After we left the lee of the oxbow we cut across the main channel of the river and paddled upstream (the St. John's River flows north) past the canoe rental area and towards the lagoon. I was already tired and my arms quivered, though I was surprised at how tired my legs were. I had no idea you used so much of your body to paddle a canoe! Lori found the opening to the lagoon and we slipped in, hoping to find a calm spot to sit and have lunch and enjoy the afternoon.
|The route for this post is in blue.|
As you can see from the map, the trees north of the lagoon sit back from the shore a hundred feet or more, so didn't provide as much of a wind break as I was hoping for. But the green area right along the water's edge is a fairly solid mat of pennywort, an aquatic plant that creates a very thick mat of floating vegetation. I managed to get the front of my canoe up on top of this floating mass, then climbed up to the front and sat down facing the lagoon, with my weight holding me down on the pennywort. Lisa and Lori worked in next to me and we lashed the boats together, and managed to keep from drifting as we prepared a light lunch.
Osprey were everywhere! Three or four birds were fishing the shallows near where we'd parked the boats, and I couldn't resist trying to get some shots of them.
|An osprey hovers as it looks for fish|
At some point shortly after we "beached" I stood up in the canoe and took a look around. There, floating on the pennywort not 10 feet from the bow of my canoe, snoozed a six foot long alligator.
|This is only slightly cropped. It was really, REALLY, close.|
Now, that's not terribly big as gators go, but I was startled to see it so close. It didn't seem to be bothered by us, but I was completely unnerved. As calmly as I could, I said to the girls, "Um, there's an alligator, oh, ten feet behind us." The girl's eyes got as big as manatee tails and they strained to see over my boat. The gator was pretty nonplussed but we didn't feel comfortable sharing our lunch with it, so we shoved off and moved down the shore 30 or 40 feet. This time I did a little recon before beaching the canoe!
Feeling a little more secure we finally ate lunch and then watched the osprey for a while.
Another gator appeared several hundred feet away and we watched as it swam back and forth near the shore. This one was apparently hungry, swimming very alertly with its head up, and we kept an eye on it, but it never came near.
I could have sat all day watching these gorgeous birds.
A few of them soared directly over us as we sat in awe.
|So close I could barely keep it in the frame!|
While none of the birds near us dove, Lisa did spot one across the lagoon with a fish in its talons. It landed in a tree near the lagoon's opening where it was soon joined by another--perhaps its mate.
|Osprey with a light lunch.|
After being on the river for a few hours we were in need of a bathroom break, so we left the lagoon and paddled back to the park's canoe rental area. There was a flock? of 20 or more Black Vultures, but for whatever reason I didn't take any pictures of them. When we'd all had a break we climbed back in our boats, intending to paddle back to the boat launch and pack up. However, we were sidetracked at the mouth of Blue Spring Run, where it empties into the river. We heard there were manatees there, and we wanted to take a look.
What we witnessed completely blew our minds.
Next: Manatee mania!