to get everything ready, eager with anticipation. Finally, a couple of days before the new year, we strapped the boats on top of the truck, loaded all the gear, but then had to hold back for a weekend, as it was raining heavily. (It’s not fun to start a tent camping trip in a puddle.)

Once we made our first stop in Charleston for New Year’s festivities, we checked the weather. More heavy rain was on the way, so we cancelled our next beach camping plan in lieu of a cabin in the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia. While comfortable there, we couldn’t paddle due to high winds and constant rain. I suppose that’s okay, because as it turns out, almost 3/4 of the acreage in the swamp burned badly in 2011. We used to escape to the Okefenokee, as it was the quietest, most primordial-looking place we had ever known. Now it looks like a war zone, with charred sticks that used to be beautiful cypress trees, and it will take many years for it to grow back to its former glory. (That said, fire is a good thing. The Okefenokee is not so much a swamp as it is a peat bog. If the peat doesn’t burn from time to time, the entire area would fill in, with no waterways available.)

We had anticipated staying in the tent in the Okefenokee for a few more days, but weather forecasts indicated that we should move further south for warmth and dryness, so we re-routed to Silver Springs, Florida. More on that wonderful place later.

A full week after leaving the house, we managed to get a paddle in on the Silver River, although it was cool and overcast. When we landed back at the camp and checked the weather, we saw the massive, record-breaking cold front coming down on us. Poring over the forecasts, we decided that rather than enduring 20F cold, we would move down to Jupiter, Florida. Yes, it was much warmer down there, but being at the edge of the cold front, we were inundated with Gulf moisture and high winds. Three days, no paddling.

We had planned to go to the southernmost point of Florida, Flamingo, then to the west coast, but every place we had planned was subject to some of the most rotten camping weather imaginable.

We called a Full Retreat. Enough was enough. Two weeks out on the road living out of the truck; changing plans at every stop; only had one paddle trip; one day of sunshine. Home starts to look pretty good after a while.

On the way back north, we managed to snag this beautiful cabin back in Silver Springs. Surrounded by Live Oak trees draped in Spanish Moss, these “cabins” are more like full-sized houses, with a huge wraparound porch that we enjoyed to the fullest extent. (Yes, it rained that night.)

There were several good moments and highlights along the way; it wasn’t all bad. But as I sat on the porch and contemplated our fortunes, I couldn’t help but think that someone was up there, looking down at me with their thumb on the weather button, and saying, “You know, Rob: You… just… tick… me… off.”

~

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