Saturday, June 11, 2011

Trip 40: Hontoon Island State Park

State Parks visited:  32

Hontoon Island is the state park I most associate with my childhood.  It is one of our most local parks, and it is also the closest to my parents' home.  I can remember many trips there as a kid, from school field trips to hiking with the Girl Scouts.  As an adult I've been there many times as well, mostly for the geocaches hidden on the island.  It's a fun place to take out-of-town guests, also, because you have to take a ferry across the St. Johns River to get there. 

On this particular day, though, we decided to get to it *our* kayaks!  We had a day of paddling and geocaching planned with Chris and his brother Matthew, and it started with us launching from the Blue Spring State Park boat ramp.  From there is was just a few miles up the river to our destination.

Olivia kicked back and relaxed:

While Matthew tried to do the doggie paddle the whole way:

Pretty soon we came up on our destination and tied off the kayaks at the dock.  While we were getting our hiking gear organized, we saw this go by:

So, once our gear was packed and we were ready to go, one of the park rangers walked up to us.  He asked if we were heading out to do some hiking, which was our plan.  Unfortunately, it seemed a brush fire was burning on the island and the trails were closed past the small camping area.  The trails that were open weren't very long, but it was better than nothing!  So instead of hiking and geocaching like we originally planned, we walked out to the camping area and back.

Checking out one of the rental cabins:

And two of the biggest skinks I have ever seen...snuggling:

We made our way back to the dock, where the ranger station, camp store, restrooms, and museum are located.  Outside they were having a party and cookout:

We had packed a picnic lunch, but before we sat down to eat we decided to look around the museum.  In all the years I've been visiting Hontoon Island, I don't think I had ever been in there.

Pretty soon we were all getting rather hungry, so we found a picnic table and feasted.  There was a playground nearby, and Olivia went to play after she got done.

I used the opportunity to walk around and sightsee for a little bit. 

Before long it was time for us to pack up and begin the paddle home.  We weren't too far away from the park when Olivia pointed out an alligator in the water.  It's kind of hard to see, but suffice it to say this has got to be the largest alligator I have ever seen:

There had to have been a good 12-14 inches between his eyes and nostrils.

I'm not sure who looked up from the alligator first, but someone pointed out another amazing sight:  bald eagles.  Not just bald eagles, but ospreys as well.  We looked up to see two bald eagles in flight, fighting what looked to be about four ospreys.  It was unbelievable!  The only thing I can think of to describe it is a World War II dogfight.  We were all so awe-struck that Robert had to remind me that I was holding the camera:

I can't believe how fortunate we were to be able to see this.  I think we all came away from it feeling like we had seen something kind of special!  Eventually the fight ended, and I'm pretty sure the eagles won.  No, we won because we got to see it! 

I checked with the Avian Reconditioning Center after this, and they said most likely the eagles were after the eggs or young in the osprey nest.  I had thought it was the other way around since there were two eagles against four osprey, but either way, it was pretty cool to watch!

The paddle back was mostly uneventful after that, except for one other incident involving birds.  Wild turkeys are common in this area, and I guess I always knew they could fly short distances.  I never knew, however, that they could fly longer distances as well.  Three turkeys flew across the river, a couple hundred feet wide where we were, at least, and surprised us all.  You can kind of see one of them in the far right of this picture:

And that was pretty much it!  We landed, loaded the kayaks, found one more geocache nearby, and then cooled off at our house for a little while.  I was a little bummed about not being able to do all the hiking and geocaching we wanted to do.  The trails being closed, however, put us in the right location at the right time to see something amazing, and for that I have no complaints.  We were fortunate to see the birds fighting, and I will forever be grateful!


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