Thursday, December 27, 2012

Birding By Boat: Getting a Different Angle on a Favorite Pastime

All the excitement this month over the unexpected (and “unprecedented,” as noted by “On the Trail” blogger Cameron Cox) influx of Razorbills along Florida’s coastline has me thinking about the advantages of birding by boat. Alas, I do not have ready access to an ocean-worthy vessel and will have to try my luck from shore. There are other options for birding by boat, however, even if they won’t include any glimpses of the misplaced alcids.

Take, for instance, Riverbend Park in Jupiter, which covers 680 acres of land with five miles of waterway. The park is “connected” to Jonathan Dickinson State Park by the Loxahatchee River, most of which is slow moving and easily navigated by kayak or canoe. The park has a canoe launch as well as an on-site concessioner, Canoe Outfitters of Florida, where one- and two-person kayaks and canoes are available for rent.

The park provides a variety of water-based adventure. When leaving from the concessioner’s launch, hang a right and you’ll paddle under Indiantown Road and into a lush canopy filled with switchbacks, dead-ends, and knobby Cypress knees. The first time I rented from Canoe Outfitters, I asked the gentleman tending the register about the route. He gestured to an ethereal black-and-white print by famed Florida nature photographer Clyde Butcher that was hanging on the wall: “It looks like that.”

The Cypress canopy is even more hypnotic in person. It’s not unusual to hear the high-pitched cry of an Osprey overhead or the guttural chattering of a Wood Stork as you navigate the twists and turns of the river. This is a very popular weekend spot, so serious birders and nature lovers should stick to weekdays or early morning paddles to avoid human activity. 

When first paddling into the major “run,” you’ll pass a sign that lists the myriad dangers of swimming in the tea colored water. If the occasionally acrid smell doesn’t put you off taking a dip, the promise of large reptilian life should do the trick. Keep cameras handy in an easily accessed waterproof container because the park is rife with opportunities to spot and photograph American Alligators, plus Florida Redbelly Turtles, and plenty of bird life, including warblers, hawks, and waders.

My most recent kayaking adventure in Riverbend was with a group of friends who get together once a month or so for nature hikes. Our voyage took us a different direction than I typically explore. Instead of turning right and following the heavily trafficked route, we took a left out of the Canoe Outfitters launch and spent hours navigating the southern lakes and sloughs of the park. The relative quiet gave us amble opportunity to “sneak” up on birds and watch them from a different perspective than usual. Birds that normally bolt at the sound of human footsteps seem less perturbed when a kayak floats smoothly by. A pair of Kingfishers hunted a few dozen yards away, seemingly unfazed, as a collection of herons, cranes, and ducks took turns crossing our paths. 

If you’re heading out over the holiday break for a ride, when packing the dry bag and required Coast Guard safety equipment, don’t forget the binoculars; you might be pleasantly surprised by how much more you can see from the seat of a kayak.

Text and Photos by Tricia Woolfenden



  1. I watched a Limpkin foraging in the water from less than 5 feet away in Riverbend. What a cool experience!

  2. It was an enlightening and fun trip for a novice like me.