We spent our second night at Cul Pepper Bend on the Econlockhatchee River. Twice in the night it rained. Morning clouds on the eastern horizon foiled plans to photograph the sentinel palms along the banks of the river. The fish were not biting, so I opted for a bath instead. Lawrence Dimmitt warned me not to use all the hot water as I tiptoed gingerly in the sandy shallows.
At SR 46 Lawrence and the team parted ways. We continued north to Lake Harney. At the mouth of the river we found a flock of 100 white pelicans, huge white beasts all sitting in silence on a shallow patch of ground near the middle of the channel. This was the third flock of pelicans we’d encountered on the St. Johns. On the second day I was transfixed at the sight of a flock of 150 pelicans soaring on a thermal seemingly thousands of feet in the air. These birds are among the many species that follow the shad that migrate into the upper St. Johns in the winter during the spawn. We paused to photograph the pelicans today, finally having them at close range. After a few minutes they filed into the water and swam away from the harassment.
The wind picked up and a rain shower moved across the west side of the lake. I put on a rain coat to keep the spray from soaking my right side. Eventually we turned and the wind, steadily out of the southeast, blew us across Lake Harney. Carlton and I trolled the middle of the lake with light spinning tackle. He landed his first fish of the expedition, a small gar that took his plastic shrimp imitation.
Elam powered along ahead of us as we left Lake Harney and re-entered the St. Johns. I grew lazy with the wind and current helping me along. I fished half-heartedly among a few dock pilings, catching a small bass every mile or so. We passed the mouth of Deep Creek, lined on either side by cypress trees, new needles shining, almost neon green in the afternoon sun. Massive live oak limbs hung out into the river, and palm hammocks lined either bank, slender gray trunks twisting toward the sky. Carlton marveled at the relative wildness of the St. Johns.
We let the wind take us on past the mouth of Deep Creek to a fish camp owned by Carlton’s cousin, Courtney Ward. By the end of the day we’d covered nearly 15 miles. Even downwind, when we arrived we were exhausted.
Tomorrow we will paddle Deep Creek. We are in Volusia County now, a jurisdiction that is among the most progressive counties in the country in terms of corridor issues. The Volusia Conservation Corridor is an example of locally-focused policies that can build large networks, such as the Florida Ecological Greenway Network. And protection of a sufficiently wide and connected Volusia Conservation Corridor that is effectively buffered from encroaching development and enhanced by building road crossing structures for wildlife including the Florida black bear, is essential for protection of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
The next few days will include properties that have been the focus of efforts by Volusia County policy makers and conservationists for three decades. Volusia County includes several critical bottlenecks in habitat for wide-ranging species. A male panther was documented near the upstream end of Lake Harney within the past year and the local Florida black bear population may be increasing in size and providing additional opportunities to connect to other bear populations further south. Gathering the knowledge of the planners and policy makers who worked to secure these corridor opportunity areas will make for interesting discussion over the next week. There is much to learn for all of us here.