Thursday, 16 May 2013

Saltmarsh paddling at Dutton Island Preserve, Florida

During a visit to north Florida, I got an opportunity to sign up for a paddling trip with First Coast Outfitters of Jacksonville Beach.   I joined a local family for the trip, meeting up at Dutton Island Preserve on a beautiful sunny afternoon.

Following a safety brief from our guide, Rachel, we headed off out into the open water of the Intracoastal Waterway .........

before turning off into a series of channels which wind among the saltmarsh environment.  The water was shallow and warm, and bird calls the predominant sound.

As we rounded the end of Dutton Island a shrill calling alerted us to a pair of Ospreys at their nest.  We moved along to avoid disturbing the birds, a really rare species in Scotland but very numerous here in Florida.

At the furthest point of our paddle we passed through a tunnel under the access road to the island - I think this may well have been our youngest team member Owen's favourite part of the journey!

After paddling through some narrow and shallow channels containing oyster beds (which needed to be carefully avoided), we entered a wider channel which had been dredged to provide an access route when development of this pristine environment was being actively pursued.  Fortunately, a community campaign resulted in the area being made a nature preserve, accessible to all.

Rachel has a wealth of knowledge about the history and wildlife of Dutton Island, and she added enormously to the experience by pointing out things we would otherwise have missed.  This Great Egret was very unconcerned by our presence, but other species we saw were more retiring.

As we approached the end of the paddle, and back on the Intracoastal Waterway, we were treated to an appearance by three dolphins feeding close to us.  It was a really great finale to a great day; and what a change to be paddling in T-shirt and shorts rather than a drysuit! 

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