May 30 – Womack Creek in summer garb

P1140894To avoid the summer thunderstorms, we put-in early.  At 8:40 we were already on the river and the first blossoms we saw on river right was stand of cheerful shortleaf sneezeweed.   This and the poisonous water hemlock were new blooms on the creek.

The temperature was in the mid-80’s, the water was calm, the sky blue.   There was a slight breeze which was cooling and did not hamper paddling.  The tide seemed to be at equilibrium.

For those planning to paddle this creek, the following flowers are at the end of their blooms:  swamp titi, arrow wood, swamp rose, pickerel weed, swamp (false) dragonhead, button bush, narrowleaf primrose.  However, these plants are still in bloom:  sweet bay, scenting the air around them; coastal rose gentian (look on the forest floor); clematis crispa, nestled in their vines and spatterdock in the water; green fly orchids will be blooming for another month — you will have to look on the trees for them.

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We were delighted to find pairs of cardinals and, even more surprising, pairs of protothonary warblers flitting in the shrubbery.   They were the most common birds, but there was one little kingfisher and a buzzard overhead.   In the woods one could hear a hawk.

There were not as many cooters as one would normally see and these were juveniles.  One 4 foot alligator — another juvenile.

We were also happy to see many apple snail eggs throughout.  This is the preferred food for limpkins and their presence in this creek may mean that we may be finding pairs of limpkins there.  Except for one sighting last year, we have not seen apple snail eggs in that creek since 2011.

P1140960This was perfect temperature for water snakes, but as hard as we looked, we failed to detect any.  There are there, however — a favorite location is in the blackberry bushes which are now loaded with fruit.

New Ogeche tupelo leaves are sprouting after the infestation by tent caterpillars, but we noticed very few drupes (fruits).

Except for a Gulf Fritillary, the butterflies have departed to other areas with more nectar and pollen.  A few wasps, hardly any honeybees, a few bumblebees and other smaller insects.   But the dragonflies are throughout the creek, dipping into the water or hitching a ride on the kayaks.

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Deer (yellow) flies, however, were persistent and aggravating, particularly in the upper 1/3 of the creek.

We explored one branch — these are smaller creeks and provide lots of shade and a cooler temperature, but at the risk of deer flies.

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There is a smaller tree down in the upper third of the creek which we could have cut through if we hadn’t forgotten the saw.  And there is a much larger tree which would require a chainsaw to cut through shortly after that, but we were able to paddle around a small opening.

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When we took out, just before 1pm, the air around the water was in the 80’s, but the land was closer to 90.   Southerly breezes were cooling us at about 8-10 mph, and the tide was coming in.   In the summer — the water is where one wants to be.

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Summer colors and flowers on Womack Creek – May 21, 2015

It was in the mid or high 70’s when we put-in at the Womack Creek Campground landing.   There was a slight breeze, the sky was sunny with some clouds.  The tide was outgoing.

P1140431We were expecting the swamp roses to be in full bloom.  But we had been gone from the creek for 6 weeks and only a few were blooming.  But they were fragrant!

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Other trees and shrubs which had passed it bloom were narrow leaf primrose,  cow creek spider lily, and sweet bay.

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The most dominant flowers are clematis crispa, arrow wood,  false dragon head, button bush and swamp titi.P1140478

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We had hoped to see orchids on the bloom stem we saw previously, but that had bloomed out.  Instead we came across a patch of green fly orchids now blooming. P1140533 P1140532 P1140529A new flowering plant, still unidentified, was blooming.

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We were hoping for blueberries to snack on, but the birds and animals had dispatched them in the 6 weeks we were away.  But the blackberries are ripening.  And while the muscadines upriver have little grapes on their vines, the lower vines are still blooming.

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The temperatures are just perfect for snakes to catch some sun’s rays and we were not disappointed.  A brown water snake and what we think is a green water snake were sunning.

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And, the hornets were busy building their nests.

P1140576And perhaps in the future we shall see limpkins in the creek — there were many apple snail egg cases on various plants.

P1140437P1140501P1140555The hornets were building nests, the bumblebees, dragon flies, damsel flies, Gulf frittilary butterflies, and assorted flies and bees were taking food from flowers and other parts of the plants.   We saw bright yellow headed prothotonary warblers in the shrubs, a pair of ducks, heard cardinals and other birds in the forests, and on the paddle back saw 4 magnificent kites flying overhead.

No one else was on the river; we heard no aircraft overhead — it was a warm, delightful paddle and we escaped the predicted thunderstorms of the late afternoon.

 

Response to questions about the OHV trail at Blackwater River State Forest by Barbara Albrecht

I read the article and can explain a little of the background.

As you all likely know, the Blackwater River State Forest has ~220,000 acres of land that is managed by the state foresters in several counties.  This is a working forest, meaning that when trees are cut, the proceeds to back into the [Florida state’s] general fund.   Ideally, the money generated from the forest would stay in the forest, but the system is not designed that way.  Trees are cut for thinning or to replant other pine stands with Longleaf.

One of the big issues facing the forest are people making their own trails (usually to a creek or to dump trash).   Over the years, the FWC has taken on the responsibility of ticketing folks on ATVs and motorcycles that are on ‘un-designated’ roads.  Turns out that folks who purchase ATVs and off road bikes pay a ‘special tax’ to have lands that set aside where they can ride.  For many years, ticketed folks were complaining about not having any ‘legal’ locations where to ride.  The nearest OHV park was in Tallahassee, followed by Orlando.

The Blackwater Forest managers have some unique challenges.   Horse folks don’t want to bump into hunters, hikers don’t want to hike near roads, birders don’t want to overlap with folks who could spook birds, paddlers and campers don’t want to be buzzed by military air craft.  Mountain bikers don’t want to have horses on their trails because it messes with the hard pack ground, etc.  No one wants to bump into hunters: dog hunters: bow hunters: etc.

So, to address these specific user groups — thE Forest folks have delineated certain areas for certain activities.   The property set aside for the OHV Park was actually a newly acquired parcel of the 640 acres in 2005-6 which was far away from the other user groups and low lying areas.   This property had not been managed with fire, and so was overgrown and close to the end of Whiting Field’s northern air strip.

The state purchased this land for this purpose (to have a location where OHV could recreate w/o ‘disturbing’ other user groups).  The parcel experiences a lot of air traffic (noise), due to the nearby field, so it is ideally suited for a noisy recreational park.   In addition, the chance of accident & injury from such activities increases — so the site is easily accessible by ambulance & air craft if needed.

Until I worked with The Nature Conservancy and heard all the stories that land managers were faced with, I had never given these issues a second thought.   Think about Gulf Islands National Seashore and the challenges they have of ‘herding’ 2-3 million people through their lands — and leaving only their footprints behind.

The forest has in-holdings, meaning private landowners who live in parcels throughout the forest.   Places like Gulf Islands are one complete parcel w/o any in-holdings.

Personally, I think the foresters that oversee the Blackwater are doing a really good job on a shoe string budget, with a Governor who is not the lease bit interested in protecting our resources.  In today’s PNJ [Pensacola News Journal], a small article mentions how he is in CA trying to ‘steal’ business by saying we have little regulation … that captures it perfectly.

Please let me know if I can help clarify anything.

Barbara Albrecht

Blackwater River State Forest – 27 miles of off-road trails for OHV’s

From the Pensacola News Journal, April 14, 2015.

“Sprawled across more than 300 acres in the Blackwater River state Forest in Milton is a network of 27 miles of winding trails, groomed and ready to ride — the only facility of its kind in Northwest Florida.

“Off-road enthusiasts of all skill levels can finally enjoy the recently-opened Clear Creek Off-Highway Vehicle Trails near Whiting Field Naval Air Station, a project more than a decade in the making.

“Experienced riders can challenge themselves on narrow, switchback paths through the woods, but newbies need not be discouraged — off-road motorists as young as five years old have already tackled the beginner-friendly tracks and youth training area at Clear Creek.

“The faciity fills a long-awaited desire in the area for a safe, legal place to ride OHV’s, said Wayne Briske, an avid rider who has been part of the efforts to make the trails a reality since about 2004.

“The need was huge,” Briske said, “There are thousands and thousands of ATVs and dirt bikes that are sold in Northwest Florida, and unless you have a large track on your own property, there’s no legal place to ride them.”

“Clear Creek was the result of a joint efforts between the local OHV clubs, the Florida Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy, United States Navy and the Santa Rosa County Commission, Briske said, with dozens of meetings and thousands of hours of volunteer work.

“All of the trails were cut by volunteers as part of our motorcycle and TV clubs here locally, so there was a lot of local manpower that actually went into cutting the trails, Briske said.

“The facility ws funded through OHV title fees, along with about a $300,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration’s Recreational Trails Program and donations from Yamaha and Polaris.

“Located adjacent to Whiting Field, the trails also helped further the county, state and Navy’s partnership to buffer land around the base and prevent unsuitable development, said David Creamer, recreation administrator for the Blackwater river State Forest with the Florida Forest Service.

“It preserves the abiity to have some more open areas around Whiting Field to prevent encroachment,” Creamer said.

“Only about half of the state’s 640 acre property is being used for the trails, Creamer said, which may be expanded in the future as funding is available.

“There are other places people can ride dirt tracks and things like that, but as far as riding in the woods, this is kind of a unique experience, ” he said.

“Though the state owns the land, the park and its restrooms and concessions are operated by Coastal Concessions, which also manages outpost stores at Fort Pickens along with the Navarre Beach Pier and its gift shop and restaurant.

“A safe environment of off-roaders of all ages is the top priority at the park, which prohibits alcohol and requires riders to wear helmets, said Coastal Concessions General Manager Stephanie Maddox.  The company also plans to bring annual passes in the future to make the facility more affordable for frequent users.

“Our priority is to make it family-oriented, make it fun and enjoyable for the whole family where they can come out for the day,’ Maddox said. …”

 

Summer temperatures, summer blossoms, Womack Creek 4-14-2015

P1140159Swamp Rose — in a few weeks the many bushes will fill the creek with its fragrance and pink blossoms.

Summer weather too soon.  Thunderstorms or rain predicted for the week and we chanced today’s opportunity to paddle Womack Creek.

Our last visit was 16 days ago and so much has happened on that creek: the American wisteria, a thickly clustered and fragrant native species, bloomed in the interval and deprived us this year of their blooms and their scent.   All but the last few pinxter azaleas have bloomed, but the stalwarts in the shade still can outshine the swamp dogwoods which peached their peak in the interval.

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Spring memories can easily fade when these flowers are stepping into the spot light.

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Blue flag iris in a short branch of the creek.

P1140166Swamp sweetbells.

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When the patch is all in bloom the cow creek spider lily resembles a merry troupe of dancers.

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Swamp dogwood, a few stands still blooming, but most are going to seed.

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False indigo, a favorite of insects.

P1140184The source of the non-sugaring tupelo honey, Ogeche tupelo blossoms beginning to bloom and a few honeybees have already found them.

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Clematis crispa, you’ll have to look to find them — this year they are less clustered along the vines.

P1140213But you won’t have to search for these; with their bright yellow faces, they call for attention.   Narrow leaf evening primrose.

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A few Virginia sweetspire still blooming.

P1140256A sure sign of summer, spatterdock.

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and…highbush blueberries!  Each bush differs in taste, some tart, some sweet, some tart-sweet.  This calls for sampling.  This year the bushes are loaded, so sample some, there’ll be enough for the birds.

P1140170Another sign of early summer — carpenter bees on Virginia sweetspire.

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A colony of busy wasps.

Not many birds today, but…

P1140231Tah dah!!!   A beautiful juvenile little blue heron.

There are more blooming plants and trees on this 3.75 mile of Womack Creek than almost any other creek in the Panhandle.

The last trip we destroyed what we hoped is the last of the invasive Japanese climbing ferns (3 locations).  Today we dug up the first of the invasive taro plants, off the shoreline requiring some slogging to get to it.  To our knowledge Womack Creek has no exotics, only native plants and trees.