St. James Creek
28 November 2013
Ellen and I escaped the chilly Michigan weather to celebrate Thanksgiving island-style on beautiful Pine Island in Florida. We gave thanks especially for my mom and step-dad, Patsy and Gene, who generously loaned us their winter home for our trip. Above, check out the lovely lanai where we enjoyed all meals we didn’t eat in a boat! We also were very grateful to my mom and Gene’s good friends Sandy and Danny (with Ellen to the right here), who literally saw to our every need while we visited—including getting us launched in the morning!
For our paddle on Thanksgiving Day, we decided to give St. James Creek a try. The creek is basically a backwater on the east side of the island protected from the open water by many well-developed mangroves. The day started out fairly cool by Florida standards, but positively warm by upper Midwest standards: it was around 50 degrees when we launched, and it warmed up to 70 degrees, but stayed pretty breezy all day. Out on the water, we quickly learned two things:
1) “Creek” means something vastly different on an island than it does in the Midwest. We often paddle Honey Creek in Ann Arbor—it’s maybe 15 feet across at its widest and gets so skinny sometimes we have to back our boats out of it. Below is an image of St. James Creek, which as you can see, looks a little more like St. James Sea.
2) Ocean paddling is very different than river paddling—we went 6 ½ miles this first day over 5 hours. Mind you, we stopped often for wildlife splendor and also our Thanksgiving meal (see below), but still, it was slow going, and we faced a stiff wind padding out. We also came home exhausted! Even little backwater waves are tough to battle with a paddle!
We had a great time, though, and saw so much wildlife. Beneath the water and occasionally breaking it to breathe and show off their fancy fins, Bottlenose Dolphins shepherded us through the canals that lead from my mom and Gene’s boat slip out onto the Creek and back. It was awesome, and a little intimidating. I also was scared to death by the sight of a giant (like, 1 foot in diameter!) Horseshoe Crab lounging on the creekbed beside my boat. It looked a little too much like the facehugger from Aliens for my taste. But we learned looking them up after (to make sure I didn’t see a facehugger) that they are arthropods—so, related to spiders, and not crustaceans.
But the big story is how many different waterfowl we saw—amazing variety, amazing birds! We were able to identify most of them using the great nature reference books my mom and Gene keep at their place, but one is still a mystery. Check out our collection of them all below, and enjoy! (We also saw a ton of kingfishers, a cormorant, and a green heron, but did not get good pictures of any of them). Props to Ellen, who took all these great bird photos! Make sure that you look at all of them, because the awesome osprey ones are at the very end.
Bald Eagle perched near the canal we paddled.
Anhinga, also called snakebird because it swims with only its head above water; aka “water turkey” because of its big tail.
Snowy Egret, who uses its fancy yellow feet as fishing lures.
Adult Ibis, perched among the mangroves.
Adolescent Ibis with beak muddy from digging under the mangroves. Gina: “Do you think those birds get BMJ like humans get TMJ?”
Look to the middle of the picture for the Great Blue Heron perched at the very top of the trees. It’s hard to see, but if you scan where the trees meet the sky, you’ll can find one very tall thing standing over the entire scene.
Here’s a close-up of the same Great Blue Heron—he was easily 5 feet tall. We dubbed him the “Herondacytl.”
Yellow-Crowned Night Heron—very calm and stealthy.
Black-Crowned Night Heron—equally stealthy, but his rock-and-roll past shows through with that 1980s-style tail hanging off the back of his head.
Little Blue Heron, easily the loudest bird in Florida.
A tiny Plover.
Pelicans, arranged like ornaments on a Christmas tree.
A close-up of one of the ornaments.
The one bird we could not identify—an adolescent, surely, but an adolescent what?
Osprey on the wing!
Local paddlers made an Osprey nesting platform above their boathouse—you can see it on a pole behind me.
The Pinkerton Guards who work at that nest!