Monday, February 02, 2015

Muddle Mucks: Scaup Mud Patrol

The short stretch of State Road 24 between Southern Cross Clam Farm's building and the Number 4 bridge in Cedar Key, causes me to pull over almost every day on the way out of town after work.
Avocets, ibis, spoonbills, ducks, willets, ... so many birds use the roadside marsh.

On this particular day last week, the JEEP was sucked to the side of the road by the sight of Scaup paddling about in pure marsh mud.
Pure Florida marsh mud that is ...

The tide was out, but creeping in, slowly, steadily filling in the lowest places as it did.
While some ducks were in the watery bits, most were mucking about in the puddingesque, gelatinous, goo that is salt marsh mud.

They moved like little ATV's, dabbling and sifting that slippery muck.

What they were sifting from the mud on this winter day is a mystery, but the possibilities are not.
Marsh "mud" is an amorphous glop of clay, silt, detritus, and water.
It literally seethes with life at different times of the year.
There are diatoms coating the surface, a baker's million microorganisms creeping about in it and a host of invertebrates that call it home.
Amphipods, polychaete worms, mud snails, tiny pistol shrimps, and a host of others make their living in that goo.

Although I do not sift marsh mud, I did grow up in it and ... let me tell you, that stuff is alive.

Once, as a teenager in the San Sebastion River in St. Augustine,  I was mucking through some knee deep marsh mud at low tide, when I hit a deep mud hole.
Before that moment, as I slogged through the knee deep mud, I could feel the layer of more solid, sandy mud about 2 feet down.
The stuff above was literally like chocolate pudding, but you only sank as deep as the firmer sandier mud layer ... kind of like slogging through deep snow ... only darker, warmer, wetter, and creepier.
The "bottom" below the ubersoft mud was reassuring and I slogged on.
Suddenly, the next step took me to armpit deep mud with no comforting "terra firma" sand beneath my Keds.

The thing I remember, (besides the scary feeling of no bottom), was the sensation of living things in the mud squirming against me as I did the "quicksand crawlswim" out of that pocket.
It was interesting.

So, I know there are lots of possibilities if you have the right bill and use it to sift marsh mud.

The trails left by the scaup would have probably made me go, "Hmmmmm ... what the heck made that?", had I not witnessed them making them.


If you are a big bad drake, it's important to keep a fierce eye on possible threats like that photographer guy in the red JEEP.

Mud slurping is an equal opportunity event, as this muddy princess demonstrates.

Something about a pretty girl in the mud... the beauty still shines through.


robin andrea said...

It's wonderful seeing your muddy marsh there. It helped answer some of our questions about what leaves those tracks in our muddy marsh here.

Your description of sinking into the muck up to your armpits was viscerally scary. Yikes. I'll have to learn how to do that "quicksand crawlswim" before I venture out to our muddy marsh.

And yes, that muddy princess is a beauty!

Minnie said...

What a deliciously squishy scene.

miz s said...

Primordial mud from whence all life comes! You do have kind of a thang for mud, I've noticed.

Julie Zickefoose said...

From the inimitable Bill Webb, I learned that there is a group devoted to people who dig quicksand scenes, and collect clips of them to watch them. Quicksand was a huge plot device in the 60's and early 70's. Not so popular now. But apparently it has its fanatic adherants. Yes. That was a play on words.
Your entrapment: vividly described. I would hyperventilate and simply die on the spot if I went into armpit-deep marsh mud.
In other news, I love these filthy scaup shots. That little hen! How is she ever going to get that hydrogen sulfide smell out of her gown??

Anonymous said...

Love the muddy gurl!!!

Marilyn Kircus said...

I once got trapped in my canoe when I ran out of water with only a couple of yards of mud between me and land. I sank to my crotch and ended up wiggling along leaning on my paddle to help keep me "afloat". Only took me about an hour to make land. The track I left would have looked pretty scary. And I was scared while making it.

Gayla H. said...

The "Pigpens" of the mud world. Awesome pictures.

R.Powers said...

Thanks for these comments. I think a fear of deep mud is a common thread, both here in the comments and in conversation about this post.

As a kid, it seemed like every Tarzan episode had quicksand in it and some poor extra invariably disappeared into a puddle of what looked like oatmeal.

Rondeau Ric said...

We were there last Friday, now we are home in God's frozen land. Shoveled 2 feet of snow off the sidewalk on Monday.
Cedar Key is a great spot.

Wally Jones said...

Most images we see of Scaup are of large rafts of them in open water or close-ups of the myriad colors resulting from sunlight shining through prisms of water droplets.

Your mud pics are the best I've seen! Let's get real. How can you have fun if you don't get muddy??

I seem to remember donating a tennis shoe or two to the Sucking Mud Gods whilst searching out specks and flounder - but that was another lifetime.

Have a good week.

Jeffrey Bohémier said...

There's no reason to be scared of sinking into or getting stuck in the mud no matter how deep it is. You just need to learn how to work your way out. The thicker the mud, the shallower you'll sink unless you panic. You shouldn't sink more than chest deep, as your body is considerably lighter than mud, making you more boyant than you would be in water. Again, the key is not to panic. Panic causes thrashing about, which can actually cause you to sink deeper than your body's natural buoyancy point. This is because the mud here is so sticky that it creates a seal around you which in turn, creates more suction that you need to break free of. When you thrash about, you tend to shove your feet ever deeper, and each time you do, you sink ever so slightly more. Do it enough times and you can find yourself neck deep around here. Its the suction that holds onto you and doesn't want to let you back up. But if you know how to free yourself, it can easily be done at even this depth without the need for outside assistance. To get yourself free, you just need to lie as best as possible on the surface while slowly working your legs back out. If your wearing boots, it'll be much harder, but still manageable. If your barefoot, it should be a cinch. Boots are harder because the tidal mud we have here is very sticky, so along with your boots your going to be pulling up around 30-50 pounds of mud per leg AND pulling that up against the very suction that entrapped you in the first place.

People actually pay spas so they can take a mud bath. Here you can do it for free. Its certainly plentiful enough, as its up and down the Intercoastal Waterway. I've played in the mud around here numerous times while exploring the waterway's mud flats. I always where boots on such adventures yet have always managed to get myself free no matter how deep I've ended, regardless of whether the mud was thin or thick. Not once have I had even the slightest concern. If you've got old clothes, time, and patience, learning how to escape from our muddy tidal areas can open up entirely new places to explore. Just make sure that you explore the mud flats and/or practice your escape techniques on an outgoing tide. This way you'll have plenty of extra time if needed in order to free yourself before the tide comes back in.