Recently we spent several days at Bayou Hammock on Longboat Key, Florida. It was a “forced” vacation due to fumigation of our house, but a nice respite in any case. One of the hallmarks of our time there was the chance to become familiar with a pair of nesting osprey.
The “bayou” part of Bayou Hammock is a shallow finger of the inland waterway as it curves into Longboat Key at the northern end. From the dock where we view it, it looks like a river and we can easily see the opposite bank. This is a populated area with houses and docks and boats. Because the water is shallow and warm, we often see fish jumping, ducks and other water birds, and occasional manatees. Mangrove thickets line the shore along the property where we stayed. Banyan, juniper, sea grape and Norfolk pine are further up in the yard. It is the Norfolk pine, situated just outside the pool cage, that drew our attention.
This tall, narrow tree sticks up far above the rest of the canopy and has on its top a messy nest, almost like a crown. I can imagine that the view is great from up there. But it was the frequent whistles and calls that drew our attention skyward. A pair of osprey had set up housekeeping and were actively flying to and from the tree top. Think of an osprey as a “fishing eagle”. They are large birds and have a diet, almost exclusively, of live fish.
They are well designed for fishing. Get this, the average time fishing before they catch something, is twelve minutes. What fisherman wouldn’t like that! They have one reversible claw on their feet enabling them to put two claws on each side of their catch. They can only do shallow dives, up to three feet, but their rate of catch is 70%, which is admirable. They can carry a load of one to two pounds, and interestingly, they align their catch head first when flying to decrease wind resistance.
Our pair of osprey were easily identified because of their white underbelly and chest. Another trait is their wing position when flying. They have a bent wing, giving them an “M shaped” profile when flying. We thoroughly enjoyed living alongside this interesting part of God’s creation and wish them well in raising their brood.
I have not been pushing myself to write for many months and am feeling the need to challenge myself in some way. I want to see how many days in a row I can find a meaningful thought or experience to write about, starting yesterday.
Several months ago I had the opportunity to buy a boat, a kayak, something that I had wished to do for years. And even better, I had someone who also wanted to buy one, and go on outings with me. We bought our used boats and excitedly brought them home. Mark, my cousin, has gone out in his boat several times. He’s fitted it with ropes for his anchor, so he can fish without drifting. He’s renewed his fishing license. He’s been out enough times that he’s “settled in” to how the boat feels and he’s comfortable. Me? I’ve lent my kayak out to a friend for a month. That’s it.
So, last week we planned to go out on the water. We decided to explore the north end of Longboat Key, Florida since my boat was already out there. On the west of the key is the Gulf of Mexico. On the east side is the Intercoastal Waterway with it’s bridges, bayous and mangrove hammocks, and that was the side we were most interested in. It’s waters are calmer, more protected and have interesting features.
I have a lot of questions about my ability as a kayaker. I know enough about paddling to impress someone who has never done it at all, but I really don’t know how far I can paddle or what challenges there might be when someone starts going out a lot. I wonder if I could get lost (we didn’t). I wonder if I could end up in the wrong place and get run over by a yacht (didn’t happen either). I wonder if I could meet up with dangerous marine life (no). I wonder if I could get stuck in the shallows, capsize, get tangled in brush ( um.. nearly happened). For all these reasons, this first trip in my new (used) boat was a challenge, in it’s own way.
Mark and I started from different points with a plan to meet up in the middle. The first challenge was to time it right and not miss each other. That was actually pretty easy. Longboat Key has a lot of man made canals with houses along them, much like streets in a neighborhood. We paddled south looking at houses and seawalls for a while but that got boring. Boats were everywhere and the water didn’t look very clean, probably because the canals were deep and the bottom was dark. I don’t think I saw anything alive in the water either. I don’t blame the fish for not wanting to hang out there.
We headed out across the boat channel to a more deserted looking island. It was mildly challenging to avoid all the speedboats and yachts navigating the channel, but kind of fun to ride the waves in their wake. The water started looking cleaner with a lot of sand bar area and beach with mangroves on the shore. Very pretty but still not much life in the water or on the shore. We got around the northern point of this little island and had the most fun of our outing.
We spotted a part of the interior of the island that had no trees. As we got closer we saw a narrow inlet – it looked like someone had swept a path about a yard wide through the foliage and mangrove roots. It was calling my name. The path had a current and it kept going further and further into the island. Lots of birds and lots of minnows. I would say it was like an estuary where fish go to be born and hide until they get big enough to make it on the outside. I was a little surprised to see that Mark had been able to follow. He weighs a bit more than I do and has a heavier kayak, and there were places where the water didn’t look more than eight to ten inches deep. We were able to get turned around and back out without having to get out and drag our kayaks, but it was a place where you could imagine that happening. Very interesting.
The second really nice place was a little farther down the shore on this same island. The surface of the water was very calm in a small curved bay so it was easy to see when a school of mullet arrived. The water began to boil with ripples everywhere. Mullet love to jump. They are a very exuberant fish. They are the kind that actually might jump into your boat if you are quiet and stick around long enough. But you don’t catch them with a fishing pole – they don’t have eating on their little fish minds when they are like this. We watched for a while and then started the trip back.
The last task we had set for ourselves was to see if my kayak could be safely carried on the roof of my Mazda 3 (a rather small car). The answer is no, not without a roof rack. We did get it up there and strapped it down before Mark noticed that the roof was denting a bit. These are one person kayaks, but they are 13 feet long and hefty for one person to handle. My goal is to be able to load and unload by myself and I think I’ll be able to do it after I get a rack for my car. Now we know.
Having made an investment in this form of recreation, and I absolutely love it, I am challenging myself to get out there and get some good experience. And I love taking friends out with me if anyone wants to come – Mark and I agreed to share our kayaks if we had need for two. And I need to pick a name for my boat… what should it be?