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Paddling Back is a Real Challenge

Thursday January 28, 2015
Big Flats Campground
Myakka River State Park
Sarasota, Florida


Today the winds were supposed to be down and the temperatures up so we want to get out and kayak the river going south into the protected Wilderness Area.  In order to do that, or to hike in that area for that matter, you must have a special permit.  There are only 30 people allowed in the area per day either hiking or kayaking.  So David goes up the ranger station about 9am to pick one up.  Luckily he isn’t too late because normally we go at 8am just to make sure.

With our permit in hand, we go back to the boat launch near the bridge and put in heading south.  The river looks very wide as we begin.  I usually am on the water before David and am able to get pictures of him launching.  But today I’m busy watching this great blue heron try to eat this snake.   He jumps all around with him.  Throws his head back and the snake in the air repeatedly before the snake makes it down his throat.




In the trees along the water, I see another red shouldered hawk. There are a lot of them here in Myakka this week.  Further on, an osprey keeping his eyes on the water.






Do you think this great blue heron looks camouflaged?  He seems to have made himself very tall to see over this leafless bush.






The river narrows as we head toward the highway bridge at Route 72.  There are shady trees on the left bank and grasses on the right where alligators like to sleep in the sun.  We stay to the left.

Sure enough, there they are.  This one is flat in the water and verrrryyyy long.  In the picture of most of his length, he doesn’t even look like a gator.  If I weren’t so used to watching for them, I’d have thought he was a log or something.







Down a little way it looks like somebody had a big meal.












I am very surprised to see the Black Crowned Night Heron in the grasses right next to the bridge as we go under it and into the wilderness area.











This is a beautiful area of the river and even more so when we are out of ear shot of the noise of the bridge.  It feels like we are the only people on the river and that’s quite possible since most of the permits issued each day are for the hike to Deep Hole.  

The water is like glass as the current moves us along.  Because the water is higher than normal, the river is running faster than normal but it seems wonderful floating along.










We move into narrower channels between grassy banks.  Here the gators are on both sides so we are glad the water isn’t lower since high water keeps their numbers down.   I don’t take any pictures of them since I’m paying more attention to moving back and forth from one side of the water to the other depending on where they are. 

I know I’m way too big for them to consider for lunch so they aren’t interested in me but I don’t want to make them feel cornered or harassed which might make them behave aggressively.


It doesn’t seem like the river is flowing really fast but in no time at all we reach lower Myakka Lake.  I look at my watch and see that it has actually been 90 minutes.  Time definitely flies by when you are having a good time.





Just before reaching the lake, we passed one pair of paddlers who were struggling back up stream against the current of the river so we know we are in for some work on the way back and that we won’t have time to go all the way to Deep Hole  if we are to leave enough time before dark for the up stream return. 

But we really enjoy being in the lake.  It’s a totally different perspective from hiking in.

There is lots of activity up in the sky.  Ospreys flying over head.   I spend a lot of time watching them swoop and soar.




Is he doing a flip?





I love watching birds fly.  It just seems so wonderful.  I’d love to just spread out my arms and take off above the ground and wing through the air. 




Taking shots into the bright sky makes for many dark silhouette shots.   Fabulous form on the part of this Great Blue Heron.  I’d give him a 10, how about you?





Ah ha………..who do we have here?  You can’t mistake that profile.





This is a BIG lake  I wish we had time to paddle all the way down at least one side.




On the shore, I get a far off shot of the only wood stork I’ve seen here this year.  He looks like he’s been banded on both legs.  I had a much better and clearer shot but I cut off the top of his head. 


Lots of activity among the ibis on the shore both white and glossy.   There is one lone limpkin among them.  He’s easy to spot.









It’s just a beautiful day and we are really sorry to have to head back but we aren’t sure how long it will take us.  At the ranger station when they give you the permit to come into the wilderness area they ask you to return it when you get back.  Otherwise when the park closes, they send a helicopter out to find you at $8000 your charge.  Or that’s what they say.




It’s particularly hard to leave when there are bald eagles in the trees and flying around over head.




The number of birds we have seen here in the air and on the banks of Lower Myakka lake is greater than at any other spot we’ve been in at the park this year.   This is an unusual year.  With the water so high, the birds are not congregating in their typical spots.

I see the limpkin behind a juvenile white ibis and what I think is a lesser yellowlegs.







Here’s another entry for my best kingfisher picture.   This has just been such a great afternoon.



This tricolored heron seems to have a lot of confidence.  Either that or he’s an idiot.   Or perhaps he knows this gator has had dinner recently.   He actually marches right behind that gator, almost stepping on him.   The gator does rise more out of the water at that point.   I kept my eyes on them but the heron just wandered on.




He seems to be saying “I’ve got my eye on you too”.




Can’t put it off any longer, it’s time to head back up stream.  It is a hard slog.  Seriously!  I only stop for one picture since if I’m not paddling I’m heading rapidly backwards.  But I couldn’t resist this grass sticking up above all the rest like a sculpture.   Does it look like a heron to you?







As we struggle upstream, at every twist and turn there are little whirlpools that want to turn you around going the other way.  It didn’t look nearly this strong coming down.   I’m sure the gators were amused.   Finally after somewhere between one and two miles, we arrive back among the trees where the waters calm and at points even look glassy.   Good thing since my arms are beginning to wonder what is up.   It’s great to be able to stop digging and just sit for a minute.





Around the bend I see the king of the castle and stop to watch him for a while upon his high perch.  Love his upside down reflection.





How about those legs?









Now that there is no longer a push, I take my time and see this pair reflected from the bank in the still waters just behind David.











The last thing of the day is one of the very best.   I catch this black crowned night heron just as he is waking up from a nap I assume.  Just like us, he scratches, stretches and yawns.
























This has been a terrific paddle on the Myakka River through the Wilderness Preserve.  I only wish we’d come out a bit earlier than noon after it had warmed up, so we might have made it all the way to Deep Hole.   Although paddling back that far against the current might have been a bit too much.   Perhaps next time the river will be down some and thus the paddle back easier.


  1. but then again, if the river is down some, didn't you say the gators might be up some? Loved that yawning night heron. What a beautiful paddle, worth every bit of current! Nice that it wasn't also windy! gorgeous.

  2. Another perfect day for a paddle! I always loved seeing the turtles all perched up on the logs. They look like little sculptures :)

  3. Beautiful photos, Sherry. The gator ones look real enough to just get up and walk away. Nice to see that the weather has improved in Florida and that you were able to get in your kayaks and paddle. Sounds like you and David burned up a few extra calories fighting the current.

  4. A perfect day with wildlife. You are doing awesome finding some great shots with the birds. Loved the yawning pose. I'm not sure sure how I would handle the gators tho.... I like the wildlife off in the distance. The bigger they are the farther I like them to be away.

  5. My favorite photos would be the heron swallowing the snake, and the four turtles. That is until I got to near the end and saw pictures of the glassy surface of the lake. They are stunning.

  6. This was one of the best birding paddles yet, plus all those gators. I'd love the float downstream but shoulders couldn't take that paddle back. Nice to know that you really couldn't see too many people with the permit system. Wilderness is so special.

  7. WOW is all I can say! Can't wait to see all this next year.

  8. Nice Paddle. I see you are working on toning up the upper body too. :O)

  9. beautiful pictures...I seen an Ibis eating a snake in the front yard one day
    I do not like snakes at all was a little nervous about one being in the front yard

  10. Loved the heron eating the snake. . .what an awesome thing for you to see and photograph. . .wow! . . .and you guys saw some really, really big gators. . .yikes!

  11. Well, we now know where the birds got to;o)) Fantastic photos of so many birds. I just said to Bill, I hadn't seen a turtle here. But they appear to have followed the birds;o)) That is also the only Black Crown Night Heron I have seen. What a wonderful day!!!

  12. What a spectacular day of wildlife sightings you had -- and gorgeous photos! The black crowned night heron series is very fun -- and what a great photo you captured of the limpkin (which is still on my wish list for bird sightings). Next winter, I hope! Good thing you got back in time to avoid that $8000 rescue fee. :-)

  13. I loved the night heron pictures! Perfect day to go for a permit only paddle. Lovely photos of the birds in flight. That's what I love about Myakka...the birds! Thanks for sharing it all :)

  14. Yes that great blue has fabulous form, but then they all do. So wonderful to see so much wildlife living freely in a wild place, Another great day!

  15. I guess Great Blue Herons are not picky eaters, that one made short work of that (gack!) snake.

    The gator may have had a big meal, but the way it was looking at you, it may have been planning its next one! :cO

  16. Must have been fun watching the GBH eat his lunch, but have you ever got lucky enough to see a gator catch his dinner? I'd want to watch that from a distance I think!

  17. What a gorgeous day to be on the river! I love all the gators and birds. The reflection photos are magnificent!! Thanks for sharing:)

  18. Love it! I could just imagine you are having a field day at the river. These scenes of the calm water and the birds reminded me of our paddling at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. Im still in a hunt for the Glossy Ibis.

  19. Turtles!!! I just can't imagine paddling amongst all those alligators.... aren't u the least bit frightened?? On both sides??!!! The few times I have kayaked I have been all over the place, floating hither and yon, I suppose you guys are much better and more go where you intend!!

  20. What a great paddle! Where do I sign up??

  21. Wow! What a great day on the water (and in the air). The gators are so magnificent, I am loving all your pics. And the turtles!! There is just something silly about long-legged birds - no matter how beautiful or regal they look otherwise, those skinny legs crack me up :-) The scratching, yawning night heron is amazing - NatGeo has nothing on you!!

  22. Great shots - that ws a big snake the heron was eating - had no idea they would eat snakes. Lots of big alligators. Guess they don't ever bother kayakers. What an adventure.


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