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Making Music; Giddyup Coach! Riding on a Rainbow; Wildlife But No Tubers

On Sunday, Suzanne and Christine Smith got together to make some beautiful music. Christine is the director of The Villages Flute Choir, and a former university flute professor. In this session, Suzanne was playing the bass flute and Christine the piccolo.It was an unusual combination, the haunting melodies of the very large bass flute complimenting the high notes of the tiny piccolo. They plan to play a special duet at the flute choir’s Spring concert in April.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we took a short vacation. Not to Paris (it’s cold and wet there); not to Sochi (not only is Putin a bum, but Sochi is actually warmer than Orlando… and the IOC selected it for the Winter Olympics for why?); not to Minot (but why not?). Instead, we drove our coach on a two day trip to Dunnellon for a ride on a Rainbow (you might think that this is beginning to sound like Ireland, but you’d be off by several thousand miles). Actually, Dunnellon (pop. 1,951) is all the way on the other side of Ocala, in scenic Marion County, Florida. Why, you may ask, did we pack up and go camping (okay, that may be a stretch, too) for just two days? Well, first, we had never been to Dunnellon, second, a nice state park campground was located there; and third, we had never kayaked the Rainbow River.

After setting up our camp at Rainbow Springs State Park, we drove down to the river and got our kayaks ready to launch. There was a couple already swimming in the river; Rainbow Springs (formerly known as Blue Spring) was only a mile or so upstream from our campground; it is a first magnitude spring, and the fourth largest spring (in volume) in Florida, pumping out 490 million gallons of water a day.

Up until 1970, there were mermaid shows here. You can see an optimistic scuba diver trying to put the moves on this lovely creature, but mixed marriages of this sort rarely worked out.This could be why for every 100 females over the age of 18 in Dunnellon, there are only 76 males…

Fortunately, I’ve had better luck with my mermaid. Here she is paddling her red (what other color would you expect from Corvette Chick?) kayak on an undeveloped stretch of the Rainbow River.Our fiberglass kayaks are fast and very stable, having a much lower center of gravity than a canoe, for example.

The Rainbow is crystal clear; you can see the mixed sand and grass bottom clearly, and the water is between five and ten feet deep in this spot.You can make out many limestone rock formations on the bottom; the springs typically flow out of aquifers resident in the limestone substrata.

There was a plethora of wildlife here on the river; turtles, a bald eagle, kingfishers, anhinga, great blue heron and white ibis were the most conspicuous. These four painted turtles (Chrysemas picta) are warming themselves in the 75 degree sunshine.When preparing to dig a hole for laying her eggs, the female of this species displays a unique behavior that is not completely understood; she presses her neck against the ground at several potential nest sites, perhaps sensing soil temperature, moisture, texture or smell. She may lay up to five clutches of eggs per year, but two is more common.

This expert swimmer, an anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), is spreading his wings to dry its feathers. This is necessary because their uropygial glands do not produce enough oil to waterproof their feathers. This is actually an advantage, because it allows them to swim underwater very quickly to catch fish and frogs. They are also called snakebirds because being barely buoyant, they swim on the surface of the water with only their slender necks showing.

These American white ibis (Eudocimus albus) were having a confab in this tree. Ibis associate in huge colonies; the St. Johns River is also a favorite breeding location. During both mating and incubation periods, the males aggressively defend their nests and actually undergo a period of near starvation to insure the survival of the females and their eggs. Quite noble, I’d say!

While on the Rainbow, we met a couple from northern Georgia in a tandem (two seat) kayak. They were very happy to be here in Florida and not near Springer Mountain north of Atlanta today. The coldest winter in memory, at least for most of the country, has been quite bearable here. We only expect low temperatures around 38-45F over the next few days, with highs from 55-71F.

One of the most common species of wildlife encountered on the Rainbow River and other spring-fed streams was absent for both our paddling trips. Tuber obnoxious (male) is generally found here on weekends, usually in large affiliated groups making lots of noise and consuming large quantities of malt beverages.  I was hoping to get some photos of the female of the species (Tuber toplessia) but was very disappointed by their absence; after all, the local college was in session. Darn!

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