Kayaking Adventures at Fort DeSoto (Day 2)

Day 2 of our kayaking adventures took us to Fort DeSoto – a 1,136 acre nature preserve on the southern tip of St. Petersburg. Mullet Key is the big island of the park and it’s shaped like a “V” – the eastern part dips into Tampa Bay while the western part of the park is in the Gulf of Mexico.

desoto_map

I had read that Fort Desoto is great for kayaking and birding. There’s a canoe trail that’s just about 2.5 miles long or for the really ambitious paddlers (and something that’s on my kayaking bucket list), the trail around the perimeter of the island is 10 miles. We launched our kayaks at the apex and paddled due north on our way to North Beach.

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Mangroves lined the waterways

It was a beautiful day for kayaking! I like to hit the water early so as to avoid as many other people as possible. For most of the day, we were the only kayakers paddling Mullet Key Bayou.

This park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail

This park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. This pelican was sitting at the very top of a mangrove tree, soaking in the sun.

This trail was different than the day before at Weedon Island, in that the waterways were much wider here and there were fewer mangrove tunnels. But there was definitely more active wildlife at this park!

The one mangrove tunnel we found - full of crabs and oysters

The one mangrove tunnel we found – full of crabs and oysters

Mangroves

Mangroves

We had quite a ways to go to get from the launch to the top of Mullet Key and eventually to North Beach. We’d paddle for a while, rest in the sun, talk, eat lunch…. one time we were resting and we started to drift closer to shore. I noticed we were approaching what looked like a random patch of sea grass…until the “sea grass” started moving! The waves pushed us within 5 feet of the “sea grass” until we saw a big snout come up to the surface – it was a manatee! The manatee looked like it was larger than our kayaks but before we could whip out our cameras to snap a picture, it meandered away from us. Because manatees are a protected species under Florida law, it’s illegal to chase them and/or approach them unless they come to you. As painful as it was for us to let it swim away without a picture, we bid the beast adieu and went in search of more excitement.

Perfect weather

Perfect weather

We paddled up to the top of the key and as soon as we rounded the tip from mangrove waterway to open water, the wind picked up. We didn’t have to battle whitecaps but there was enough of a breeze and current that made for a long trek to North Beach. By the time we beached our kayaks on the sand, our arms felt like Jell-O.

The open water was a bit rough because of the light wind but the breeze was nice

The open water was a bit rough because of the light wind but the breeze was nice

The tip of Ft. DeSoto is an island (at high tide) but we must have timed it perfectly because we ditched our kayaks and walked around the island looking for shells. It was nice to stretch our legs for a while and explore in the sand during low tide.

In 2005, Fort DeSoto was named America's Best Beach!

In 2005, Fort DeSoto was named America’s Best Beach!

Looking for shells

Looking for shells

A freshly dead horseshoe crab we dragged onto the beach  - about the size of a dinner plate.

A freshly dead horseshoe crab we dragged onto the beach for a picture – about the size of a dinner plate.

Once we got back to our kayaks, we jumped back in the water and headed across the channel to Shell Key.

The southern tip of Shell Key is just a few hundred feet north of the tip of Ft. DeSoto, so it's easy to access by boat.

The southern tip of Shell Key is just a hundred feet or so north of the tip of Ft. DeSoto, so it’s easy to access by boat.

Once parked on Shell Key, we scoured the untouched beaches for more shells. The shells here were smaller than the ones on Ft. DeSoto but we found some very cool calcified coral tubes.

Both Fort DeSoto and Shell Key are great for shelling

Both Fort DeSoto and Shell Key are great for shelling

Sep and me on Shell Key - the water was really that blue!

Sep and me on Shell Key – the water was really that blue!

We walked the beach for a while and on our way back to our kayaks, I spotted something weird floating in the water. Getting closer for a better look, I realized it was a JELLYFISH!

Taking pictures of the jellyfish!

Taking pictures of the jellyfish!

Neither of us has ever seen a jellyfish in the wild before!

Yes, it IS alive!

Yes, it IS alive!

Once we returned home, we found the jelly online and learned that it was Mushroom Cap Jellyfish and is harmless to humans. I must have taken 50 pictures of this thing – I was just so fascinated by it! Thankfully, as we began our trek back to the launch, the wind died way down. The water was calm, there were no waves and it made for easy paddling on our already sore arms.

Calm water

Calm water

On our way back to the mangroves, we found ourselves in the middle of a bunch of mullet (fish) jumping out of the water! There was so much splashing all around us as they leaped and skipped out of the water.

Resting for a picture

Resting for a picture

I think my tattoo does a pretty good job of representing me.

My tattoo

My tattoo: Adventure

We retraced our waves back through the mangroves and when we came out of the tunnel, we heard weird noises…

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… like water spraying…

Dorsal fin!

Dorsal fin!

It was dolphins! We heard them blowing water as they came up to the surface for air! September and I sat quietly in our kayaks, just floating, so we didn’t disturb them. We think there were 3-4 dolphins in this little cove. I think they could sense our excitement as we quietly took picture after picture of them because the more excited we were, the more they’d swim around our kayaks. One of the dolphins swam right UNDER my kayak and came up on the other side! It flicked its head and swam close enough to my boat that had I not been taking pictures and video, I could have touched it.

I did not zoom in this picture - the dolphin was really that close to me!

I did not zoom in this picture – the dolphin was really that close to me!

The dolphins played around our kayaks for probably 20 minutes. When we were entranced by one, another would pop up right behind us! It was absolutely incredible. People pay for that kind of experience and here we were, having a lovely day kayaking and nature-spotting when a group of wild dolphins thought it’d be fun to play with us. AWESOME!

Bye dolphins!

Bye dolphins!

Sep and I could hardly believe what we had just witnessed. We’re still in disbelief that we happened to be in the right place at the right time. The Florida wildlife continues to amaze us and this was, by far, the best kayaking experience we’ve ever had!

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