A tidal creek, through salt marsh to hammock on the Gulf of Mexico. The northernmost route on the refuges, Fishbone Creek seems least influenced by the Suwannee river. Technically Suwannee Sound extends northward from the Cedar Keys to Horseshoe Beach. Close to this northern terminus, Fishbone Creek receives relatively little freshwater from the river mouth, nearly 10 miles to the south. Nor has it received much of the sand that over millenia has washed down the Suwannee and created a delta and complexes of nearshore islands closer to the river mouth. Length: It is 3 miles from ramp and observation deck, through salt marsh and open water to a grassy shore of hammock island on the Gulf of Mexico. The paddle can be extended an additional 2.3 miles along the Marsh loop segment (orange dash route). If tides are high, take alternative bay route (yellow dash route). Time: 1.5 hours to paddle out and back (no marsh loop) plus time spent exploring or picnicking. Skill Level: Safe for all levels if wind is less than 5 mph. If stronger winds occur, beginner paddlers should be accompanied by experienced paddler. Basic use of GPS and/or compass is required.Directions to Launch Site: From US 19 in Cross City, take CR 351 south approximately 7.9 miles to the intersection of CR 357 (look for signs to Shired Island). Turn left and go south on CR 357 approximately 8.3 miles to a limerock road on the right, look for a small Fishbone Creek sign on the right. Turn right at Fishbone Creek and follow the limerock road to the observation deck and launch site. CAUTIONS: Watch out for oyster beds and sand bars at low tide. If low water requires portage, exit kayak carefully – the oysters can easily cut through unprotected hands/feet, or even shoes. Marsh Loop: Examination of aerial photos confirms that a northern loop through the salt marsh exists. However, paddling this loop is not recommended to any paddlers without advanced navigational skills and a strong spirit of adventure. Attempts at low or mid-tides will require extensive portage. Only attempt to navigate through the marsh loop at high tide – 3´ or higher!
BIOZONE 1 AND 2. FLORIDA SCRUB The access road crosses a patch of sandy upland dominated by vegetation known simply as “scrub.” Scattered slash pines are outnumbered by stunted-looking oaks, including myrtle oak, sand live oak, and Chapman’s oak. The sandy soil supports occasional southern redcedars, yaupon holly, greenbriers, and prickly pear cactuses. Scrub supports many kinds of wildlife, including songbirds, small mammals, and reptiles. If not too small, patches such as this one might support Florida scrub jays, gopher tortoises, and the mole skink. Ospreys and other birds that feed in the marshes may use the taller trees for nesting. Also, they may be used by birds returning in the spring from cross-Gulf migrations. In Biozone 2 scrub transitions to brackish marsh.
BIOZONE 3. THE TRANSITION A relatively short distance from the launch site the influence of freshwater flowing in from the creek diminishes rapidly. Brackish marsh, indicated by black needlerush transitions abruptly and gives way to the more salt-loving smooth cordgrass.
BIOZONE 4. SALT MARSH AND OYSTER REEFS True salt marsh makes up most of the lower reaches of Fishbone Creek, with extensive oyster reefs on the relatively hard creek bottoms. Birdlife is abundant here, with great and snowy egrets, great blue herons, kingfishers, ospreys, northern harriers, and many kinds of shorebirds seen on the reefs.
BIOZONE 5. THE HAMMOCK At the terminus of the paddle one arrives at an upland surrounded by a narrow fringe of smooth cordgrass. Exposed to the open waters of the Gulf, the hammock is buffeted by wave action and lacks the broad expanses of marsh that fringe islands in more protected locations. It supports cabbage palms, southern redcedars, and also tall oaks and slash pines. These hammocks are substantial. Unlike the thin sandy strands found closer to the mouth of the Suwannee that support only marsh grasses and a few cabbage palms, they support good stands of pines, southern redcedar, oaks, and understory vegetation.
SPYGLASS: FLORIDA SCRUB The largest areas of Florida scrub are in the central peninsula, especially in the Ocala National Forest. Less extensive areas occur along the coast of the Florida panhandle. And small areas of scrub such as this one occur in the Big Bend. These three areas are isolated, and the scrub in the Big Bend region forms a bridge that helps to connect the other two. These are fire-adapted communities, and the oaks are often joined by occasional sand pines or slash pines. The two pines have different strategies for dealing with fire, and the absence of sand pines, together with charring on the trunks of slash pines, suggests that controlled burning may have been employed here to favor the much more commercially valuable slash pines.