Wild observations

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By Nancy Oakes

I still become amazed at how different winter is here compared to where I grew up in New Jersey. There I hoped for snow. Here I know better. I know it won't snow, so I sit on the front porch writing this, wearing a sleeve-less top.

What can I do on these glorious days but go out and enjoy nature? Yesterday I kayaked solo for the first time. I've been kayaking in company three times. I put in at the same boat ramp I've been to twice before. I knew I could carry the kayak by myself, and that I could get in and out of it unassisted.

On a nearly windless, balmy day I headed up river to the place where the Wekiva runs into the Waccasassa. I continued on the Wekiva, stopping for lunch and then returning to the boat ramp. The first animal I saw was a solitary duck flying over me. I can't say what kind of duck it was. I can say it wasn't a mallard or woodduck or hooded merganser. Perhaps it was a ring-necked duck?

I observed the usual coots, cormorants, kingfishers and blue heron that I've seen in this place before. The asters were mostly gone to seed, but hollies still had bright red berries. I noticed a humming sound and followed it to a shrub-like plant I later identified as a groundsel tree. Bees found the tiny white flowers of this wetlands tree a great treat.

I became aware of how quietly I could travel in the kayak and experimented with dipping the paddles at different angles into the water to make the least amount of noise. My quietness made it possible for me to hear those bees, and I heard more birds in the bordering woods than I had on previous trips. I passed a feeding guild consisting of yellow-rumped warblers eating wax myrtle berries. Chickadees and other birds traveled with the yellow-rumped warblers. I heard an owl, cat birds, osprey, robins, goldfinch and woodpeckers. In clear shallow places, I saw fish and a turtle sitting on the sandy bottom.

As the river became shallower and filled with an aquatic grass, I considered turning around. The grass naturally slowed the kayak, but I wondered if manatees came up there to eat it, and I continued until I found a place with some rocks and silty sand to put ashore and climb out.

It's a tricky business getting out of a kayak when the ground is soft, so that your feet get sucked into the mud. I had to struggle to get one foot free. A piece of advice about stopping for lunch and getting out of a kayak. Make sure you have all your stuff that you brought ashore before getting back in. I left my sunglasses on the bank and had to go through the process twice, always aware of how easy it can be to slip and fall into the water.

I didn't meet another person on the river until I got back to the boat ramp. This is truly a kayaker's paradise.

Around my home, I've made some interesting nature observations. I found many more Indian pipes coming up in the next door woods. Bees and sulphur butterflies discovered the late blooms of the mystery flowers I transplanted. The plants struggled to survive and flower, but I expect them to reseed and prosper.

One early evening I opened the door and heard flapping wings. After briefly searching, I saw a dark chicken-like bird in the closest pasture. For some reason an American coot was walking up and down the fence looking for a way through.

In my efforts to herd it toward a gate, the coot got desperate, flew over the fence, and headed toward the cabin. It got onto the porch, leaving and going behind the cabin when I approached.

A coot is a water bird. It has wide feet that allow it to go across lily pads. It needed to find better habitat. I hope it did. I haven't seen it again.

May you have some glorious times in nature. Until next time, good observing.