Monthly Archives: November 2017

Cash Creek – Beautiful November Paddle

 

04-P1060255

Cash Creek on the west side of Tate’s Hell empties into the Apalachicola River.  The road to the day use area is off the east side of State Road 65, just south of the Apalachicola National Forest and on the northern edge of Tate’s Hell State Forest.  There is a covered picnic shelter with picnic tables, fishing dock and boat launch, with sand on one side for easier canoe and kayak access.   For paddlers, this creek offers your-choice-of-length paddling.  One can go left from the landing to the Apalachicola River through an estuary dominated by reeds or turn right upriver through a reedy estuary then woody swampland.  The current is more marked by tides and wind than down or up-river flow.  All of the paddling to the Apalachicola  has no shade.  Upriver, one paddles anywhere from one mile to one and one half mile, depending on which branch one takes, in estuary before reaching deciduous and slash pine shade.   Beyond that one can go as far as the water level and creek depth and blockages allow.  Normally, that would be around 9.5 miles if one took all the options.  The kiosk at the landing has a large map of the creek and forest area. 

The nearly half mile sandy road to Cash Creek Day Use Area is lined with slash pines and an occasional long leaf pine and opens into the parking area and boat launch and day use pavilion.  We had not paddled there for a year and were anticipating a good paddle with clear sky, 72F temperature and a slight breeze.  The tide was going out.

Big surprise — a new vault toilet structure had been built in our absence.  Very clean, not smelly and a tremendous improvement over the portable toilets which were never maintained by the septic service.   And in the fenced in day use area, bear proof trash containers, firmly imbedded in concrete.   Another improvement over the easy to tip over by animals and kicked over by humans garbage cans.   Thanks to Marti Miller, Talquin District Recreation Coordinator, for having these constructed and installed — the previous accommodations were gross because of negligence by the contractor.

The tide was against us and the slight breeze was from the north, north-east, against us as well.  On a Wednesday, we were the only users of that facility.  The mullet were jumping and other fish (bream?) surfaced — the fishermen would have had a field day today.  Randy, the former host at Womack Creek Campground in Tate’s Hell, assured us that one could catch mullet with a hook. Netting is the usual way they are caught.  The splash in the photo below is of a mullet landing in the water after a magnificent jump.

06-P1060262

There are two major branches and usually we take both.  Today we decided to try the one on the left first and were surprised that a section which was always too low or too debris-filled for us to continue was open and we paddled another .8 mile beyond where we usually were stopped.  There are two option on the left branch — we try to paddle both.  One can’t get lost, these branches dead-end and require retracing one’s way back.

The fall flowers are gone —  last aster flowers peek out from the reeds.   Leaves and red berries are what add color to the landscape.  Florida maples are turning and are the dominant red-orange combinations on the creek.   Unlike Womack Creek on the east side of Tate’s Hell, and which empties into the Ochlockonee River, the tupelo trees on Cash creek are not yet turning and if they are do not have the red-yellows of Womack’s ogechee tupelos.   A single stem of swamp lily was seen in an opening in the reeds.13-P1060298.JPG

11-P1060292

The ferns, also, add to color.

Birds, migratory and resident, were present.  Buzzards, crows, hawks, a single wood duck which we surprised into flight, and flocks of small birds which we have not yet identified. Kingfishers, usually seen in Tate’s Hell’s creeks and rivers, were noticeably absent.   Only a single Gulf frittilary butterfly, two sulphur butterflies and a few dragonflies were seen.  We did see flies alighting on the Silvering blossoms — the first time we have seen flies on these blooms.

25-P1060338

Silvering is a late fall bloomer, after the asters.  On Womack Creek they were still in bud about 2 weeks ago.   There were only a few of these plants on Cash Creek.  For those who suffer from hay fever, this is a plant you want to avoid.

The estuary creek turns narrower and narrower and increasingly tree and shrub-lined.

08-P106026910-P106029012-P1060295

Then, the trip ends:  one’s way is blocked, either by too shallow water or tree-falls or debris dams.  The trick is to be able to turn around in the narrow spaces when this usually occurs, particularly when paddling 14′ and 15′ kayaks.

17-P1060312

Along one branch is a beautifully gnarled cypress tree.

20-P106032021-P1060321

Late fall, when the leaves are gone, is a good time to see bird nests.  The one below was nestled in laurel greenbrier vines, its berries gave the nest a festive look; the other was securely constructed in a small shrub.

Off Pidcock Road is a very large campsite.  This tipi looking tent with 2 chairs at the picnic table was a colorful addition to the landscape. Downriver from the campsite, a row of pilings which once supported a bridge is still in the water.  At very high water,  these pilings obscured by the tannin tinged water.  One can easily find oneself caught on one of these logs.  Today all but a few were visible, but one submerged piling held one of our kayaks in place until it was dislodged (without capsizing).

07-P1060267

15-P1060303

One doesn’t see many large deciduous trees along the creek, but this is an ogeechee tupelo tree with Florida maple growing between its trunks.

One of the paddling options is a straight canal, either a former road bed or a drainage canal dug to drain water from what used to be a pine plantation before the state acquired the land for restoration and conservation.   The forests (Apalachicola and Tate’s Hell) are part of the Apalachicola river watershed.  The North Florida Water Management District has been given the task to restore Tate’s Hell’s forest back to what is used to be before it was developed for tree farming.   Roads  no longer needed are being left to return to nature and gravel has replaced culverts, creating natural drainage systems even on roads which are still used.   After heavy rains, some of these roads may not be passable. It as it should be, to allow for natural passage of water through the land, the reason for restoration of  an important river watershed.

The canal above is where we saw a mother bear and her cub (on a tree) several years ago.  When the mother bear saw us, she made a sound.  The cub climbed further up the tree; the mother bear quickly gave another sound, the cub went sliding down the tree and quickly was hidden in the shrubbery below.  I thought about that cub when the Florida Wildlife Conservation Council allowed for the first bear hunting in Florida.  The subsequent year, bear hunting was not resumed.

We rarely make it past the bridge on Pidcock Rd., but today, we were able to paddle under the bridge.  To the right the creek was blocked by a small tree which had fallen over the creek.  We could have scooted over it had we needed to, but immediately beyond that was a debris dam.  We decided to turn back, but the creek looked navigable beyond that.

24-P1060327

We chose not to explore the last branch and headed back to the put-in.

26-P106034727-P106035029-P1060355

Driving to the creek in the morning, we could smell and see the smoke of a managed burn in the Apalachicola National Forest to our east.

Returning to the put-in, the easterly winds had driven the smoke to the west.  In the waning light of the end of the day, the sun caught the clouds and the smoke to create a delicate palate of pastels, which unfortunately was not adequately captured in the photo below.

28-P1060353

Cash Creek rarely disappoints us.  This was a glorious day and the temperature only got to 76F, perfect for paddling an open estuary.   Our paddle today was 10.8 miles.

+++++

We were told that a campground with a few sites is planned near the put-in.  This would enable paddlers to camp there and paddle several other creeks:  Whiskey George and Doyle Creek in Tate’s Hell State Forest and Graham Creek and Fort Gadsden Creek in the Apalachicola National Forest.  We look forward to having those campsites.

 

 

Warm enough for snakes – Womack Creek – March 26, 2017

We are always looking for snakes on the shrubs overhanging the river.  Camp hosts have told us of water mocassins near the landing, but we have never seen them.

On warm days, we look for these snakes, on branches, out for a good day in the sun.  Usually seen after late April, here it was in March — a beautiful banded water snake.

P1030042P1030052

Spring on Womack Creek – March 15, 2017

A low spring tide exposes the shoreline and prevents paddling up branches.

But, it attracts shoreline birds — like this little blue heron.

P1020367

 

It was cold that day.

P1020398

The the spring colors were promising of warmer days to come.

Spring flowers affirmed that.

With the creek beginning to bloom, we will visiting at  least twice a month. A warm or a cold spell can change the array of blooms within days.

 

Early Spring Flowers – February 25, 2017 – Womack Creek

Observing the creek every month or more frequently during the blooming season, change seems the one constant.  While one can generally classify bloom times by season, within each season, there seems to be no certainty.  Certain flowering plants bloom gloriously in one year, only to be hard to find in another.  As we have noted, every paddle on the creek is a new experience.

The morning started without event, but the spring colors were soon noticeable on the creek.

P1020061P1020075

In north Florida one would not consider late February as the beginning of spring.  But here is a gallery of flowers which were blooming on February 25, 2017.

In order (from top left, clock-wise):  swamp buttercup, Walter’s viburnum, blackberry, pinxter azalea, fringe tree, spatterdock and to left of spatterdock, candy root, yellow star grass, golden club, primrose leaf violet, swap dogwood and to left of dogwood, wax myrtle, and swamp jessamine.

Alligators are more commonly seen now on that creek.

P1020146P1020149

Tree fungus deserve to be examined more closely.

P1020098

Up close – a gallery of forms.

A symbol of renewal — the resurrection fern which lies brown and dormant on overhanging branches and revives in the spring.

P1020179

Invasive species destruction team – February 6, 2017 – Womack Creek

Womack Creek, to our knowledge has only native species.   We have been given permission to destroy any invasive species on the creek.  We once dug up a taro plant in the upper swamps.  It was small enough that digging it up in the wet soil was easily done.

The Japanese climbing fern, however, requires more careful removal methods.  The underside of the fern are spores (seeds) which can easily be dislodged when ready to seed and spread through the water.  This is why it is preferable to dig them up at the times when the spores are no longer as active.  As an added protection, we were advised to cover the whole vine (where possible with a plastic bag, to the roots.  Cut the plant off at the roots and dig up the remaining root ball, taking up as much of the roots as visible.  Both the vines and the roots, opportunistically, take the path of least resistance and greatest sun and nutrients; uprooting even a single plant can take half an hour or more.

We left the put-in around 10:30 and didn’t return till around 3:40, with a short lunch break at Nick’s Road campsite — a 5 hour day.

It was gloomy and dark when we put-in on the river.

P1010492

Womack creek, looking upstream, is on the left.  The Ochlockonee River is on the right.

P1010495P1010514

But, as always, there is always something which makes one’s day.

These dew-drops on spider webs make for incredible patterns, even more if there is a bit of sun.  We had none then, but the sight was radiant.

P1010543

The target — the invasive Japanese Climbing Fern.  We were on a mission to destroy the plants we had located during our trips to the river the previous year.

Cover with bag to keep any spores from falling on soil or water, cut the roots at the base, dig up the roots, clean the soil around the rootbase to ensure all visible roots have been removed.

P1010554

Canoes would be better suited for this, but we had two bags and each was transported on our kayak decks.  We were told not to put these bags in a thrash bin, but rather to burn them.  We took them home and burned them in our backyard fire pit until they were totally consumed.

But, all was not work.  The river never fails to give back.

P1010555

That gloomy day turned out to be a beautiful.

P1010564

The hornbeam trees were budding.  As early as 2012 when we began to monitor the creek for our Florida Master Naturalist project  (www.womackcreek.wordpress.com) the gnarled, hard-sinewed, trunks of these trees intrigued us.  There was a small section of the river that had hornbeam trees on either side, forming a canopy which allowed sun to filter through.   I called it “Hornbeam Boulevard” because it reminded me of the urban boulevards which were so refreshing to walk under on a hot summer day.  Increasingly, these shoreline hornbeam trees are falling into the river and only a few hornbeam trees will remain.  Then,  “Hornbeam Boulevard” will only be memory.

It is hard for someone who respects the ebb and flow and changes of nature not to mourn their decline, but nature is ever changing; forever is never.  At the ebbing of our lives, it seems that the creek may be preparing us for the inevitable, not intentionally, but with a metaphor which may be kinder than the starkness of death.

P1010603

But starkness is something not concealed often from us.   This barred owl probably got caught in a fish hook hanging from a bush hooks hanging from a branch on a short tributary of the creek.  The owl may have gone for a fish caught by the hook and got ensnared.  The sounds of these owls at dusk, night and dawn, are part of the experience of camping at Womack Creek campground.  They become reassuring sounds and when in a tent, just before falling asleep, one listens to hear them — almost a lullaby of owl pairs calling to each other.

P1010619

We had time and the branches had water, so we explored some of them. All are currently dead-ends, so there is little chance of getting lost, unlike other areas on the Ochlockonee River further north where paddlers have gotten lost in the maze of swamps and branches like this.

P1010624P1010630

Juveniles of a species, even humans, are often less cautious, more curious.  These two were no exceptions.

P1010651

At paddle’s end, we had a glorious blue sky and calm water.

Womack Creek – a place for all seasons – January and early February, 2017

Womack creek has become our sanity place — away from the discordant sounds of a society ripping itself apart.

January on the creek, with its bare trees, often gloomy days, can be spiritually invigorating.

Witness these sights, taken on January 12 and February 4, 2017.  There is always a serendipitous moment, nature’s surprises, on the creek.  Depending one one’s take on life, these can be elevating or depressing.   Like all before us, nature serves as a metaphor for life itself.  We prefer the more hopeful interpretations, even as we see our species destroy the source of the metaphors.

W

To start the year — a gator and a cooter: predator and prey both sunning on a January day.

079

And on that same day, a surprising stem of green fly orchids.  My mother used to grow orchids of all types in Honolulu and I grew up taking orchids for granted.  We’re finding them blooming all year round, not just here, but on many creeks and rivers we paddle in North Florida (and even on the Ocklawaha River in central Florida).

They’re liking looking for violets in a lawn, concealed well, but upon discovery, what a thrill!  They’re the only native tree orchids in North Florida.

In February, one begins to see in the marshy, dark brown muck along the creek, little shoots of gold — Golden clubs.  The velvety leaves in varying hues of green are also beautiful.

P1010292

A crisp February day, blue sky, slow moving river greeted us on February 4, 2017.

P1010296

The entrance to Womack creek (going upstream) is to the left, the Ochlockonee River on the right.  Increasingly that intervening land is being cut off from the rest of the peninsula and a small island will result.  The soil taken from that cut is being deposited in front of that section and spatterdocks now are growing, where it once was too deep for these plants to take root and thrive.

Even in February, some flowers are beginning to show, some ahead of the usual flowering, others on schedule.

These are (from top left going clockwise) Walter’s viburnum, usually seen as early as late December; clematis crispa, usually seen blooming in March through the summer and early fall; Florida maple, Pinxter azaleas, some early blooms seen in late February, the peak usually being April; and under it blueberry blossoms, usually starting in January with fruits as early as mid-May, and the buds of the pumpkin ash tree.

P1010410

And camouflaged, a small sparrow.

P1010416

Anticipating warmer temperatures, an early spatterdock bud.  These do not appear till March, usually, but the creek has many different micro-climates and sheltered areas which affect the blooming periods of the plants.