Sunday, December 23, 2012

Florida: Ozello with Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company

    When we decided to drive north to Crystal River, my first thought was, this time we're going to have a real adventure, this time we'll call ahead to Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company to arrange a tour.

  What I like about Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company are the quality of boats they offer and the respect they have for wildlife.  Check out their policy on manatees.  What makes things hard is they are closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

  So, it was Wednesday morning when we met with Matt to drive to Ozello.  Ozello is an unincorporated town on the gulf coast.  We'd be exploring a shallow bay and various mangrove islands.  Much of the land, and many of the islands are a part of the Crystal River State Park Preserve.

   The road to Ozello is a small and twisty offering occasional glimpses of water.  Single ornaments were hung on various trees along the route, as if a seasonal Hansel and Gretel had marked the trail to safely return home.  More impressive, if less seasonal, was the presence of Roseate Spoonbills in one of the marshes. 

   Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company has a variety of kayaks for rent, we  requested touring boats.  I had an Eddyline Fathom, Matt the Eddyline Raven and Mark the Eddyline Nighthawk.  Paddles were a choice of Bending Branches or H2O's.  Mark used his Northern Light Paddle.

  We were exploring in the last hour of an ebbing tide, and I was worried that might mean we'd be slogging through shallow water.  And if we were there on our own,  we'd have grounded out a lot.  But Matt knows those waters and was easily able to pick out the deeper channels.  He likes going out at low tide because it concentrates the larger animals to the deep channels and makes sightings more likely.  It also gives us a better shot of seeing turtles, seastars and other undersea life.
  Unfortunately the skies were gray so undersea viewing was limited.  On the plus side, skies were gray and the day was cool, making it ideal for paddling a swift kayak.

   We had just a spot of sunlight, which allowed me to see this orange sponge amidst the Sargasso seaweed, but not to get a great shot.

   We were hanging around Bird Key when Matt spotted a distant flash he identified as dolphin.  A half mile later we came upon a dolphin fishing in the shallows.  Dolphins use various techniques to fish, the methods change by region.  Matt was planning a trip to see where dolphins threw themselves on land to catch fish.  In the Crystal River area dolphins often herd fish into dead ends or use tail strikes to stun fish.  Initially he thought that's what this dolphin was doing, but on closer observation, and spotting the pectoral fins, he thought perhaps the dolphin was just swimming sideways and using its tail to drive it into the seagrass to catch fish hiding there.
Dolphin with blowhole surfacing

   We observed the dolphin for awhile, at one point the dolphin surfaced and eyed the kayaks, before moving a short distance away to continue eating.
I like the juxtaposition of the dolphin against the distant power plant
   From the dolphin we moved just a short distance before spotting dark lumps on the surface.  At first we thought it was a manatee.  Turns out it is was several, all hanging out together.  This would have been a great time for the sun to magically appear, but apparently that's beyond Matt's powers.  And I see now, that after taking hundreds of pictures of one dolphin, we apparently took none of a herd of manatees.  But they were there and their moist exhalings are etched in my memory.
Dolphin again, this time the pectoral fin
  Matt has lived in Florida for most of his life.  When he first came to Ozello, the islands were grass covered.  Over time red, then black, mangroves have overgrown the islands.  As with much of Florida, the islands were originally slated for development, fortunately the State of Florida was able to acquire them.  Now, Matt is seeing the water level in the bay rise and pointed out Palm Trees which were dying as a result.  Because Matt has been in the area decades, there's a special depth that comes through all his talk, and that was clearly evident that morning.  For more about Matt and Susan Clemons, co-owners of Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company check here
Matt talking about an island
   I enjoyed the Fathom, I found it fast and comfortable to sit in for a couple hours.  I can't say I really tested it though.  (I think partially because I am still in winter kayaking mode, where I don't lean or edge very much.)  Mark, on the other hand leaned the Nighthawk quite a bit.  he was pleased with the stability and ride, but wishes he also took a try with one of the other kayaks.  We meant to do that, but as we got out paddling, just forgot and had fun.
A tiny seastar
  Other wildlife sightings were lots of white and brown pelicans, terns, cormorants and other birds.  The coolest thing we saw was a red-tailed hawk attacking a royal tern.  The tern was casually flying along when the hawk sped out of a nearby island to strike it, just a few feet in front of us.  A second or two later the hawk realized it had over-estimated its skills; the tern fell to the water and took off, complaining bitterly, but seemingly unharmed. 
Just a few pelicans
  All in all it was an awesome tour.  We may not have gotten the best pictures on this tour, but we did have our best sightings and memories. We look forward to getting out with Matt or Susan again.
We launched from the white spot, the area is a maze of islands.


  1. Sounds like a good tour. I may have to look into it if I go back to Florida next year.

    1. It was a fun tour, hope you get a chance to enjoy it!

  2. This locale is now on my list in the event I ever get down that way.

    1. It's hard to resist the siren call of warmth...Hope you get a chance to go there.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I also like travel and very much love kayaking. I kike key west because its full of nature.