Thursday, July 20, 2006
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
These are the bridge pilings I wrote about in my prior post about Durbin Creek. I'm not sure how old these are, but it seems that these are leftovers from the old wooden bride that used to cross here a good long time ago. There is also some wood planking leading up to the water that cannot be seen in the picture. These posts are usually completely submerged (which would explain why they are so well preserved and why we have never seen them before this year), which gives an example of how bad the drought is right now. Since this picture was taken, the water level has dropped another few inches, and is showing no signs of rising.
If we were to take this picture at normal water level from this spot, we would be up to our knees in the creek. It has been completely impassible since March. It's a shame that nobody can get back there and enjoy it this summer.
This is the smaller of the two huge cypress trees that sit within a stone's throw of the creek. This one is set a little bit back into the woods and is visible from the canoe launch. It is 6 feet in diameter, which we estimate would make it at least 1000 years old...Amazing. Unfortunately, this one has graffiti written on the side facing the road, undoubtedly done by somebody who doesn't have the least care about Florida or its wild. Sick...And of yes, about the larger of the two huge cypress trees...there is one farther downstream that we estimate to be 9 feet in diameter (haven't measured it, but it looks about like 9 feet). That one has no graffiti on it because it's set back in the woods where no suburbanite would dare to go...except us. A perfect example of how isolation helps to preserve old-growth trees. It's amazing to see such huge trees back here, and it amazes me even more how they escaped the logging that swept through Florida in the 18 and 1900s. BTW...yes this is the first picture you've seen of me. And it's a horrible one at that. My sincerest apologies :-D.
Hope ya'll are enjoying the blog...And um...*grunts*...feel free to leave some comments.
Monday, July 17, 2006
This is a Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja), characterized by its pink-colored hind quarters and spoon-shaped bill. I wish I could have gotten closer for a better picture, but he was way up in the mud along with numerous egrets and herons. They are common in south Florida, but the populations in north Florida are spotty at the best. These poor guys have gone through some rough times in the past; they were prized in the 1800s for their wings, which were harvested and used for fans, and their plumage was also a favorite in the feather hat craze of the early 1900s. A threatened species, they seem to be recovering, and have populations on the eastern coast of Florida and the Gulf Coast of Texas.
This is two trips in a row we have been greeted by dolphins! These guys showed up on our way downstream, a couple miles from the boat ramp, and surfaced again on our way back a couple hours later. Gotta love dolphins, they just love to play around humans.
Well, you don't see that everyday. These are two Army Corps of Engineers barges that are filled wish trash (some of which is labeled "waste oil"...nice to know it's just sitting there in our waterway) just south of the bridge. They are a part of the dredging effort that is ongoing in the Intracoastal. Normally, there are floating in the water, but at low tide, they just sit on the mud like this. Interesting site to see.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
I found this plant growing alone set back on the high tide mark...Some kind of orchid maybe?? I have no idea.
UPDATE: Thanks to FloridaCracker, I now know that this plant is Swamp Lily. I feel kind of stupid living here all my life and not knowing what type of flower this is. But thanks, FC.
This storm was brewing across the river as the sun set. Didn't bring anything but a little thunder to us.
Well, we're taking another trip out to Kendall's Prairie tomorrow, so be on the lookout for a story and pictures.
Friday, July 14, 2006
A big pot of Pilau, complements of my mom and a family "technique" that has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. This popular Minorcan dish is delicious if it's made right...and it's pretty hard to make it wrong. There really is no recipe for this, more like a technique...Some rice, some tomatoes, some shrimp or sausage, some onion, some datil pepper, some water, and cook until it looks right. Delicious. Now it's made me hungry...I need to go get myself some of them leftovers.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Walking out the back door onto our back porch, the first thing you will notice is one or both of these two things:
A hyperactive dog. This is my little 5-year-old mutt, (but mostly Chocolate Lab) Kendall. If you go out into the back yard, you will likely be jumped on and asked to play. This is one FAST dog, and she gets around that yard pretty fast chasing toys, like her red and yellow slipper you see here.
Datil pepper plants...One large mature one (top) and many seedlings (bottom) that I planted this past March from seeds off my Grandma's plant. Datil peppers are a staple in the Minorcan diet, but that is a post for another day. Along with the plants you will see containers bearing the names "Pure Water", "Shultz Water", and Epsom Water. Don't ask what they're all for.
Can you see him? Like everywhere else in Florida, hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of these little guys take up residence everywhere across my yard (and often in my house, leading to a chase across the room and release back into the wild). This little guy is a Brown Anole, and he is blending in pretty well with his surroundings. This type of lizard often has really nice patterns on their back, as this one does. Unfortunately, Brown Anoles are an invasive species in Florida and are quickly displacing the native Green Anoles. You may also notice that this little guy is missing his tail. Not to worry, it'll grow back.
MMMM. Satsumas. These are the unripened fruit of the Satsuma tree, a type of citrus that is similar to tangerines, but much jucier, tastier, and easier to peel. You probably won't be able to find any of these outside of a Florida farmer's market or in somebody's backyard because they often get damaged during shipping and handling. This tree, along with our tangerine (below) are always producing something year-round. It greets spring with extremely fragrant white blooms that smell a bit like jasmine and brings the honeybees from everywhere to pollenate them. Through the latter part of spring and all the way through summer, you get these little green fruit that slowly get bigger, until....November, when they start turning a shiny orange, and are ready for harvest, just in time for the family at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Delicious.
These are the tangerines. Our tree has a fungus that puts some brown raised spots on the skin, taking away the good-looks of the shiny fruit, but it sure doesn't affect the taste!
Continuing into the back corner of our yard, you will come across what I like to call our Four O'Clock Forest...They're everywhere...They are taking over some of the natural ferns and greenbriar back there, so they're making me really mad right now. Though they do look really nice in the late afternoon (when they're blooming...hence the name 4 o'clocks) I really want to get back there and take some of these out, but the problem is that a lot of different wildlife depends on them.
I interrupted this big guy's lunch (see the little black thing under his mouth) of fly as I tromped through the 4 O'Clock Forest. He's been back there for a really long time and I really appreciate what he does back there. His web covers a very large segment over and around the 4 o'clocks...a favorite mosquito hangout...his web is filled with mosquitoes, and each one he catches is one less that bites me when I go outside. He is accompanied by quite a few smaller spiders with a bring metallic orange-colored back...beautiful, but hard to get a picture of. Be thankful for this picture. I am the biggest arachnophobe this side of the St. Johns, yet I got close enough to take this picture. *shiver*
Look out for part two, cause there's more where this came from.
Monday, July 10, 2006
So yesterday, I got up a 3:30 AM to get ready to depart. We had to take my brother and sister-in-law back to Jacksonville International Airport for their flight back to Chicago, which brought us conveniently close to downtown. After dropping them off and saying our goodbyes, we headed back south to Friendship Park on the Southbank part of Downtown. We put in at the boat ramp near the base of the Acosta Bridge (might I add that the Acosta family is Minorcan), next to the ridiculously expensive River City Brewing Company restaurant, and shoved off at 6:34 AM.
Sunrise over The Northbank. (Sorry about the blurriness, I was paddling and taking pictures and activating my GPS at the same time :-D)
We paddled east and went under the Main Street Bridge (the big blue one) and continued east toward the Hart Bridge. This area is very well known for killer currents because it is the narrowest part of the river in the area. Water from the 2-mile-wide channel upstream is forced through this quarter-mile-wide channel downtown, which creates a very fast current downtown and is made even stronger as it flows under the bridge pilings. We were able to keep about a 4 MPH speed without paddling hard at all. We came upon the new St. Johns Center development on the Southbank, and a I snapped some pictures for my E-Urban Empire friends.
This is the new condo highrise this is being developed next to the Riverplace Tower on the Southbank. Called The Strand at St. Johns Center, it will be 28 stories tall and is planned for an opening this fall. It will later be accompanied by The Peninsula (below) and The Vu (planning stages, 42 stories).
This is the early phase of construction of The Peninsula. When finished next year, it will be 38 stories tall and taller than the neighboring Riverplace Tower. They are currently on the 3rd floor of construction.
Continuing downriver, we came upon Talleyrand, the smaller of the two ports in Jacksonville (the other being JAXPORT, one of the largest...maybe even the largest...port in the Southeast US). There, we saw these two huge tankers being unloaded...You can never understand how huge these ships are unless you see them in person. We gave them a wide berth, afraid of any weird currents or eddies that could suck us between the ships, and into deep trouble with port security.
We paddled underneath the towering Hart Bridge and reached Rattlesnake Island (also called Exchange Island) at 7:30 AM. This is the island that the Mathews Bridge crosses over. Paddling around it, we noticed the very thick, lush underbrush and trees, characteristic of any natural undeveloped island in Florida.
Approaching the easternmost tip of Rattlesnake Island, we were greeted with a beautiful cabbage palm hammock. Again, really something more beautiful in real life than in a picture. You may be able to see a part of the Mathews Bridge in the left side of the top picture, but it soon disappeared as we rounded the corner onto the lee side of the island.
I'm not sure what kind of flower this is, but it is red with fern-like leaves and had seed pods all over it. They seemed to be numerous on the island. I'll have to look this one up.
Coming upon a nice sandy landing site on the eastern side of the island (the side facing the Arlington area), were were greeted with......trash....a LOT of trash. Judging by the hundreds of empty beer cans, it seemed apparent to me that this was a favorite party site among some people, most likely college children on spring break (I call them "children" on purpose, because that's about how mature they are). I told my dad that we need to come back here soon with a roll of extra large trash bags and spend a day cleaning this site up. He didn't seem too thrilled about the idea, but it is important to me.
This doesn't even come close to catching the scope of the litter at this campsite. Completely disgusting. They had even cut down a cabbage palm for firewood (how stupid is that? a live cabbage palm for firewood??) which, obvisously, did not burn very well and was just left behind. And one of the things that astounded me most was that they had destroyed the trash cans. Look at how bent that rusted one is in this picture...So they had the time to destroy the trash can, but didn't have the time to place their trash in it. How sickeningly ignorant.
Beautiful lush subtropical growth. Who knew you could find this in Downtown Jacksonville? This trail went back into the woods a little and appeared to empty into another campsite. I didn't bother to follow it because I knew I would just be greeted with more trash. Instead, we began heading back west toward the boat ramp.
At around 7:55 AM, 600 feet from Rattlesnake Island and .65 miles from the Hart Bridge we spotted a pair of Dolphins. The above picture was taken a couple minutes after we first spotted them, and they surfaced many times and came within 20 feet of the kayak. Unfortunately, this was the best picture I was able to get of them.
We pulled out at 8:55 PM and headed back home. I really enjoyed this trip, and now I have another cleanup mission to go on. I hope to get back and do this trip again soon.
Total Distance: 6.8 Miles
A really crude enlarged screenshot of my GPS track.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Sunday, March 19th, 2006
Historic bridge, portaging, two close encounters with water moccasins, Great Blue Heron, Ibis, Bartram's Ixia, 12-15 Foot Alligator, Naked girl
One of my favorite places in the world is Durbin Creek, a tributary of the St. Johns River that runs through St. Johns and Duval Counties in northeast Florida. It originates in a swamp just east of US 1 in Duval County and wanders for around 20 miles through fairly old-growth cypress forest. It is a blackwater creek filled with many fallen logs and snags for about the first half of its course. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful and interesting paddles in northeast Florida, and I highly recommend it to any moderately experienced kayaker or canoer. I say moderately experienced because some of the snags can be a little tricky to navigate around, and, as you are about to see, nearly impossible in low water.
When my dad and I decided to make a trip down Durbin Creek this weekend, we were a little worred about the low water level. We have not had a significant rain in over two weeks, and as a result, we feared that the water level would be too low for easy passage. Nevertheless we decided to take the full trip from Racetrack Road to Clark's Fish Camp (Hood Landing boat ramp), and hoped to get some lunch at Clark's after a long day of paddling. When we arrived at the launch (the north side of Racetrack Road, NOT ACCESSIBLE TO MOTOR BOATS), our fears were confirmed. The water level was so low that what is usually a two-foot deep swamp was completely dry, and there were numerous exposed snags that we had never seen before. The low water also provided a rare look at a piece of old Florida history: As we scouted out the ramp and checked the water level, we saw posts in a straight line sticking about a foot out of the water, and some wood planking leading up to it near the bank. It did not lake us long to realize that those posts and the planks were the remnants of the old bridge that used to cross the creek way back when the road was a simple wagon trail. Being history buffs, we marveled at the site for a moment, but quickly got back to business, as we were on somewhat of a time constraint. We got all of our gear loaded and tied down and set off from the muddy bank at around 11:45 AM. It did not take long (about 5 minutes) before we reached our first obstacle. A log, halfway submerged completely blocked our path from bank to bank. We had some reservations about getting out of the kayak and stepping onto the slippery log, risking an undesirable swim in the creek. So we looked around and did something that you can NEVER do on Durbin Creek (due to the fact that it's usually completely flanked by swamp): PORTAGE! We pulled the kayak out, weaved it though some trees, slipped in some mud, and put back in 100 yards downstream, beyond the fallen log. Right then I knew that this would be a looong trip. For the next mile, there were uncountable snags that we really had to work to get over...fortunately, our kayak has a very shallow draft and we can get over logs only a couple inches below the water.
There is this cypress tree on Durbin Creek (well, actually there's thousands on the creek, but I'm only speaking of one in particular). A tree that my father and I have estimated to be somewhere along the lines of 2,000 years old (by comparing to other trees that we know the diameter and age of) and 9 feet in diameter. This tree is HUGE...Bigger than most people have seen or ever will see in their entire life. I have been wanting to get my picture taken in front of this tree for months, but it has constantly been eluding me for one reason after the next. I thought that today would be the perfect day to do it because the water level is so low, and I can get out and stand in front of it for the sake of perspective (you ought to see how this thing dwarfs me). As we got within about ten feet of it, I was preparing to get out when I saw a commotion right where I was about to step out. I saw a long, black, tubular body. We made eye contact. "Water moccasin! Go back!" I yelled to my dad, and we both quickly paddled backward. I'm not too worried about alligators and bears and panthers...but I don't go near a poisonous snake. Needless to say, I decided that maybe today wasn't the day to get my picture taken with the tree (grin). After that experience, I sweared I would be more careful about watching out for snakes on this creek.....10 minutes later.....As we ducked under yet another log against the left bank of the creek, I turned around to push back and drown some spider brush that was menacingly close to my arachniphobic self. (Spider brush is a term that I have given to branches and twigs that grow over the water in our path. When you run into them, five or six spiders, some quite large, jump onto you and into the boat...never fails) As I turned, I saw it. Another tubular body curled up in the tree that we had just ducked under. We were well within striking range. "Oh crap, dad. Look. Rattler." I sat there (stupidly withing strinking range) for a moment, secondthinking my classification of the snake. "That's a moccasin, paddle us out!" my dad said...I agreed. Now that it is spring it is very important that I, and all other paddlers, be sure to check very carefully when your are walking on the bank or moving around logs, to be sure you don't get that potentially fatal bite that we all dread.
As we moved farther down the creek, we began to see palm trees, palmettos, and more grasses back where the swamp usually stands. I also began to notice blue-purple flowers set farther back in the woods...As a I got a closer look, I realized what it was: BARTRAM'S IXIA! Bartram's Ixia is an endangered flower that only grows in localized areas in northeast Florida, and fortunately for me, one of those areas is Durbin Creek. I'm surprised to see them blooming so early in the Spring, but I am sure that's what they were. I was very excited to finally see this rare flower in the wild.
A few miles down the creek, high voltage power lines cross over in a straight line, forming a wide, wet, grassy area; prime territory for 'gators. The last trip we made, we had seen what my dad estimated to be a 15-foot gator here. As we came up on the power lines, we were as quiet as possible, and sure enough, there we was. He sat, like a mammoth, on the left side of the creek, right at the edge of the grass. Our kayak is 13 feet long...he is longer than it. He turned around and stared at us. We stared back at his monstrously huge head. As we approached, he quietly slipped into the water. "I've never been so nervous on this creek before," I said with a chatter. "Well maybe it's because of the 15-foot alligator that you're on top of right now," my dad responded wryly. If you ever make this trip...You will round a left bend and you will see the clearing and the lines crossing the river. Be really quiet, move slowly, and look at the left bank. He'll be laying there sunning himself, 90% guaranteed.
Continuing farther down the creek, it begins to widen considerably and you start to see the first sign of civilization in the form of docks and boats more expensive than my house. As we rounded a corner, we saw a very large boat filled with around 10 teenagers, one quite entertaining (grin). I glanced to the side and quickly turned away. My dad sneezed. She turned around. "Oh my gosh, I am so sorry," she said climbing back into the boat." For some strange reason, she was climbing around the outside on the side of the boat....in the buff. Not quite sure what the idea was there, but one of her friends summed it up quite well, "KODAK MOMENT!" (grin).
After passing them, there really is not much to speak of in this creek. We paddled for about another 1-2 miles and turned into Julington Creek, where we took out about 1/4 mile upsteam on that creek. After putting away all of our gear, we went into Clark's Fish Camp and had ourselves a good lunch of Fried Shrimp, Green Beans, and Grits, while overlooking the creek. I meant to give the manager hell about the $0.25 alligator feed vending machine he had set up out front (angers me very much that they encourage alligator feeding), but I was in a hurry to get to a church meeting, so I didn't...but I'll be back Clark...I'll be back (evil grin)
For those of you who want to make this trip, I would highly recommend that you take it in higher water, when most of the snags are submerged. But if you like a challenge, Durbin Creek at low water certainly is the place to be, and it doesn't get much more beautiful either. HAPPY PADDLING!
At the beginning part of the paddle, the water is dark brown, stained by tannin from the abundant trees. There are a lot of snags like you see on the left and a lot of submerged logs that can be some trouble. At these upper portions of the creek, you will see a lot of otters, birds, racoons, and a few gators...If you are quiet. Also, don't touch any of the branches or snags if you don't like spiders.
There are many little branches (the body of water, not the part of the tree) that extend back into the swamp surrounding, but be careful if you decide to explore one, for it is easy to get turned around in the broad expanse of trees. I wouldn't recommend anybody do this unless they are an experienced navigator or have a GPS. Here, we are coming out of one that we named "The Loop," as it loops around in the swamp and comes back into the creek about a quarter mile later. (Yes, that is a part of my back on the left...The first photo of me you have seen :-D)
Water Hyacinths are one of the few problems that plague Durbin Creek and almost every other creek or river in Florida. I once heard that the non-native species was brought to America by a woman who thought they would look good in her private pond. They quickly took it over and grew all across the surface. Frutrated, she pulled them out and threw them into the St. Johns River, where they spread like wildfire. It is a more likely scenario, though, that they came along on a shipment into one of Florida's ports...Quite possibly JAXPORT in Jacksonville. No matter how they got here, they clog up parts of many creeks, rivers and backwaters as you can see here, and sometimes completely halt boat traffic. Fortunately, many of the larger bodies of water are under "maintenance" that controls their growth.
As you continue further downstream, the water opens up a little bit, and the paddle becomes easier, as you will no longer have to compete with snags. Your last snag at average water level should be soon after the power lines. This, in my opinion, begins the most beautiful part of the creek.
As Durbin Creek continues, it later joins Julington Creek, which then joins into the St. Johns River as one of its largest tributaries. At its latter portions, it opens up wider than a 100 yards and is dotten with houses...sickening in my opinion. But nothing can be taken from the upper portions of this mysterious and beautiful creek.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
As you all know, I will be receiving a new 5.0 megapixel digital camera soon (probably tomorrow) and I can't wait to start sharing photos with ya'll. I am holding out on natural/agricultural posts until I can get some really good photos of them on here.
UPDATE!! I got my digital camera TODAY, so I will be able to share the pictures of my deep sea fishing trip tomorrow!! I'm really excited about both. YES! Now I must go read the user's manual!
Monday, July 03, 2006