Underwater Views

By Linda

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Anhinga and alligator on the Silver River in Florida.

On our last day in Silver Springs State Park, we kayaked by the springs and the Fort King Paddle Trail.  We did the loop a couple times.  Being Saturday and a holiday week-end, it was much more congested.  Nevertheless, we still saw a lot of wildlife including a Barred Owl.  If it had not hooted, I would not have seen it.  Much of the wildlife is very close.  If you are not careful, you can bump into a turtle or alligator.  They must be used to the relative safety of the area because most of them are not skittish.

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Fort King Paddle Trail in Silver Springs State Park in Florida.

This little loop on the paddle trail and the springs is easily one of my favorite kayak trips.  The wildlife is amazing.  If you find a place to safely anchor yourself, you can sit and watch the wildlife for hours.  I particularly enjoy watching the Anhingas fish.

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Anhinga on the Silver River in Florida.
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Anhinga on the Silver River in Florida.

 

Regis was fortunate to get quite a few underwater videos.  Click on the words to see a video of each animal:  Anhinga (close), Anhinga (dive), turtle, and otter.

The otter was particularly difficult to capture as a photo or underwater.  It was very fast as it popped in and out of the water.  It was a joy to see.

We will definitely be back!

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River Otter at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.
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Common Moorhen on the Silver River in Florida.
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Great Blue Heron sunning on the Silver River in Florida.
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Immature White Ibis on the Silver River in Florida.
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Alligator enjoying the sunshine on the Fort King Paddle Trail in Silver Springs State Park in Florida.

Silver River

By Linda

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Turtle and Anhinga sunning on a log in the Silver River in Florida.

On our second trip through Silver Springs State Park, we put our kayaks in about 5 miles below the head of the springs and paddled upstream.  I saw a manatee at the beginning of this trip.  The manatee swam beneath my kayak heading down stream.  It was awesome.  I was afraid the manatee would decide to catch a breath while under my kayak and upend me.  I had my camera around my neck and it won’t survive a dunk in the water.

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Cypress knees on the Silver River in Florida.

We found that paddling against the current makes it difficult to take pictures.  We took some, but it was an experience.   It’s hard to focus and frame your shot when you are moving.  When you put your paddle down, you start to drift backward with the current.

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I believe this is a Little Blue Heron but it has green legs. I thought the legs on a Little Blue Heron were darker.
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We spotted this alligator swimming ahead of our kayaks.

We made it to the 2 mile mark where the boat ramp for the campground is located.  Paddling 3 miles against the current was enough for us.  We took a break, had lunch, and drifted back downstream.  Floating with the current was quiet and allowed us to listen to the many bird sounds and spend more timing viewing the wildlife.

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Kayaking on the Silver River in Florida.
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Great Blue Heron on the Silver River in Florida.
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Wood ducks on the Silver River in Florida.
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Ibis on the Silver River in Florida.

There are some feral monkeys along the river.  They were released in the wild back in the 1930’s and survived.  Many people come here along the river hoping to see them.  We were very fortunate to catch sight of 5 of them about a mile before we exited the river.  They are Rhesus monkeys.

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Feral monkey on the Silver River in Florida.

Campground:  We camped at the Silver Springs State Park campground.  The campsites are spacious.  Most of them are nestled in the trees but a few of them are in open areas in the trees.  Not all sites have sewer hook-ups but there is a dump station.  I got us a pull-through site with full hook-ups.  There was plenty of space for the tow vehicle.  This is Florida, the sites are level.  This is one of the nicest campgrounds where we stayed.  We made our reservations through www.reserveamerica.com.

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Campsite at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.

Silver Springs State Park

By Linda

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Anhinga bathing in the Silver River in Florida.

Our second stop on this trip was to Silver Springs State Park.  This used to be a commercial operation with lots of different exotic wildlife maintained for the paying guests’ viewing pleasure.  I came here probably 30 years ago with my son Jason, my mother, and my nephew Kenny, and went on the glass bottom boats.  We saw lots of exotic wildlife, including monkeys.  Monkeys were released in the area about 80 years ago and they are doing well.  In 2013, it became a State Park.  The exotic animals are gone (except the monkeys), but the magic remains.

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Fort King Paddling Trail in Silver Springs State Park in Florida.

We launched our kayaks at the head of the springs and went on the Fort King Paddling trail.  We saw lots and lots of wildlife.  It was amazing.  The paddling trail brings you back to the main part of the Silver River where we saw a manatee.  There are not many manatees in this river, so it was fortunate that we got to see one.   Regis got some video.  To see it click here and here.  Regis holds the video camera underwater for these pictures and has to guess where to point it.

We saw many Anhinga’s fishing and then drying off.  I saw one catch a fish.  In the first shot below, you can see the bulge near the head as the fish begins to go down.  In the second photo you can see the bulge in the throat.

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Anhinga beginning to swallow a fish it just caught.
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Fish being swallowed by an Anhinga. See the bulge in the throat.

We loved our paddle trip so much that instead of getting out at the end, we backtracked and did it again.  If you happen to be this way we highly recommend renting a kayak or canoe (if you don’t have your own) and do this trip from the main entrance to the park.  You will not be disappointed.

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Turtle party on the Fort King Paddling Trail at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.
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Small turtle wearing vegetation at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.

Butterfly Rainforest

By Linda

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Paynes Prairie State Park

The campground in Paynes Prairie is located on a small lake.  We took the kayaks out on the lake and watched the bird life.  There were numerous swallows swooping and soaring above the lake.  We also saw an alligator.  At one point, Regis bumped his kayak into my kayak and I was afraid that it was an alligator that hit me.  When we were coming ashore to take our kayaks out, I requested that Regis go first so if there were any alligators they would get him and not me.  He said that he would go first to attract them so when I showed up they would be ready to pounce.  Fortunately, we both made it out of the water alive.

Paynes Prairie is by Gainesville, Florida and the University of Florida has a natural history museum and butterfly rainforest.  We visited the museum and the butterflies.  If you are a butterfly fan, I highly recommend going to the Butterfly Rainforest.  There are numerous benches placed throughout so that you can sit in one spot and watch the butterflies land on the flowers around you.  There are a few birds in there and some fish in the water feature.  It is a very peaceful place to be and there are a large variety of butterflies to see.  After you visit the Butterfly Rainforest, go into the museum to see them raising butterflies.  There are rows of chrysalises.

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Butterfly Rainforest at University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida
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Making more butterflies at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. These are chrysalises.

The Natural History museum had lots of fossils that were found in Florida.  There were a couple mammoths.  I knew they were big, but didn’t realize they were that big.  There was also the fossil skeleton of a giant sloth.  That thing was huge.  The museum does an awesome job of displaying the fossils and telling the natural history of Florida.

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Giant sloth and Regis at the University of Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Florida.

We got up before sunrise on our last morning at Paynes Prairie so we could kayak on the lake as the sun came up.  It was beautiful.  Words cannot describe how peaceful it was to watch the birds around the lake wake up and start their day.   It was very cool in the morning, so I dressed warmly with my long underwear, shirt and jacket.  I stayed warm but it got toasty as the sun began to rise.  We headed to Silver Springs State Park for our next stop.

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Paynes Prairie State Park

Campground:  We stayed at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park campground.  It was a lovely campground nestled in the trees.  We had electricity and water and dumped our tanks at the campground dump station on the way out.  It’s Florida, so the sites were level and there was adequate space between campsites.   I believe that all the sites here are back-in sites. We made our reservations through www.reserveamerica.com.

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Campsite at Paynes Prairie State Park campground in Florida.

 

Stink Bugs!

By Linda

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Stink Bug in our motor home. One of too many.

Ugh.  Before we moved to St. Augustine, Florida we lived in Lothian, Maryland and had lots of experience with stink bugs.  Last fall, we visited Maryland and stayed at my brother’s property in Lothian, Maryland.  As soon as we arrived, the stink bugs began to invade the motor home.  Little did we realize how many of them were taking up residence.

The motor home has been in storage since our trip to Maryland in October and now we are venturing out on our trip to visit parts of Florida.  It has been a stink bug invasion.  First, we had to clean up all the dead stink bugs that were lying all over the motor home.  It would have been nice if they had all died and that was the end of it.  Not so!!!!

The stink bugs have been crawling out of their hiding spaces and flying around the motor home.  The first time I took a shower this trip, I was visited by a stink bug after I turned the shower on.  I do not know where that guy was hiding but I DID NOT appreciate his arrival.  I’m sure Regis is tired of me complaining about these guys.  (Of course, he doesn’t like them either.)

Every evening, a few more of them make their way out of their hiding places and into the motor home and fly around.  We have to rid ourselves of them before retiring to bed.  I don’t know how much longer we will have to do this before they are all gone.  No more trips to Maryland in the fall while stink bugs are looking for a place to spend the winter.

 

Paynes Prairie

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Alligators at Paynes Prairie State Park in Florida.

By Linda

We were not able to sit still in one spot in St. Augustine and wait for our 2017 travel adventure.  We are planning a trip to the Atlantic provinces of Canada this summer.  In the meantime, we decided to take a week and explore part of Florida.

We started by visiting Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park which is next to Gainesville.  Many Northern Sandhill Cranes, from the breeding grounds in Michigan and Wisconsin, come to southern Georgia and Florida to spend the winter.  According to Park literature, about 1500 to 2500 migrants from the eastern population of Sandhill Cranes stay through the winter at Paynes Prairie.  There are about 25 to 30 breeding pairs of Florida Sandhill Cranes that are non-migratory and raise their young at Paynes Prairie.

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Sandhill Cranes in Paynes Prairie State Park in Florida.

We walked on the La Chua trail to see the Cranes and could hear them long before we could see them.  On the way to observe the Cranes we saw numerous alligators basking in the sun.  We have never seen that many alligators in the wild.  Some of the alligators were wearing a variety of vegetation.  Very interesting.   There were numerous signs warning about the dangerous wildlife, so it is important to be very careful that you don’t wind up becoming a meal on this trail.

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Alligator in Paynes Prairie State Park in Florida.
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Alligator in Paynes Prairie State Park in Florida. Is that an alligator hat?

There is an observation platform at the end of the trail that allows for a great view of the prairie.  At this point we could see thousands of the sandy-colored Sandhill Cranes everywhere.  But, most exciting, was the one white endangered Whooping Crane in the midst of all those Sandhills.  What a sight to see.  I didn’t think I would ever see a Whooper in the wild.  According to Wikepedia there were 603 Whooping Cranes in February 2015 including 161 captive cranes.  Perhaps this Whooping Crane was raised by Sandhill Cranes and thinks it’s one of them.   During a visit to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in the past, I learned that biologists attempted to have Sandhill Cranes raise Whooping Cranes as part of the effort to rescue them from extinction.  Most Cranes lay two eggs but often only one of the young makes it.  To increase the whoopers chances of success, the biologists would take one of the eggs and swap it out for a Sandhill Crane egg.  The Whooping Cranes grew up thinking they were Sandhill Cranes and would not mate with their own kind.

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The white bird is a Whooping Crane among Sandhill Cranes at Paynes Prairie State Park in Florida.

 

There was a small group of White Pelicans in the middle of the Sandhills.  When we were in North Dakota and Montana in 2015, we saw White Pelicans.  The ones we saw here in Paynes Prairie probably came from there.

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White Pelicans and Sandhill Cranes at Paynes Prairie State Park in Florida.

We also saw some feral horses.  These horses were left from when the Spanish arrived.

Although we couldn’t see them well, there are also bison here.  Bison originally inhabited this area but were wiped out after the Europeans arrived.   Bison were reintroduced and there is a herd that is resident on this Prairie.  They were too distant for us to get a good look but it is comforting to know they are back.

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Sandhill Cranes at Paynes Prairie State Park in Florida.
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Sandhill Cranes at Paynes Prairie State Park in Florida.
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Great Blue Heron with a fish at Paynes Prairie State Park in Florida.
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Great Blue Heron and Alligator at Paynes Prairie State Park in Florida.