Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Gaggle of Gar

Post stressful 30-page-paper and an amazing birthday weekend of camping at Ginnie, we were still (somehow) having springs withdrawal, so Danielle and I headed down to the Rainbow River to explore the no-swimming-zone. The lower river is open to tubers and snorkelers via K.P. Hole Park and the new State Park tubing entrance, but there is an upper ~1/4 mile section just downstream of the headspring that is open only to canoes and kayaks. Every other Wednesday, the rangers lead a snorkel in this relatively pristine part of the river outside of the sandy, devegetated swimming zone. And wearing the mandatory fluorescent snorkel vest and obeying the rules of not diving down and staying with the group (which both proved to be exceedingly difficult) ended up being well worth the amazing, usually off-limits, views.
With no reference of scale, it's hard to tell exactly what is going on here - this is a whole slew of sand boils at the bottom of the river, about 3 feet across. It's mesmerizing to float above the boils and watch as the water bubbles up from below and creates mini volcanoes of sand.
Ghost mermaid.
First gar sighting!
A little bluegill checks out Danielle's camera...
...and then came over to check out mine as well. I'm always amazed at how close then will get when you're not paying attention. Often when I'm putting my sidemount bottles on, they will swim up within centimeters of my mask. I would say they're curious, but I think they may just be the labrador retrievers of the fishes (i.e. they're probably begging... look at that face!).
An ancient scene - fallen logs and a school of several giant, slow-moving gar.
The way they face their pointy beaks into the current and effortlessly swish their tails to barely move forward, the whole time keeping their blue eyes fixated on you, is pretty neat. It makes you feel like you're surrounded by prehistoric underwater dinosaurs.
This gar was the biggest of them all - look at that toothy grin!
It's easy to spot a bowfin (Amia calva) from far away, it's long, continuous dorsal fin waving like a flag in the breeze - although it's a rare sighting. Danielle spotted this one and he actually hung around for a while. I had never been this close to one before and was enamored by its extremely blue eyes.
Colorful vegetation at the bottom of the river - this is Sagittaria mixed with a whole ton of Red Ludwigia and some algae around the edges. 
Approaching the end of our trip as we swam back upstream.
Friendly little loggerhead musk turtle in the Illinois pond weed.
 You can find these photos (and more!) in my Fall Mermaiding Facebook album.

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