Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rivers, Lakes, Springs, Oceans, and Keys!

…all crammed into June!

Post-concussion-recovery (almost 3 months later...), watery adventures began again in full force in June. There is so much to catch up on that I won't be very detailed here (mostly because 1. I should really be doing my stats homework 2. I want to work on my next cave diving post instead).

But anyway, the adventures started with a trip home at the very end of May for Allyson and Keith’s amazing Vermont country wedding and a mini vacation at home; we hiked in the woods of Vermont and Massachusetts, went to the Ben & Jerrys factory and had fresh cider in VT, explored Boston with Monica and Tyler, walked Singing Beach & Tuck's Point & the Gloucester jetti, had some authentic New England seafood, and went kayaking/paddle boarding in Manchester harbor. All of the photos from the trip are HERE.
Jumping over the water at Singing Beach.
Greg and I with the beautiful newlyweds! Congratulations Allyson and Keith :)
A short week after our whirlwind tour of New England, we headed out to Crescent Beach in St. Augustine, FL for Greg’s birthday weekend to relax in the sun, sand, and waves. Living in the middle of Florida, it’s nice to get some refreshing, salty air once in a while J

Some of these neat blue button jellyfish (Porpita porpita) dotted the sand. 
Besides my crazy hair, this picture makes me happy - Greg and my camera (AND on the beach!).
From St. Augustine, I drove directly back to meet my field ecology class at UF and piled in two vans headed south, destined (eventually) for the Keys. Along the way, we stayed at the Archbold Field Station where we swam in nearby Lake Annie, went electrofishing on Lake Istokpoga, and explored the surrounding scrub forest. We piled in the vans again to our next stop, Lake Okechobee, where we went on an airboat tour of the state’s largest lake.

 A scary looking storm midway through my exploring walk through the buggy scrub forest looking for scrub jays (left) and another storm bringing dark clouds and high winds to our dorms at Archbold Field Station (right).

A little alligator in Lake Okechobee - right next to the dock where we launched the airboats.
After our airboat ride and a watermelon feast in the parking lot, we again hit the road, headed for the Keys. We arrived at the Keys Marine Lab in Long Key late that night after far too long in the questionably drivable vans but seeing some interesting uniquely southern sights along the way. The nine of us spent the next few days going to a few lectures, poking around the field station, snorkeling in the mangroves and hard bottom habitats, and unfortunately getting slammed with a tropical storm. Sadly this meant we couldn’t snorkel the reef, but it was still a neat first glimpse of the Keys – I’m hoping to go back to do some diving in the future. 
Beautiful view from the porch of our dorm at the Keys Marine Lab.
Friendly Diodon holocanthus... he was my favorite.
One of the many sea anemones we found while snorkeling in the hard-bottom habitats of Florida Bay.
There were TONS of Caribbean spiny lobsters (Panulirus argus) around the lab. Dozens and dozens were piled around the dock, including many crammed in some old pipes. They were very curious about my camera!
Crystal and I also went to Windley Key Fossil Reef Geologic State Park, where we rescued a cormorant (Phalacrocorax aurites) laying in the street near the entrance. He was really cute but wasn't shy about poking anything that came near him aggressively with his beak... thankfully the animal rescue people dealt with catching and moving him.
On Friday morning, we headed north on the skinny 2-lane road that runs through the Keys and hit an awesome tropical fruit stand and the Everglades on our way home (before inevitably getting stuck in Miami traffic…). We were only in the park for a few hot hours but it, like the Keys, called for more exploration soon. Although it’s abundance of water that you can’t swim in wasn’t exactly my style.

Feeding time. Extreme patience and stealth.
These huge grasshoppers weren't shy - there were dozens in the trees, many of which would hop on your shoulder or arm for a ride along the trail.
Massive gator sunning himself right next to the trail in the Everglades.
All of my photos from most of the June adventures in Florida are HERE (it's a Facebook album called "Rivers, Lakes, Springs, Oceans, and Keys!"). 

So I guess that takes care of the first 2 weeks of June… and there are many more travels left, so I’ll keep it brief: a day after returning from the keys, we hit Rainbow River with the Strammers (Chanelle and Fred came up for a visit post Fred's shoulder surgery and braved the chilly but crystal clear river on a tube with Mone't, Greg, and me).
Tubes and some little minnows just above the healthy vegetation on the Rainbow River.
Next, I snorkeled in some small lakes in Hawthorne, FL for my field ecology class...
This is from one of the private lakes in Hawthorne that some grad students at UF use for their research. Our class went there on a field trip and snorkeled in a few of the clear lakes and did some seine netting.
... and the following weekend, fellow mermaid Danielle I had a beautiful little swim at Gilchrist Blue Spring.
Hydrilla forest - it's amazing to compare this to Ginnie Springs, which is only about a mile or so away. This is up a little side spring run that leads to "Naked Spring." The green reflections were absolutely breathtaking.
View from the top of the high swim platform where kids jump from... it's a lot deeper than it looks!
Mermaid Danielle :)
 More photos from our snorkel at Blue Springs are in my Green at Blue album.

For our final class trip, we went to St. Martin’s Aquatic Preserve and snorkeled in mangroves with eerily little visibility, but it was a gorgeous day on the water nonetheless!
The coolest sight of the day was the moon jellies - there were quite a few so you had to watch where you were swimming, but they were quite mesmerizing to watch swim.
… and then came my favorite part of the month… cave diving class!!! (which definitely needs it’s own post!)

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