Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Kayaking the Wakulla River

When we took the tour boat ride at the Wakulla Springs State Park, we asked the rangers for recommendations on the best kayak trip in the area. They quickly told us to kayak the Wakulla River just south of the park for the best chance to see wildlife. The views were great as well.

We launched our kayak at the bridge by T-n-T outfitters, and started paddling upstream against the current. We learned long ago that we should always do the upstream portion first, getting to float down river when we are tired of paddling. We immediately started seeing lots of turtles, sunning themselves on every available piece of wood sticking out of the water.

We were also entertained by the waterfowl. This Great White Heron stood perfectly still, with his wavy white profile reflected in the water.

He then challenged us to a race down the river, as he took flight after we passed by.

We put the kayak in the river just 3.5 miles from the state park where we saw too many alligators to count. But this area has more human interaction, with docks jutting into the water and boats of all types on the river. So we were leisurely putting on sunscreen, floating aimlessly down the river, thinking that there were no alligators around.

As we floated towards the area pictured above, filled with brush and floating water plants, Mark noticed some scutes and a set of eyes. The picture below isn't real clear, but you can certainly see the eye on the center right side, attached to a sizable alligator.

We thought we might see gators, but we really wanted to see a manatee. They obviously are prevalent here, because we kept seeing signs cautioning boaters to tread slowly in these waters. Denisa took a photo of one of the signs, just so we could say we saw a manatee (even if it was just a picture) on our kayak float. If these gentle giants are in the water, it was too darkened for us to see them.

We did see interesting birds up close. This is a pair of cormorants, posing for us beside the river.

The details of the feathers on the male were beautiful to see up close.

But he was more skiddish than the female, dipping his tail in the water as he flew off his roost as we passed by.

It would have been a great kayak trip if that was all the wildlife we got to see. But suddenly Mark noticed a change in color in the water, so we rowed that direction. With the dark water this time of year, we felt totally blessed to watch as a nine-foot manatee swam directly under our kayak close to the top of the water!

Denisa was clicking pictures like crazy as she squealed with delight. She giggled out loud when the behemoth in the water below us rose slowly to the surface. The average manatee weighs over 1,000 pounds, and he seemed huge swimming right beside our kayak. A mammal, the manatee must come up for air every 10-20 minutes.

This was our parting shot as the nose splashed back under water, and our friendly manatee slid down into the deeper part of the river to continue grazing on the sea grass. We stayed in this section for some time, hoping to see him again. But we felt so blessed to be so close to another of God's wonders just for a little while today!

We weren't far from the fence that separates the state park's restricted area from the public area we were on today. Just on the other side of this bridge is the area that can only be visited via the park's electric boats.

After our encounter with the manatee, the rest of our kayak trip was a little anti-climactic.  After we turned around, the good news was that we were now floating down river with the current. We also got to see plenty of the river's turtles sunning themselves on this sunny day.

The bad news is that the wind from the south had picked up, so we were now paddling against the wind. We hate to complain, but paddling all the time going both ways on a river wasn't what we had planned. But the scenery was beautiful going both ways.

We did get to see another alligator hiding on the edge of the water beside the water plants. We would see a total of three today.

As we neared the end of our seven mile trip on the Wakulla River, we felt so blessed again to be in a beautiful place on a beautiful day, wandering His wonders.

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