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Blue Springs River Trip
After a peaceful morning spent admiring the beauty of Blue Springs, and entranced by the slow moving and gentle manatees, it is time to board our flat bottomed boat, the MV Native II, a custom built covered tour boat. Built in 1993, this 50ft by 12ft boat transports 49 people in comfort along the beautiful St John’s River, enabling them to experience for themselves this fragile and unique ecosystem. Designed to navigate the shallow backwaters of this north flowing river, and with an average speed of just 6 mph, it is so quiet that you can still hear the sounds of nature. This slow speed ensures that the boat leaves the minimum wake, so that it does not erode the riverbank or disturb the many creatures which call this river home.
The weather is perfect, soaring azure skies and temperatures in the high 70’s despite it being early January as we take our seats and wait for the boat to pull back away from the mooring. Winkie and Ron Woxberg are to be our hosts on this fascinating tour, and with Ron at the wheel we set off on our amazing voyage of discovery. The river meanders along, like a rippling water snake, a watery highway that is busy with little boats and small flat-bottomed johnboats which take passengers into this tropical wilderness. In places the river is clogged with vegetation, water hyacinth and water lettuce, and we see great egrets tiptoeing across this carpet of green. We watch as the gentle ripples of the wake break up the almost mirror like reflections of the trees in the water.
Along the river bank there are vast stretches of almost impenetrable of cypress trees, oaks and palms. Many of the trees are draped with Spanish Moss, which hangs in huge lacy grey fronds from the branches, like Miss Haversham’s bridal veil. Birdlife abounds, and egrets, herons, cranes and ibises take flight, and an occasional bald eagle soars into the sky. Our guide provides us with a fascinating commentary as our boat glides quietly along.
We make an unexpected stop and crane our necks to see turtles climbing up tree roots and basking in the sunshine. Their curved shells are shiny and they sit almost motionless as we take photos. Notices urge boaters to keep to a slow speed to minimise the wake they leave behind, and near the river bank a lone fisherman can be seen, his boat still as he throws out his line. The boat is steered towards the riverbank and we see a large alligator lying amongst the vegetation, seemingly ignoring us as we snap away. Then just as silently we drift on, down the river.
The trees are tall and leafless, silvery grey, like huge skeletal ghosts, fingers entwined, and in their high branches we are directed to look at huge nests, untidy bundles of twigs which perch precariously. In places there are canopies of green leaves, interspersed with orange and brown. Again we move towards the riverbank and there, sitting on a muddy patch is a small alligator, wide awake and alert, it rises up on tiptoes, as interested in us as we are in him. He proves to be a perfect subject, and we all click away with our cameras. A little further on we move to the other side of the river, and Ron shows us where an alligator mother has built her nest. He tells us that when it gets cold the alligator slows down and becomes lethargic. Its metabolism shuts down and it cannot digest food.
I leave my seat and walk to the back of the boat where there is an observation area, the stars and stripes fluttering in the gentle breeze as we move silently on. We see more Great Egrets, their feathers fluttering in the breeze, as they stand motionless, before suddenly taking flight and soaring into the sky. A Blue Heron, the largest wading bird in North America, can be seen on the bank, and Ron tells us it prefers to steal food rather than finding it for itself. We see a brown bird with white spots, a Limpkin, stalking about in the marshy undergrowth. Its favourite food is the apple snail. Our boat heads for home and we see the landing stage ahead.
Our two hour trip is over too soon and we disembark. It has been a wonderful day and we can’t wait to visit again the next time we are in Orlando in the winter months.
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