Monday, December 10, 2012

Swamped! Santa Fe Swamp WEA

The 2012-2013 hunting season saw a significant increase in acreage for Santa Fe Swamp Wildlife and Environmental Area.  Santa Fe Swamp WEA is a dedicated primitive weapons area, starting with archery season in sept/oct then a short early muzzleloader season in October.  For almost all of November and December the area is open for archery or muzzleloader. 

Santa Fe Swamp is a challenging area.  Except for a small portion along it's far eastern boundary, no roads traverse it.  In a wet year, most of it is under water.  Widespread peaty soil makes walking treacherous.  Because of raging wildfires in previous years many of the standing trees are dead snags, pretty unsafe for a tree stand.  I'd only hunted it once before, and that afternoon essentially amounted to hiking the eastern roads with a gun at the ready.  I did have a chance to take a shot at a rabbit, but it would have meant shooting towards the nearby parking area so I passed it up. 

The new addition is to the west of the main parcel, connected to it by a ribbon of land that includes the headwaters of the Santa Fe River.  I'd heard it was largely under water early in the season but it had recently dried up some.  This past Saturday I went over to conduct what would amount to a mid-season scouting trip, but since the season was open I brought my gun just on the slim chance I got lucky and ran across a legal buck. 

Two new parking areas, one on either side of SR 325, were created to grant access to the new parcels.  I started with the western parking area, which was empty of vehicles.  Brush-hogged trails lead away from the truck to the west, branching around either side of a large basin swamp.  I chose the right hand trail, but it quickly became submerged so I attempted to follow game trails around the water.  It wasn't long before these became thicker than I cared to fight with so I backtracked and started down the left hand trail.
Dark and dreary afternoon in the swamp.
The left trail followed a marshy logging road for a short distance, running near the property boundary where "No Trespassing" signs were plentiful.  The road petered off into a game trail that passes through some drier areas with a few oaks, not bad deer habitat.  I was attempting to use my iPhone with Google Maps to make sure I stayed on the correct side of the property boundary.  This got a bit confusing at one point, with my phone saying one thing and the physical signs saying another.  

Clouds starting to break up over the Loblolly Pines and Loblolly Bays
I eventually made it mostly around the basin swamp, and came to a dense forest of loblolly pine and loblolly bays (btw, I think Gordonia is just fun to say).  I'm sure this forest is periodically flooded.  I had planned at that point to pick a place to hide and wait until sunset, but suddenly the mosquitoes, which had not been too bad, became a swarm.  I was without the ThermaCell.  After a moment of soul-searching I decided to just head back and briefly check out the other side of the road.

Saltbush releasing seed.
The other parking area was also empty.  Its next to a man-made pond that has a few date palms and the stumps of dense clumps of bamboo.  I guess it was at some point intended to be a home site to have been landscaped so. 
The dug pond, it was teaming with frogs and such.
The sun was about to dip below the tree line so I just headed off to the north with the idea of actually seeing the channel of the Santa Fe River, if it existed at this point.  I ended up climbing over downed and half-rotten cypress trees tossed like pick-up sticks before realizing this would be a shitty place to sprain an ankle and headed back to the truck.  I never found  a channel.

Somewhere near the channel, if there is one.
All in all it was much more of a bushwack hike than a hunting trip, but as I said this outing was more for exploring and scouting anyhow.  I only covered a very small portion of the addition, I want to go back on a colder day (if it ever gets cold) and try to push farther.  It should be drier in a couple of months also, by Spring turkey season more areas should be accessible without wading.

Adios, Santa Fe Swamp!  Hopefully we'll have some good days together in the future.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

December Morning on the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail

This post isn't related to hunting or cooking, but it is about a nice way to spend a morning. 

The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is a prime example of the recreational amenities we have here in Alachua County.  The trail mostly follows the path of an old railroad that connected downtown Gainesville to the town of Hawthorne.   Several years ago the pathway was paved and is now utilized by a parade of bikers, skaters, runners and even horseback riders.  I do not personally frequent it much, being a solitary sort who enjoys unpaved trails where the chances of seeing other humans is slight.  However, a good friend of mine recently acquired a nice hybrid bike and I figured he needed to see the trial, which is definitely pretty beautiful.  I do have a decent bike, even though I don't use it that much, so I pulled it out and pumped up the tires for a Saturday jaunt.

Around 10:30 we pulled up in his Jeep at the Boulware Springs trailhead.  The spring, while not much in comparison to some of the other great springs in this state, was once vital to Gainesville since it supplied all the drinking water to the downtown area and the University of Florida.  In fact the story is that UF decided to settle in Gainesville after being promised free water into perpetuity from this reliable source.

Luckily we waited as late as we did for the morning to warm up because it turned out a half-marathon was wrapping up as we arrived.  Only a few stragglers were left on the trail, so that worked out pretty well.  We weren't planning to make it all the way to Hawthorne but our turn-around point was open-ended.  We took detours and biked on the spur trails out to Sweetwater and Prairie Lake overlooks, and took a short walk out on the Prairie Creek boardwalk, were we decided to turn back. 

Prairie Lake overlook.  Not much lake right now.
On the return trip we walked out as far as the end of the boardwalk at Alachua Sink where the usual gators and water birds were engaged in their iconic dealings. 

Unconcerned archosaurs, both crocodilian and avian.
We made it about 13 miles, which is nothing for a real road biker but not too bad for two guys who haven't even really been on a bike in ages.  My legs aren't sore but my butt cheeks are, bike saddles are difficult to adjust to for an ass that's used to being perched in a padded office chair all day.

That's all for now, hopefully more outdoor adventures to come.