Tag Archives: Womack Creek paddling

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.

 

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.

March goes out like a lamb…. Womack Creek 3-29-2015

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Womack Creek is in the middle of its spring flowering.  The blooms above, Rusty Blackhaw had a back drop of Pinxter Azaleas right now at it’s full bloom.  Fringe trees, cross vines, yaupon holly are all blooming.  And poison ivy.

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Swamp sweet bells are just beginning to bloom.  Below with cross vine.

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Two swamp roses were blooming, promising more blooms and fragrance.

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And the earlier bloomers are now going to seed and fruit.  Pumkin ash and blueberries.

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A kingfisher, an owl, a duck, cardinals and a yellow-crowned night heron — not much in the way of bird life.

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One alligator out, only a handful of cooters, a few swallowtails, but hardly any honeybees and other insects except…

P1130917 This is wilderness, folks!

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Get in your boat, canoe or kayak and check out the rivers and creeks of Tate’s Hell.

 

Womack Creek in bloom — see and smell the Pinxter Azaleas now and for the next 3 weeks!

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St. Patrick’s day, at 11:30 pm. It was perfect paddling weather — in the low 70’s.  There was a slight breeze which rippled the surface of the Ocklockonee River, but  the trees, even with the early leaves,  protected Womack Creek.   The colors were spring — shades of light green, tinges of red with a few red maples still asserting its shiny red colors — a continuum of hue.  The bays with their darker, mature leaves added a depth to the colors of the scene.

The woodpeckers were pecking, the ubiquitous kingfisher darted upstream and then down, the resident hawk could be heard and was seen, a great blue,  which now seems a regular in that creek, and both barred owls’ dueling duets and great horned owl sounds at dusk and in the early morning.

Walters viburnum is still in full bloom, but will not be so within a week of 70 degree weather, but the swamp dogwoods will be blooming soon and swamp sweetbells soon after.  The blackberries are now in bloom and are the parsley haws.   Ogeche tupelos are just beginning to start their leaf buds.

The swamp is alive with the sound and activity of life — carpenter bees and honey bees sipping nectar from the pinxter azaleas, nymphs hatching out, dragonflies and both the swallowtail butterflies flitting from flower to flower.

Young alligators — the creek may be a nursery — are never cautious.  One cruised along my kayak, unafraid.  And a young brown water snake, less than a yard long, was out sunning, totally camouflaged against the brown/black branch.   And even young cooters, some no larger than 5 inches,  were perched on logs.

We camped there overnight to save a trip the next day to Eastpoint’s Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve where we were looking forward to a talk on Florida’s freshwater turtles.

Two years ago, on this same week (Spring Break for Leon County Schools), we had met a father and his two sons and their guests here.   We did not camp last year during the spring break (we had taken two mothers and their four children to camp at Nick’s Road Primitive Camp site, which was reported on in an earlier blog).   We did not recognize the older son, he is now a freshman at Leon High School, but he nudged our memory.

This dad has taken his sons to camp and boat and canoe, fishing and hiking and just enjoying the Panhandle’s out of doors from the time they were very young.

The young man related to me that he went camping with some friends overnight and he brought along a Coleman stove, water and some food.  His friends made fun of him with all the gear he had, but they helped tote all that gear 2 miles to the camp site.   In the morning, he got up, and had prepared for them when they got up coffee and spam and other goodies!  Were they happy that he had some camping skills and to know that water and food are essential and he knew how to cook the food.

Mack, a host to end all hosts, had at our campfire a load of firewood and fatwood to start the fire.  The bathrooms were immaculate and freshly painted!   The picnic table was pressured washed clean and the fire pit was clean and ready to start.

The day before a couple from Alaska had camped.  There seem to be more out of town campers than in state.  What a shame — for a north Florida experience without being packed between RV’s and trailers, this is one of our favorite places.

The day we broke camp, Paddle Florida, which we had joined last February to paddle 5 days on the Withlacoochee, arrived with 40 paddlers.  Unlike last year, when every day but one was a rain day, and that brought a blustery winds which make doing Ochlockonee Bay treacherous, this year’s group will have perfect paddling weather.

We checked the New River — it is very low.  We were hoping to camp at Campsite 7 next week and paddle upstream, but it does not look promising.   When it is low there are too many big trees which have fallen over the river to paddle.  When the river is high, one merely paddles over them.   A federal forester, now retired, told us that when the deciduous trees start leafing on the New River, they guzzle up water like marathoners and paddling will require portaging and dragging.

The next day we paddled from the Womack Creek Campground on the Ochlockonee to Crooked River, all bounded by Tate’s Hell land on one side, to Loop Landing campground.  This, too, is another isolated campground which we like to camp — right on the Crooked River.  It’s a 4 mile paddle.  We started out at 8:35 a.m. and never have we paddled the Ochlockonee when it was so calm.  Pinxters are blooming there also as are Devil wood with its white blossoms and blackberries.

We paddled to McIntyre landing on the Ocklockonee which is at one end of the Crooked River.  The posts which once supported a train track on which trains hauled turpentine from one side of the river to the other are still there.   Crooked River connects to the New on the west and is subject to tidal flow from both the Carrabelle River and the Ocklockonee River.  We were against the tide that early in the morning, but it was a short paddle and the sky was blue, the air sweet and crisp  and spring in the air.

We had parked our car and trailer at Loop Landing, which is only 2 miles from Womack Creek Campground — one could walk to get one’s car if one is camped at Womack.

Go paddle Womack now and throughout April — the creek is blooming and there will be a succession of blooms from now on.

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The splash from a little turtle’s jump.

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Parsley haw blossoms.

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Nick’s Road landing — always a great place for lunch on Womack Creek.  Picnic bench, grill and fire pit.   Also a great place to camp — away from it all (from April through September, bring mosquito repellent).

P1130378New River at Camp Site 7 — very low for March.

 

 

Valentine’s Day Paddle, Womack Creek and all its branches, blue sky, crisp day — what more could we ask for.

The day was glorious, though cool, wind from the north with some chop on the Ocklockonee, but once within Womack Creek, the water calmed.

P1120511We were looking forward to seeing more buds on Womack Creek.  But it is mid-February — it was a hope.

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At the first cove on RR, a single golden club plant with one bloom stalk and two others still nestled in its leaves.

P1120519We didn’t expect the pumpkin ash buds, still tight, but promising blooms in two weeks.

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And in the first mile upstream, in a secluded, but sunny spot pinxter azaleas were blooming.  The first of the season and an early bell weather.  The other pinxster buds are still tightly closed, waiting for more consistent spring weather.   This was a Valentine’s Day gift!

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Not to take these little blossoms for granted, they were already in bud when we last paddled Womack Creek.  Now throughout the whole creek and all of its branches, the Walter’s Viburnum blooms are opening up.   The earliest of spring flowers in the North Florida wetlands.

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And the hornbeam trees were full of blossoms.

P1120527Alders putting out their leaves.   As the regular rain cycle has resumed, these alders have taken over many areas previously taken by False Indigo and Azaleas.

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And sweetgum leaves will be bursting out soon.

And bald cypresses are now in flower.

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P1120562The Florida red maples are starting to develop seeds.   On Womack creek it seems many of the maples are either male or female trees, although maple trees can have both male and female flowers on a single tree.

And the deadly water hemlock starting with new growth.

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Insect cases, one case already emptied, the other still incubating.

We decided to explore all the branches of Womack creek.  About 2.5 miles from put-in on RL is a branch as wide as the main channel which flows past Nick’s Road Primitive Campsite.  We took this branch first — we had not been on it for a year. It narrowed after about 1 mile and ended as do all these branches into a tangle of mud, branches, trunks — an impenetrable and not navigable dead end.

Exploration in the branches of rivers in north Florida requires saw and clipper.   Downed trees  block further clear navigation, forcing a portage in muck, branches either overhanging or dead can be cut through, strainers (collections of branches in the water like a dam) can be loosened and opened up.  Some trees do not fall directly into the water and allow, depending on water level, for limbo paddling — one gets pretty good at what we call the “turtle scrunch” — receding into one’s cockpit with as much of one’s body and head close to the height of the deck to get under low trunks.   In slow moving waters this is easy; in fast moving waters failure to coordinate and place one’s kayak properly can result in a capsize.

With limbo logs, one has to note,  where the creek or river is tidally influenced, whether one is going upstream in high or low tide.  If one barely makes it under a log on an outgoing tide,  on return in an incoming tide plan B will need to be pursued.   We learned this on Trout Creek, a small tributary of the New River, which drains from the Dwarf Cypress swamp.  We were on one of our exploration trips which required, as usual, cutting through a path up river and found ourselves in an incoming tide on the way back.  The space was barely enough for the kayaks, sans paddlers.

P1120567This required cutting.

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And beyond that, more obstacles.

P1120570A lot of situations like this.

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Often ending like this, slough 1 or slough 2.

From put-in to Nick’s Road Primitive Camp Site which is a sunny spot with a picnic table, a fire ring and a grill, is 3.75 miles.  This is a good place to have lunch.

But upstream, there are two branches, each of which have increased in navigability in the last 3 years which were wetter than the previous 4-5 years.  We were able to get up to the furtherest point we have ever paddle on the branch on RL (about 1.2 miles) and got much further up the second branch on RR than we have ever been before.

These creek  branches were equally as challenging as the first branch, but we were amply rewarded:   an otter, a white tail deer, a pair of barred owls, a hawk in this section.   And we were 1.2 miles from hway 67, where Womack Creek crosses to the northwest before we had to stop. This is the closest we have ever been to hway 67 on the creek.

Here are the photos:

P1120584 One has to be willing to hope for the best.

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But it wouldn’t hurt to test the depth of the water occasionally.

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A sharp saw a necessity when one decided to explore small branches.

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There’s always that last barrier one is willing to cross.

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Nothing convinces more than a series of obstacles in close proximity that its time to turn around and go downriver to take-out.

Today’s paddle was 11 miles.  Our normal paddles on Womack Creek runs from 7.5-8.5 miles, upstream and downstream.

We put in at a temperature of 56 F and took out at 60 F.  The winds had picked up, the tide had turned, and we were ravenous.

The sky remained cloudless, the air crisp — in the protected waters of Womack Creek the 10-12 mph winds were not felt.  A bit of chop leaving Womack into the Ocklockonee, but it was a short paddle to the take-out.

What did you do on St. Valentine’s Day?

I

The last day of January, 2015 and spring is inevitable on Womack Creek!

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January 31, 2015:  the weather was crisp.  We wore layers and long sleeves on our paddle on Womack Creek.  It was 56 degrees at 11:30, the tide was coming in, a slight southerly wind which with the incoming tide created patterns on the water we have never seen before.   The creek never stays the same — always something new, always something comfortingly same, but not the same.

Spring has started on Womack creek.

The green leaf buds of sweet gums and hornbeam gave a light green sheen to what were bare branches earlier this month.

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Walter’s viburnum, one of the earliest flowers along north Florida’s creeks and streams, were in heavy bud, their leaves following.

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The water oaks are dropping their leaves, the swamp roses upriver near Nick’s Road primitive campsite are fully leafed, on the lower 2/3’s of the creek just now beginning to show.

Three new Japanese climbing ferns were discovered, which we have been given permission to remove properly.  We did not have plastic bags (to cover them with so the spores will not drop) and a spade, so we will do this on our next paddle.  Other than that, there are no invasive plants along the creeks or in the water.   We hope to keep it this way.

The Florida red maples are beginning to form their characteristic winged seeds.   Some were still in bloom, some beginning to develop seeds, and others with seeds quite pronounced — a palate of sequence of bud, bloom, seed.

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Along the branches, some more sheltered than others, leaf buds and flower buds were also forming.

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High bush blueberries are in full bloom and the first honeybees were gathering nectar and pollinating these blossoms.  Last year the bounty of fruit was such that we were able to munch on more without guilt, leaving lots left on the bushes for birds and animals who depend on the blueberries for food.

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The dahoon, yaupon and American holly berries which were still visible on the shrubs earlier have been stripped — possibly by a flock of migrating birds.  But up high, the berries of the laurel greenbrier (smilax) are forming.  Bears like to eat these berries which form 18 months after flowering.

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And what of birds?  We saw and heard a red bellied woodpecker, great blue heron, several ducks, what we think is a grey catbird, the ubiquitous kingfisher — we would feel slighted if it didn’t make a show somewhere along the creek — a hawk, buzzard.  And a sound we have not heard this year — a barred owl messaging across the creek and receiving a response.  Camping at the Womack Creek campground, the sound of these owls are soothing enough to bring on sleep.

And, the lead kayaker, saw a spot of grey and black at creekside, turn and amble back into the palmettos — a racoon.   These little sightings always make a paddle, just as the sounds of the barred owl are comforting that all seems well on the creek.

The campground had five sites filled with, we think, hunters — no one was in the sites.  The only campground in Tate’s Hell with hot showers and flush toilets, we have always wondered why more hunters have not before availed themselves of these amenities for $10 a night.  This year they have — we’re glad to see others enjoying the campground and facilities which are kept up immaculately by Mack and Lee, the campground hosts.

It was a wonderfully blue, crisp day of paddling under blue skies with the forest and the forest creatures beginning to stir.  We don’t have winter like further north, but we do see the seasons on Womack Creek and spring is inevitable!