At the end of March, Melissa and I drove to Florida again to visit our son and daughter-in-law Dan and Sunny. While we were there Dan and I went kayaking on the Santa Fe River which is very near where they live. It turned out to be a great outing. Dan and I got up about 7am and left for the river a little after 8am. We had already loaded their two kayaks into his truck the night before. It only took about ten minutes to drive to the river access on Highway 27 just north of High Springs.
It was a pretty cool morning with a temperature around forty degrees and when we got to the river it was shrouded in mist. As we put the kayaks in and started on our way the air was full of birdsong–Chickadees, Titmice, Cardinals, and many more I couldn’t identify (or even see due to the thick woods and undergrowth).
We started up the river in the cool shade and mist–Cypress and Live Oak trees adorned with Spanish Moss. As we gradually made our way up the river the sun rose higher above the treetops and began to light up the mist from behind.
The river water felt warm to the touch and it almost looked like the river was steaming. It was then that I began to notice little whirls of mist that looked like miniature tornadoes or dust devils. Call them “mist devils.” As we watched we began to see dozens of them spread out at random up the river. As the warm air from the sun-heated river began to rise, the mist devils would form. Some were long and narrow, maybe six inches across and six to ten feet high. Others were shorter and wider. They would form, whirl for a while, then dissipate as others formed to take their place. As we made our way upstream we probably encountered hundreds of them. Out of curiosity, I stuck my hand into one but could only feel a very gentle movement of air. Within another few minutes the mist was gone and along with it, the mist devils.
As the mist disappeared and the sun streamed onto the river, basking turtles began to climb out onto logs sticking up out of the water. They ranged in size from three or four inches across to a foot or more.
To begin with, only a couple at a time would climb out but as the morning wore on I began to see more and more of them.
Eventually, on one log, I counted sixteen turtles crowded onto every available square inch of surface. If we passed too close they would unceremoniously flop into the water. I’m not sure what kinds of turtles these were but there seemed to be at least a couple of species. (According to my Peterson Guide, these may have been Florida Cooters and/or Suwannee Cooters.)
There were several Red-shouldered Hawks, some just over the trees, some soaring high overhead. We saw one of a pair carrying sticks to a tree-top apparently to build a nest. There were Crows and Turkey Vultures and even Belted Kingfishers but we did not see any wading birds on the entire outing. The one new bird we did see, I later identified as a Swallow-tailed Kite, a large hawk-like bird with black and white wings, a white head and body, and a deeply forked swallow-like tail. We actually saw several of them soaring over the river. Their call is a harsh and high-pitched peerie-peerie-peerie sound. Another new bird for my life list. These birds and the mist devils were worth the trip by themselves.
We made it through a couple of challenging rapids, past the Highway 441 bridge and turned around at Treehouse Spring. Next trip, I would like to start at the 441 bridge and paddle upstream to River Rise.
We drifted and leisurely paddled back down the river in about half the time it took to paddle up it.
About half-way back, I realized that I was thoroughly enjoying the trip and wondered why I didn’t do this sort of thing more often.
I may have to invest in a kayak of my own soon!