Tag Archives: kayaking

The birds in Florida are amazing. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Kayaking in Florida

After kayaking for years in Maine, for some reason it took me a while to realize that I could also kayak in Florida. First of all, I am a “snowbird”—not a native of Florida—and I am learning more about Florida every year. Secondly, at the beginning of my time in Florida, I didn’t know anyone who was doing kayaking, and no one seemed to talk about it.

However, one day I drove by an outfitter place with kayaks for rent. That was when the light bulb went off in my brain. Now this was something for me, and I soon looked into renting kayaks. My husband and I went out for the first time on a nearby river that eventually led to the Gulf Coast. For part of a day, we meandered under overhanging tropical trees in the everglades and took a couple of breaks on sandy beaches. The only bad experience was that after getting comfortable on a beach, the fire ants discovered us. We took to our kayaks and were more careful the next time. The greatest memory was the manatees swimming under and around our kayaks. They are gentle giants, slow-moving creatures, and fun to watch.

I have found other areas to rent kayaks, at state parks with scenic waterways. Often a local guide will take a group for a few hours to encourage environmental habitat protection and to learn about the everglades. The giant Cyprus trees are a sight to see, but many areas full of these trees were cut for lumber and furniture, and the human population has overtaken many wilderness areas.

It's fun to see alligators in Florida--at a distance! Photo by Madelyn Given.

It’s fun to see alligators in Florida–at a distance! Photo by Madelyn Given.

There are splashes as turtles or fish jump in the water. There are alligators of all sizes: we are very cautious and carefully keep our distance.

The tropics are alive with the sounds and colorful movements of many different birds. There are spoonbills, ibis, flamingos, stilts, storks, egrets, and many birds in Florida that never make it to Maine, but the blue heron is a familiar sight in both places. One spring when I returned from Florida, there was still ice on the lakes and ponds in Maine. Our blue heron (we like to think it is the same one) had arrived, poor thing. But each day, the sun was higher in the sky, and along the shore, there was more and more water. That heron made it through that spring. In Florida, the blue heron are much more common, and just as elegant with their long legs.

Usually weather conditions are not as drastic in Florida, but I check the weather forecast before going for an outing, and while kayaking, I keep an eye on the wind and general weather conditions. I feel more comfortable staying along the shoreline when sea kayaking. There are often dolphins that come quite close to shore, as well as sand sharks and rays.

Each part of the day is different and beautiful. Sunrise is a special time of the day. Nature seems to all wake up at this time and share the happiness of a new day in a lively joyous way. In the evening on the Gulf Coast, the scene is magnificent as you paddle into the sunset. A sailboat may go by, with the silhouette of the boat making a perfect picture against the sky. Darkness follows in just a few minutes, and then it is time to head home.

(posted January 12, 2015)

As the ice begins to melt, Madelyn enjoys an early spring kayak ride.

Kayaking in Maine

Kayaking is a great water activity: it is enjoyable without being burdensome on others. Canoeing is an activity our family enjoyed for years, but when I want to go by myself, kayaking is very doable—not so easy with a canoe. I like the fact that a kayak sits lower in the water and is more stable than a canoe. I can go from my home any time, without waiting for assistance as I would with canoes. I try to go several times a week, and it’s even more fun when I take my cocker spaniel, who loves to go along. This spring, after not kayaking in Maine for six months of winter and cold, I asked my dog one morning if she wanted to go kayaking. She ran straight to the kayaks before I gave any sign of what I was doing! Only then did I go to the garage for the paddle and lifejackets—one for her, too. She sits very still and alert, with her front paws up on the front opening of the kayak. We are quite a familiar team on our waterway, and people wave to us.

In the spring, I watch for enough of the ice to disappear so that I can go out for the first time. I don my lifejacket and head out, maneuvering around the bergs of ice, from one end of the open way to the other. The time of this first kayak ride varies each year; I am able to get on the water sometime between mid-March and mid-April. When I can go out in the kayak, I know that spring is truly on its way.

During the summer, I go out in a kayak to relax and view nature. I check to see how the bald eagles are doing in their huge nest, high up in a now-battered pine tree. Every year, the couple repairs the same nest, and for a number of summers they have successfully raised one or two eaglets. Although they are large birds, they make a small, sharp, high-pitched call. The loons are always happy to show off by flapping their wings, then diving deep and far. It is amazing to find where they will come up. Red-winged blackbirds have their nests in the marshy area nearby where I pass. The ducks, mallards, black and pintail are busy skirting about the surface. Cliff swallows appear above the water, especially on warm, calm days, skimming the surface for water bugs. After dark, bats do the same thing, skimming and darting above the water eating insects.

What fun to watch a muskrat family that lives on the shoreline, with burrows under the tree roots below the ground. In early spring, I have seen one of the adults scurry across the ice, so afraid of predators. Rarely will they swim straight out across a big span of open water—safer to go along the shoreline, under our dock, or safely home.

There are turtles: box, painted, and big snapping turtles. On warm sunny days, a few will be lined up on a fallen log above the water, until the kayak comes too close, and then all will dive into the water, like dominos falling one by one. There are fish nests in shallow areas, with one of the adults always swimming above the nest to protect the eggs. The blue heron is a favorite bird to watch, slowly wading in the water, looking for tiny minnows. It follows a regular flight pattern and daily routine of when it comes and leaves.

I kayak in other nearby places on rivers, lakes, and along the coast. It’s a lovely change of scenery. Kayaking is a great activity for a single individual or a large group of friends. Whether I go for a few minutes or a full day, it adds another dimension to physical fitness; best of all, kayaking celebrates the calm of nature.

(posted November 24, 2015)