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Exploring East River

by Tod Dahlke
Things are low and dry down here in Fakahatchee South. While driving along US-41, the Alligator and Turtle departure routes are clearly visible from the road. It’s almost as if they followed right behind the seasonal residents as they left just after Easter.

Turtle and Gator tracks15

Alligator and turtle tracks along East River. Photo by Tod Dahlke.

One morning as I was approaching the turn in to the river, a huge Black Bear clumsily galloped across the road from the South and did a belly flop into the canal. Once across, he continued North and disappeared into the mountain of grass and cattails. Later that day another guide told me the night before the Bear (I assume the same one) actually swam across the river in front of their kayaks as they were paddling through the second tunnel. My guess is the dropping water levels are leaving small pools of fish that make for easy pickings.

The prairies may be bone dry, but the East River still flows. The red tannin water is crystal clear starting a mile from the launch, but it is as salty as the bay. The Osprey are certainly taking advantage of the low, clear water. I spent almost an hour watching a pair hunt and dive to collect their share of the Mayan Cichlid and Mullet that are frantically trying to find cover. It’s amazing how the Osprey hover in mid air waiting for the right time to dive. I’ve heard this referred to as the “Sky Dance”. Once they have their prey lined up, they fold their wings back and drop like a missile into the water. I’ve seen them go completely under water and disappear for a few seconds before emerging with their catch.

River Otter swimming in East River. Photo by Tod Dahlke.

River Otter swimming in East River. Photo by Tod Dahlke.

Another resident of East River that is enjoying the water clarity is the River Otter. Last week I watched 3 of them dip and dive around our kayaks, only coming up long enough to sneak a peek at the humans spying on them. Their curious behavior is a welcome sight here on the river.

Our daily rains will be here soon and the influx of fresh water will change this delicate ecosystem yet again. Many more discoveries are forthcoming. I’ll see you on the river!