Category Archives: Jack Rudloe

Riding the Tide into a Salt Marsh

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We did something I have wanted to do for a long time. We rode the incoming tide from Levy Bay to the big pool at the intersection of Chattahoochee St in Panacea and Highway 98. There is a channel that winds through marsh grass swamps, sinkholes with springs, and some forested areas. The land is privately owned so you can’t leave the water but you do get to see some forest along the trip. We started at the Levy Bay landing which is a public boat dock. The marsh turns into impassable mud flats at low tide so we arrive one and half hours before high tide. By the time we had the canoe down and everything set up, we had one hour until high tide.

The tide rushes into these narrow channels at a brisk pace. You have to pay careful attention to avoid getting stuck on sandbars or hitting oyster bars. There are also lots of obstacles like fallen trees, remnants of old docks, and debris. Additionally the channel itself has many deep pools over springs where you simply can’t see the bottom in the brownish water. So we rode the tide in. In places it was like mini rapids. Always a strong flowing current fast moving to ride. The water is topped with foam, full of all kinds of bits of debris and detritus and it abounds with all kinds of crab holes along along the muddy banks of the marsh grass. We saw mullet, smaller fish, a string ray in black about 18 inches across the wing tips and many birds, especially egrets, cranes and vultures.

We did not bring our camera. We have used the rice trick (putting the camera in a bag of rice to dry out) once already after a canoe trip and while the camera recovered, the calendar never worked again so my pictures always come out marked as having occurred on 2013 date the camera got dunked. It was a good thing we didn’t try to take pictures. Riding the tide in those narrow channels at quite a good clip while avoiding all the potential places to spill was challenging enough. If you look at the picture you can see near the end of the route one very large and very deep pool. It was a real pleasure to come charging in there at top speed and find ourselves in this huge relatively calm place. The volume of water there is so deep even the incoming tide makes only a small impression. Though the water was clear we could not see the bottom making me wonder if maybe there is a smaller version of the Wakulla spring in the deepest place.

We rested a bit and then took the final small channel to the egret pond next to the highway. That was our goal. We see that pool every time we drive to the beach and I really wanted to find out why it always has at least three white egrets in it. We arrived at top speed out of the channel to find ourselves on a flat mud basin. The egrets were intently feeding and barely looked up, as if canoes with humans arrive here all the time. They had certainly had no need to worry since we were firmly grounded on smelly mud.

We unstack ourselves with much heave ho-ing and worked our way back up the channel to the deep pool. The tide was already ebbing. By the time we crossed the deep pool the rush of water had ended so we leisurely wended our way across the pool and then back up the channel. As we arrived in sight of our truck the tide began to turn and run back out. We rode the reversed current the last few hundred yards.

Being a prairie girl and not accustomed to the ocean, the tide fascinates me. The marsh breathes the water in and then breathes it out. The grass and creatures that live on the shore line have adapted to thrive in the rhythmic rise and fall. The marsh’s rich detritus is carried out of the marsh with the tide and feeds the wildlife at the bottom of the food chain. Farther and farther up the food chain larger and larger creatures wait at the mouths of the channel and then at the mouths of the bay ready to eat. The marsh is the food source of many creatures in the bay.

The marsh also serves as a nursery for much of the sea life. Many fish swim into the bays and lay eggs and then swim out. The fry hatch and grow in the shelter of the marsh feeding on insects and the like until they are finally big enough to ride the tide out. The endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles feast on blue crab in the bay for two years or so before continuing their slow migration back around the gulf to their breeding places. The mud flats, like the final place we saw all those egrets, is its own feasting place for these and many other glorious birds..

One of the unfortunate things that has happened in Florida is that many of these nurseries and feeding places have been filled, levelled and now have shopping malls and hotels and houses. Wakulla has been blessed with acres and acres and acres of coastal wetlands that protect and nourish the Gulf. There is a tale of this area that says a very rich woman once asked naturalist and writer Jack Rudloe how to best help sea horses. He told her protect the marshes on the coast because the marshes feed the reefs just off shore where the sea horses live. And so she bought six miles of coastland marsh and she does nothing with it except protect it in order to protect the sea horses.

The world needs more such wise women.

A Worthy Cause

I have never before used my blog to ask for funds for a worthy cause but this is an emergency and involves something I care deeply about, which is saving sea turtles and educating people about the marine life in the world. Please have a look and if you can donate and pass it along to anyone who might be interested in helping.

Thank you!

https://www.tilt.com/campaigns/clean-water-for-gulf-specimen-aquarium/contributors

see it on You Tube

Update: http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2015/01/30/marine-lab-needs-help-keep-caring-sea-creatures/22593803/

We succeeded! GSML raised more than goal and was able to get their new ozonator and also update other parts of the water system.

Canoeing at Otter Lake

Things have been quiet with us not doing much worth reporting. However today we went to Otter lake to go canoeing. Otter Lake is a natural fresh water lake within the Appalachacola National Forest and it is a 6 miles drive from Panacea. Along with Dick and I were our friends Jack Rudloe, Jane Brand and Ed Komarek. Jack and Jane went in one canoe and Ed was in a kayak. It was a pleasant and lovely day with bright sun and a light breeze. It’s still considered winter here and so it was quiet, the trees are still bare and the alligators are sluggish. The locals don’t recommend the lake during warm weather, especially during the alligator mating season but now it’s safe. We did see alligators, with Ed reporting two more than 12 feet long but they didn’t bother us. They immediately fled into deep water and stayed away. They hunt gators for meat and sport here so they are wary of humans.

One of the alligators favorite foods is dog. In fact if you are walking your dog and the dog barks the gators will head over to check it out. Jack has had one dog snatched and eaten by an alligator in this lake and lost another one in another spot not too far away. We left the dogs at home. Fred loves to jump out of the canoe and have a swim so it was not a great place for him.

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Here we have just left the boat launch to start our paddle around the lake.

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The trees are bare though some are beginning to bud like this one showing red pollen flowers.

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The nest of the osprey did not hold any young because it is the wrong time of year but the ospreys were flying around overhead.

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This large tree serves as a turkey vulture and a black vulture roost. The two species hang out together. These are ugly birds up close but a pleasure to watch as they fly.

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Staying near the shore means we can avoid the breeze and see the birds up close.

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We saw a large flock of at least 12 snowy white egrets.

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The egrets included brown juveniles staying close to the adults. Two alligators patrolled nearby as egrets make fine alligator food. The alligators fled when we got close.

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This was an especially large cypress.

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Dick found the bended cypress knees from times when the water is deeper particularly fascinating.

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About an hour of leisurely paddling later, we pulled back into the launch area. A lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Trip to Clearwater Marine Aquarium

We had a special treat. We drove with our host Jack Rudloe to Clearwater Marine Aquarium near Tampa Florida. We got to meet the famous dolphin, Winter, from “Dolphin’s Tale” movie during a VIP behind the scenes tour. We then got to accompany the folks from Clearwater to the release of two sea turtles who had been suffering from a severe virus caused turtle cancer called papilloma. What better way to spend a day than that?

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I can’t say I was impressed by Clearwater. It’s a resort. No wilderness.

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If you saw the movie you should recognize this, especially the boat.

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We got to meet Winter in person. She looked at us and did the dolphin smile thing.

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Next stop was to see Prince the sea turtle who was being prepared for his return to the ocean. We were part of the entourage going to release him. It’s very special to have a VIP friend. We saw Prince the turtle released back to the wild, fully recovered.

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Gathering Bryozoans

Bryozoans are a neat kind of ocean creatures that look like plants but are actually animals. They live attached onto things and they are of great interest to scientists. One of their more interesting aspects is they contain natural compounds used to treat cancer. Gulf Specimen Marine Lab supplies lots of things to scientists. Jack told us he needed to run out and collect some for an order and asked if we wanted to come along. Did we ever! Any collecting mission is always a fascinating lesson. It’s also fascinating to see Jack’s years of experience in action. He glanced out at his dock and muttered that the tide is high, so we can likely find them off marina dock at Alligator point. And we did. Of course we also got a lesson on a bunch of the other critters living on the dock while we were at it. “The Living Dock” is of course one of Jack Rudloe’s many books. It is such a privilege to have him for a friend. I added a tube clip on the bottom about “The Living Dock.” You can also get a feel for the lovely scenery and warm temperatures we are enjoying.

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