My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Paddle to Monkey Lake

I decided to try to paddle to Monkey Lake Shelter and back, a total of about fifteen miles from the boathouse. I put my canoe into the water as the first bird, a Carolina wren, sang. The day was warm and foggy and I only needed my little nylon paddling shell over a short sleeved shirt.

Foggy View
More and more birds joined the morning chorus as I started down the Suwannee Canal. Soon anhingas were flying and I was being cussed by a kingfisher for scaring away his fish. A barred owl flew over the canal and into a tree.  I followed it to the shore to stop and take a picture. It flew from its perch to a hole in a tree and fed something, sat a minute and then flew off.  I first thought it was feeding babies but heard nothing and no babies showed up at the hole, so I think the female was sitting on eggs while the male fed her.  I didn't think to set a waypoint for the nest, but hopefully I can find it again and watch the babies grow up.  The fog was just thick enough that wood ducks flew down to the water fairly close in front of me instead of rushing noisily away as they usually do.

Male owl who just fed a female on nest

Wood Ducks in the Fog

Soon I was at the turn into Chesser Prairie.  The fog made the landscape all the more magical.  Ghostly white ibis glided through the fog.  The sandhills were very quiet, early on - they don't like to fly in the fog.  I stopped and accidently let my paddle splash and several wood ducks went screeching off, along with two sandhill cranes, that had been just on the other side of a line of shrubs. Anhingas were grunting and two barred owls called back and forth.  I disturbed herons and egrets and they grumpily flew off. But the yellow-rumped warblers were unfazed and bounced from lily pad to lily pad to branch while keeping up a barrage of chirps.

The only navigational skills you need here is the ability to read signs and follow the arrows

The only one of some sixty myrtle warblers I was able to capture

Not lost yet - those tall posts are used to guide the paddler across lakes -two of them are usually in view

The sun struggled to upset the fog and almost made it.  As I came around a grassy corner, soon after the day brightened,  I almost ran into a sunning eight-foot alligator.  I froze in place and waited until I was past him to paddle again.  He tried to sink, but only had half the depth of water he needed to hide.  I made sure to watch for him on the way back out.  He was with a friend when I came back by.

I almost ran over the big guy in the back coming from the other direction around a blind corner

Soon the sun lost its battle with the clouds and fog and it got darker and foggier. But it was still pretty. Sandhill cranes waded through the water with big splashes and snuck through the brush, flying only if I got too close.

I saw this scene in black and white, so took it that way

Sandhills splashing through the marsh

The fog and sun made the spider webs stand out

Views changed depending on whether or not the area had shrubs or grass

  I wound my way through lakes and along banks of grass or shrubs. Finally I saw a sign for the shelter.  But when I got to Monkey Lake, the shelter was nowhere to be seen.  I followed the main channel and soon  found myself on the way to Buzzard Roost Lake.  I had to haul out the map to determine where else to look for the shelter.  I went back into Monkey Lake and took a right. Around another corner was the tall while porta-potty.  Past it was the shelter in a very private place with with no view and no place to walk.  I stretched out my back and walked around for a few minutes, ate a snack, got a big drink, and started back.

Almost to my destination - don't follow the opening to the right if you want to find the shelter - It's straight ahead, then around a turn

View from the shelter looking down the little boardwalk to the porta potty and back out to the lake -
 this is the only view except for trees and shrubs

On the way back, I was determined to paddle more consistently and take fewer pictures.  I think I met both those goals, but not by much. One of my distractions was a snowy egret.  Ebird doesn't think we have them in winter and I always have to write details when I list them.  So I wanted a good picture of a snowy. But the egret was behind some grass a lot of the time and I had a hard time getting my camera to focus on it. Getting a useful picture required several minutes and twenty pictures. And as the light improved, I found more things that deserved to be documented along with gorgeous scenes.

This dead pitcher plant was a work of art

Another distraction was the bellowing of several alligators. I detoured to try to locate some of them, but they were hidden down in pretty tall grass. When the bellows were distant, they sounded like the swamp was snoring. And as I came back, the sun finally beat down the fog for good, only letting a few fluffy clouds remain in the sky. So then I had to take pictures of the gorgeous configurations of sky, earth and water

Earth, air, water

When I paddle on dark,  tannic waters, I feel as though I'm paddling on the intersection of two parallel worlds. I'm pretty sure, if I watch carefully, I'll see some beings working or playing down in the clouds below my canoe.  So again, I had to take more pictures.

Water lilies and grass above the clouds

Then the views got more and more photogenic.  So while my GPS said my maximum speed was six mph, it also said my average speed was only 2.2 mph, and my average moving speed was only 2.6 mph.   And of course I was completely stopped for over an hour.  But I had great fun, both paddling and taking over 300 pictures.

The reflections are even prettier than the objects

My scariest moment happened on the way home. I dipped my paddle almost on top of a snipe, and he exploded with the fearful roar of his wings, together with a "yelp".  It was so startling, I almost fell out of the boat. But it was great to get two snipe on my list of birds I saw. They occur rarely here.

A few of several hundred ibis

When I was less than a mile from the canal, I met Bill  taking two pairs of the resident volunteers out for a boat ride.   I was paddling fast and Bill's boat motor doesn't have a reverse.  So we could barely yell greetings as we went past.  I did manage to grab a picture of them as they approached.

 The meetup

My GPS said I did 15.1 miles and I survived.  I was a happy and tired camper.

There's the boathouse - I'm saved

(And the next day, my shoulders didn't hurt at all.  But my right hip was pretty unhappy with me.)