Last summer I mentioned to Jill Peleuses, owner of Wild Bird & Garden, that we needed to put together an adventure to Florida for February to do some bird watching and kayaking. The idea quickly took hold and interest started to build in our idea. Before we knew it, we had seven people signed up for this adventure to the Tampa Bay area for some fun in the sun!
However, I have to admit that this adventure had been something I have wanted to do for some time now. You see, I grew up in the Tampa Bay area and I have many fond memories of canoeing the beautiful rivers in the area. It was also during these years that God gave me a love of nature/wildlife and the outdoors. If you are not familiar with the Tampa Bay areas, there are lots and lots of migrating birds that winter in the Tampa Bay area. So, this adventure for me was more than taking a great group of birdwatchers to Florida; it was about exploring the area I grew up in as an adult.
Everyone made safe and sound to our hotel and excited about what lay ahead. While everyone was checking in to the hotel, I was setting up my camp at Alafia River State Park. I decided to camp instead of say at the hotel for several reason, but a change to camp for a week and sleep under the stars in my tent, darn. About half way though setting up camp, I heard a strange but familiar noise just around the corner of my camp. It was a call that once you have heard it before, you would never forget. It was the call of a Sandhill Crane. As a kid, these cranes were seen in Florida, but not in very large numbers due to their very low number. I am not sure why, maybe there were on the endangered list at one time, I don’t remember. Anyway, I poked my head out of my tent and in the distance I spotted the 4 cranes.
All I can say was WOW! Here they were walking though the camp grounds, headed in my direction. As I sat there, I was amazed at how close they walked to me and my tent. It was almost as if they were not afraid of me. I was amazed at how tall these cranes were, they must have been 36” to 40”. I sat there in amazement. And just think; the week was just beginning and I was already seeing some cool birds!
The next morning everyone met at Alafia River State Park for a ranger lead bird walk. What a perfect morning to start the day! We got a chance to see more sand hill cranes as well as some ospreys that morning. After a quick lunch at the kayak launch, we put out on the Alafia River for some kayaking. The river was a beautiful as I have ever remembered. And yes, we did see several nice size alligators along the way. Just as we got to the turnaround point, someone spotted something in that I had never seen before; a group of about 30 black bellied whistling duck! (Never knew ducks whistled) What a beautiful duck! The color of these ducks was spectacular. Watching them sitting there in the shallow water was awesome.
The next day was even better at Myakka River State Park. Myakka has a special place in my memory. I have camped, hiked, biked and wondered all over this park as a kid in Boy Scouts. So driving into the park that next morning was quite exciting for me. Not just a chance to see some cool birds, but again, the memories of days gone by.
The day started off with a air boat tour of Lake Myakka and a talk about the birds and the other wildlife of the park. It was amazing to see hundreds of alligators on this lake, some of them in the 14’ plus range. We also spent time walking on one of the many nature trails, we spotted a wild boar grazing within a few feet of a large gator. We were astonished by the sight of this boar so close to the gator. We were not sure if the boar was brave or if he knew something about the gator next to him. Anyway that was cool. Yet there was more to come. While driving back to the main concession stand area of the park for some ice cream, I found out how excited true hard core birders can get. As I was driving, one of the ladies in my vehicle spotted a roseate spoonbill. Before I could pull over and stop the vehicles, two of the ladies were out of the vehicle; running back to the spot with binoculars in hand. After this event, I started locking the doors so no one would jump out prematurely.
The last day we spent at Edward Menden Reservoir and a Circle B Reserve! I had never been to Circle B Reserve just southeast of Lakeland, but we heard from one of the park rangers that this was a fantastic place. So we decided to change our plans and head over to Circle B for the afternoon. What awaited us was breath taking. We spent 5 hours here at this park walking and seeing hundreds of birds including; bald eagles, several peregrine falcons, limpkins and a great blue heron eating a huge mudpuppy. This mudpuppy was so big that the heron spent several minutes stabbing it with its beak to cut it in half.
As the week of bird watching and kayaking came to a close, most everyone did not want to leave and head home. We all had a wonderful time exploring central Florida and enjoying birds that we rarely see if ever here in Wilmington. We all got some sun while out and about, but most of all, everyone I believe came away with a since of awe of being out in God’s creation and viewing some wonderful wildlife. I know I sure did.
Mahanaim Adventures not only provide wonderful adventure to Florida, but offers guided kayaking adventures in the Wilmington and Carolina Beach areas of North Carolina. We specialize in creating that memory of a life time for you and your family and friends. Check out our web page and find out more details about all of our adventure locations.