Saturday, July 4, 2009

A South Florida July 4th - or - Kayaking Away in Margaritaville

Today was a great day to be on the water in south Florida and I spent it kayaking away in Margaritaville.

I slid a kayak into the water of Palma Sola Bay in Manatee County and paddled off to explore the new Robinson Preserve , a 487 acre patch of restored coastal wetland off Manatee Avenue on the road to Anna Maria Island. The air temperature was 92 degrees and the humidity not far behind as I shoved off to explore.

The principal feature of Robinson Preserve is the extensive red mangrove forest that is intermixed with restored coastal marsh (estuarine emergent to a wetland biologist). Manatee County government has done an excellent job of installing hiking and bicycle paths, several bridges, two long boardwalks, a 40-foot observation tower and a kayak trail on this patch of what once was on the Florida coast. One hundred sixty four species of birds have been found here although my list for the day was considerably less.

As I paddled across an open stretch of salt water I saw numerous Mullet leaping out of the water for no other reason than they are Mullet and that's what Mullet do most of the time.

One of the characters in Jimmy Buffett's movie based on Carl Hiaasen's book "Hoot" is a kid named "Mullet Fingers." He received that name because of his ability to catch Mullet in his bare hands. After 16 months of living here I find it hard to believe he could do that - I never see Mullet until they are leaping out of the water in front of me. Never have I seen one just sitting around waiting to be scooped out of the water with my bare hands!

After passing through a beautiful mangrove tunnel I entered an open area of restored coastal wetland that had occasional small backwater areas of high salinity. Unfortunately there were no Reddish Egrets to be found but there were lots of Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, White Ibis and Ospreys floating around enjoying the blistering late morning heat.

As I paddled I saw some critter making the water boil in front of me. Tracking it down I found a group of Redfish (or Red Drum) tailing as they foraged in the shallow water. In Jim Morris' great song "Back in the Sunshine" he says "Tomorrow I hope to find some Redfish tailing, if I can get up before 10."
Watching the Reds play in the water I thought back to the excellent Redfish lunch I had a couple weeks ago at the Beach House Restaurant on Anna Maria Island and realized that I need to get in gear and get set up for salt water fishing.

By early afternoon the temperature couldn't rise much higher than the humidity but off to the east and north some spectacular super cell thunderstorms were brewing. They like so much else in south Florida are reason enough to never want to leave here. Luckily the weather stayed further inland so I didn't have to worry about turning into a lightning rod.

Reluctantly I turned around and started the paddle back to where I had put in earlier. A "brisk" wind (well brisk for Florida in summer at least) was blowing from behind me and it pushed me along through the water making paddling a tad easier. As I left the mangroves and began my paddle across the open water to where my car was parked I heard the drone and then saw the characteristic rooster tail of jet ski's as they raced across the water.

I paddled away from the noise and disturbance of the jet skis and noticed ahead of me a considerable amount of "boiling" in the water. Not sure what was causing the boils I paddled further and was happily surprised to find a family group of Bottle-nosed Dolphins playing in the water in front of me.

The Dolphins were playing in the water and no doubt scaring every fish in the vicinity. Curious about them, I paddled closer to check them out. At one point one of the adults (I think there were two adults and one young in the group) raised its dorsal fin out of the water and as I watched it two others bolted from directly beneath me. When that happened another dorsal fin broke out of the water and this one hit the side of my kayak!! What a freaking rush that was.

A year ago I paddled over a Spotted Eagle Ray near Naples. As the fish bolted for safer water one of its "wings" came out of the water and slapped the side of my kayak. Another time I had a West Indian Manatee rock the bottom of my kayak as I paddled over its back. Now today I had a kayak collision with a Bottle-nosed Dolphin. It doesn't get a lot better than that.

My bird list for the day was pretty meager but I was able to see some great marine life and rejuvenated my desire to start fishing again. With the way the Sarasota Reds keep losing every time I go to one of their games, maybe kayak fishing would be a better use of my time? My tan is much darker than it was when I left this morning and the ice cold beers inhaled on my way home were a fitting climax to a day of blue skies and ultraviolet rays at the littler latitudes of south Florida.


  1. Looks like you are livin the good life Craig -- an interesting blog, some nice reading. Since you reside in such a unique area, thought I would suggest that you consider posting some videos of your adventures, so much better than pictures. I do a video blog on the southeast coast, you might want to take a look at it, as well as my Google Knol on how to create a video blog, links below (my email address is on the website if you have questions)...