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Toho not Soho, and it's best to visit Lake Tohopekaliga in a boat

© by Mike Keenan
 

This morning, we board Captain Rick Brothers' pontoon boat for a 1.5 hr. eco-adventure on Lake Tohopekaliga, aka Toho, so named by Native Americans, the appellation meaning "fort site." Rick is brim-full of local knowledge and lessons begin as we leave the dock. He points out the harbour wall with small pinkish attachments called apple snails. The only predator that eats them is the Snail Kite with its long beak, but the kite is declining as air boats rapidly destroy its habitat. Rick is not pleased with air boats (four of them now) that "illegally" work this lake, and in fact, we spot two moored rather clumsily beside park land as opposed to the docks. A classic money versus environment showdown; Rick thinks that officials need to speed matters up and enforce the law. He has been operating here for seven years and hopes eventually kayaks will replace the air boats.
     The Lake is massive, covering 22,700 acres (91.86 km2), and it spans 42 miles (68 km) in circumference, the largest lake in Osceola County.
     I bring my Nikon 70-200mm zoom lens but note a gentleman exiting the boat before us, toting a Canon 500mm lens, making mine look puny. For guys it's always about size. I make a mental note to purchase a tele-converter which will push my unit up to 500mm. Soon, I jettison lens-envy and am delighted to photograph an eagle as we set out. This promises to be a great trip.
 
 
Lake Tohopekaliga

map of area
 




     The lake is actually inspected by the Coast Guard because it's part of the Kissimmee chain that carries craft all the way to the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. The incredibly shallow water at seven feet depth is well suited for bass fishing, one of the top five lakes in Florida, we quickly learn by encountering bass boats everywhere. March is bass season and Rick reports that a young girl caught a large 9-pounder off his pontoon boat last week. A boat speeds by us to some secret destination, either in a big hurry to cast or avoid the tax man or perhaps their skiff is actually on fire. It's hot enough today in the upper 80's.
     We visit Shingle Creek, so named because settlers erroneously concluded that the Cypress tree would make terrific roofing. Spanish Moss dangles from deciduous trees, not a pest but a flowering plant, says Rick. We hunt for the Mexican Hawk or Kara Kara which we learn is so aggressive that it will fearlessly tackle an eagle to try to steal a captured fish. That's belligerent given the eagle's talons and razor-sharp beak. The eagle in turn, will try to surprise osprey carrying their prey, seemingly a schoolyard pecking order for birds. Unfortunately, on Shingle Creek, we are shut out of viewing both kara kara and owls that Rick had spotted earlier. However, near Makinson Island, we discover the Glossy Ibis with its dramatic purplish-black colour.

Bass Fishing  Black Ibis  Captain Rick  Cormorant  Cormorant Sunning  Eagle

     After an informative history lesson, we visit a busy rookery located incongruously on an island directly across from an upscale housing development so lavish it must entail CEO-type dollars. The rookery is replete with egrets and osprey and we watch a mother egret stand guard over two precious eggs. The rookery is a feathered sea of white that permeates and flows through the muted greens of vine and shrub and tree, ospreys perched up top in the best seats.
     Heading back, Rick accelerates and we savour a fresh breeze. Three ladies who are booked after us, ask excitedly if we saw alligators. We thrill them with news that indeed, we encountered a mother gator and her baby. Probably for the delight of alligator aficionados, Rick also employs a token plastic gator on board as a decoration. There are 500 real gators living in this lake. They grow up to 8 feet and then are relocated. I don't ask how. I suspect - carefully.
     The excursion ends too soon as always when fully engaged, but I'm pleased that I have successfully photographed many birds and learned about their habitat on this lovely lake.

Eagle In Flight  Egret Babies  Egret In Flight Egret  Limkin Nesting  Shingle Creek  Upscale Home Opposite Rookery

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

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Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Tohopekaliga
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Kissimmee
About.com: http://fishing.about.com/library/weekly/news/blnews021031cenfla.htm
Churches & Synagogues: http://fl.allpages.com/kissimmee/community-services/religious-organizations/
Fiction: http://www.linkedin.com/directory/sp/s/writers-kissimmee.html
Captain Rick: http://www.kissoutdooradventures.com/
Visit Kissimmee: http://www.visitkissimmee.com/leisure/
i.seeKissimmee: http://i.seekissimmee.com/

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Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
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Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
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