We have lots of water at our farm in terms of springs, small streams and ponds but I enjoy going to New River to put in a canoe.
I was first introduced to the beauties of the river while accompanying my son on his open water training swims. Swimming in such a place may not appeal to everyone, but it offers a challenging way to exercise without the boundaries of a pool.
The river is a really interesting place for a naturalist with different habitats and species not found elsewhere.
Painted turtle basking on exposed log to raise its body temperature.
For example yellow-throated warblers and Fowler's toads breed there, neither of which are found at our Galax, Va., farm.
The river is reputed to be the second-oldest on the planet after the Nile and flows west to the Mississippi drainage. It is scenic with high cliffs on the eastern side, perhaps associated with the Fries fault, and a complex geology including extinct volcanoes and a tectonic collision between Africa and North America about 250 million years ago.
There is the main river proper, which has been impounded in one area by the Byllesby Dam, and flood plain marshes and lagoons on the edges are centers of activity for many animals.
William Dunson, Ph.d., professor emeritus of biology at Penn State University, splits time between Southwest Florida and his farm in Galax, Va. He can be reached at email@example.com.
I noticed a beautiful swamp milkweed in bloom as well as numbers of monkey flowers, some of which were being visited by skipper butterflies.
Some red-spotted purple butterflies had a different culinary interest in a patch of heron poop with whitish uric acid. They were avidly sipping up remnants of the bird feces in behavior called puddling that is believed to be motivated by the desire to obtain the sodium and amino acids lacking in a plant-based diet. These "black and blue" butterflies are memberz of the mimicry group, including the toxic pipevine swallowtail.
A handsome male widow skimmer dragonfly allowed me to get up close and personal.
Painted turtles were basking on many exposed logs to raise their body temperatures.
A great blue heron, wood ducks and a green heron were feeding in shallow water.
I highly recommend purchasing a small, light canoe or kayak and launching it in Coral Creek or around Gasparilla Island to explore the natural wonders found there. It offers a window into a myriad of natural wonders not to be experienced elsewhere.