Sunday, September 28, 2014

Spring into action

    When we woke to no rain we decided to head out and check a local spring.  Florida has many natural springs and we had a ball at Rock Springs Run a few years ago (you can read about it here) and decided to check out another one.  We first needed to get some supplies.  We always bring a picnic lunch, buy a cheap Styrofoam cooler and some ice and make a day of it.  This year Ian was asking for a strainer to bring with us.  Last year's spring was pretty shallow and we found one boy searching through the small stones for shark teeth.  We stopped at the Dollar Store, Subway, and Wal-mart and we were on our way. 
     We arrived at Wekiwa Springs State Park and walked around to check it out.  We could rent kayaks and canoes and paddle up river/stream, swim in the spring and they even had a nature center.  My husband and I thought it sounded like a lot of fun and looked really neat.  Ian and Alec were not so sure.  They were sad and upset that we couldn't tube down a stream like last time.  Ian was upset that the water was deeper this time and he might not be able to sift for shark teeth.  They were all upset that swimming in the stream was not recommended since there might be alligators.  I tried to remind them that we saw alligator warning signs at the last spring too, that all springs and bodies of water in Florida run the risk of alligator sightings and that we would be safe.  We finally decided tears or no tears we were staying and giving it a shot.  We had all the boys change and take a dip in the spring while my husband went to rent us a canoe and a double kayak. 

Alec was apprehensive to try the water- it was
too cold for him.

Ian and Evan got right to work


    All springs in Florida have a temperature around 70 degrees so it's pretty cool.  It took Alec a while to get in since he thought the water was so cold.  It was a very hot day and we were all sweating so I offered to hold his hand and we'd go underwater together.  He came up smiling and shivering!  We piled into our boats with Alec and I riding in the kayak and the other three in the canoe.  In no time at all we were enjoying all the wildlife Florida had to offer.  We saw/ heard an otter!  My husband spotted a river otter's face popping up out of some weeds and we could hear the animal letting out great puffs of air every time it surfaces.  We watched the weeds moving and knew where he was moving to, I even got to see it's tail at one point as it came up and dove back under real quick.  We saw a lot of different varieties of turtles and birds.  Some turtles were small and others were quite large; many were sunning themselves on logs along the stream but the water was so clear we could see right through to the bottom and often saw them swimming along beside us too.  We saw birds flying overhead, resting in trees and all along the water's edge.  We heard insects buzzing in the trees and saw lots of different types of trees and plants.  Ian was excited to see lots of different fish species too.  We were all relieved not to see any snakes or alligators.  After paddling for quite a while we came to a fork in the stream and a sign that pointed to Rock Springs Run.
This squirrel was not afraid to come right up to us
Canoe smiles
Lots of big black birds
Looking for the otter- we could hear it and occasionally saw it too!
Another bird at the water's edge
Lots of turtles sunning themselves on logs
Alec paddling up river
Such different trees and vegetation from home!
Fork in the stream
   We decided to turn and see if we could paddle to Rock Springs.  We were fighting the current and both Ian and Evan were getting hot.  The spring was really shallow in this area and so they both decided to hop out of the canoe and walk and swim alongside us.  Ian walked through the spring pulling both the canoe and kayak along for a little bit.  It was so peaceful!  The boys were having lots of fun but soon started asking if we could go back and swim "for real."  We paddled on for a while and then decided to turn back.  We were due back with our canoes by 2:00 and were surprised to find that is was 9 minutes until the hour which meant we had been paddling around for 2 hours! 


Ian and Evan walking out boats against the current

Can you see the white Ibises in the trees?



The boys decided to swim back part of the way

Checking out the size of the plants



Spotting another bird along the shore

   We ate lunch and all the boys went back in the water.  We found the fissure where the water comes up out of the ground and Ben talked all the boys into exploring it.  There is a deep crack in the rocks and you can see the water bubbling up out of it.  Ian, Alec and my husband all tried swimming down into the fissure to check it out but the water pressure slowly pushes you back up to the surface.  The boys sifted through rocks looking for shells and sharks' teeth.  Ian used our strainers to try and catch fish; he was successful too!  They played with other kids around the springs and had fun in the cool, clear water. 

Playing with the water


Trying to catch fish

He got one!

Checking out the fissure

     Alec and I went to check out the nature center and we were thrilled to find it was an outdoor pavilion with live animal tanks.  We saw turtles, fish, snakes, lizards, and a baby alligator.  We read all about animal tracks and animal scat and even saw a stuffed diorama of all the local animals in and around the springs in Florida.  Alec met a little girl up at the nature center and it was so cute to see her asking him all sorts of questions.  He was politely answering her and you could see her soaking in the knowledge.  Her eyes would get big and wide and she'd immediately ask him another question.  She eagerly ran from tank to tank encouraging him to follow her and trying to show him/ tell him about new things too.  She eventually had to leave and we headed back to see the rest of the family.  Once Evan learned the nature center had live animals he wanted to go check it out too.  Alec and I brought him back and pointed out everything we saw. 
Turtles

Florida Pine Snake

Corn snake


small lizard

Baby alligator

  


Alec makes a friend

Learning about tracks and scat
   We stopped throughout the park to read various signs posted about the species of fish, species of turtles and other assorted signs.  We learned that what we had thought were giant sun turtles on the river had actually been red eared turtles; a non native, invasion species of turtle that is cross breading with the yellow- bellied slider and causing that species to slowly dwindle.  We've been learning a lot about invasive species these past few years and talked about why that happens.  I love days like this when we can combine family fun with lots of learning opportunities. 

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