Ready for some Florida Adventure?

If you’re looking for fun, adventure and some plain old Florida history, pack the kids up and head down to the Silver River and enjoy Captain Tom’s custom charter cruise, located about 2 hours south of Jacksonville, on highway 40, just east of Ocala.

Captain Tom has been giving pontoon boat tours since 1983 and is one of the oldest operators in Central Florida.

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A nature lover to his core, this environmentalist was a spokesman for The Silver River Society and the Defenders of the Ocklawaha; he has also been published in The Travel Channel and USA Today among other local and national publications.

Last week, I set out with Captain Tom and after a brief introduction from this “child of the 60’s” who proudly talks about attending the infamous Woodstock Festival of Music, Art and Peace gets down to business discussing this beautiful spring fed river and the threats that are changing this treasure.

Meandering up the river to its source at Silver Springs Park, we slowly pass gators and turtles resting in the morning sun, as cormorants, herons and egrets flying up and down the river’s corridor, through moss covered cypress trees.

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After a short while we pull over along the banks of the river, where Captain Tom showed me how he catches fish with his bare hands using just a few bread crumbs. Explaining that the fish are not afraid if one hand is in the water but when he places both hands in the water the fish realize it’s a trap and won’t approach the bait.

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The Silver River was home to many movies and TV series during the 50’s and 60’s, like The Revenge of the Creature of the Black Lagoon, Sea Hunt and to name a few. As we get closer to the head waters we spotted a large submerged sailboat that was used as a prop, eerily resting on the sandy bottom.

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The highlight of any trip along this river is the chance encounter with wild rhesus monkeys that gathers along the river. Cruising up the river, we could hear them barking and howling in the distance, but it wasn’t until our return trip that we saw a dozen or so adults and pint size babies running up and down the river’s bank. Mother’s attending to their young while other’s played with each other were images I soon won’t forget.

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Captain Tom can be reached at 352-236-0872 or through his website at www.captaintomscustomcharters.net

No Ospreys, but Plenty of Wildlife at UNF Habitat

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A university campus is not where I would normally look to photography wildlife in their natural habitat but the University of North Florida boasts one of the most comprehensive ecosystems in our area.

I spent a couple of hours hiking the five well-marked trails in this 500 acre wilderness area search of fauna and flora and was not disappointed.

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There are several different ecosystems within the sanctuary to explore and all of them all are very easy walk. The Gopher Tortoise Ridge trail is an upland ecosystem featuring turkey-oaks that can be identified by their leaves that are shaped like turkey toes.

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One of my favorite trails is actually the Red Maple Boardwalk that winds along a freshwater swamp and boarders Lake Oneida and that’s where I encountered a small raccoon staring at me from a tree just a few feet away. Its many interpretive signs help you identify different trees and plants.

Pondering the tranquil reflections of the wooden bridge that connects to Native Heart Island, it’s easy to believe that you’ve definitely entered a world of higher learning.

Porpoise Point Prime Real Estate for Dolphins

A dolphin cruises up to our boat, checking us out.

A dolphin cruises up to our boat, checking us out.

While searching for different ways to observe our local wildlife, I happened upon a small eco dolphin-safari tour in St. Augustine offered by Jax Water Tours.

I always enjoy a good eco-tour, so the combination of dolphins and boating sounded pretty good so I thought why not give this a try?

As our pontoon boat tour started, the owner, Captain Brooks Mitchell, told us that we should have good luck spotting dolphins today.

 With the theme-song from Gilligan’s Island playing in the background, we head out to Porpoise Point where the Captain started explaining how dolphins use the strong inlet currents in their favor for catching fish.

From a distance we observe dolphins jumping and splashing wildly, catching fish while others swam closer to the boat as if to take a peek at us with their awesome smiles.

Later in the tour, the Captain told us that dolphins don’t sleeps like we do. They actually sleep by shutting shut down half of their brain, only using enough alertness  for a couple of hours at a time, then switch to the other half of the brain if more rest is needed.

Our tour boat.

Our tour boat.

The tour lasted a little over 90 minutes and was very informative and the best part is that we came away with a little more knowledge about dolphins.

For more information about this tour, visit http://www.jaxwatertours.com