Ichetucknee Springs, Columbia County, February 2017

I was prepared for Ichetucknee Springs to be cool, but it was much, much better than I anticipated.  Ichetucknee Springs is embedded in a heavily agricultural area northwest of Gainesville and it is heavily used by tubers in summer, but it appeared to be the most pristine of the springs that I have visited so far.

ichetucknee aerial

Google Earth image of Ichetucknee Springs, which starts at the north end of the squiggly green line of the aerial photo, rather than at the marker, and ends at the Santa Fe River.

The spring system starts as a moderate-sized boil that discharges approximately 50 cfs.  This discharge is about 1/3 of the long-term average of my home spring, Volusia Blue.

boil

The Ichetucknee Springs boil at sunset.

As the water leaves the headspring, the run is constrained into a relatively narrow, sandy, eelgrass-dominated waterway that expands as several other springs contribute flow.

run from boil

The run as it leaves the boil.  The bottom is covered, to a large degree, in eelgrass.  The green of the vegetation along the bank was a stark, and lovely, contrast to the winter’s leafless brown trees in the background.

However, as the run travels south, several other springs add flow, and from what I’ve been told, nutrients.  Blue Hole, which is a fairly short walk (down a boardwalk) or paddle downstream, contributes another 100 cfs to the flow.  Mission Spring, Devil’s Eye, and perhaps other springs also add flow until the discharge downstream is over 300 cfs.

run midway

The run just before Blue Hole adds its flow.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0341.

Blue Hole at dusk.

mission spring

Mission Spring.  The short run for this spring supported a lot of algae, so it may a fair load of add nutrients as well.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0028.

Devil’s Eye on the Ichetucknee (names for springs with devil or devil’s eye seem popular).

run midway2

The much broader run after the other springs add their flow to the flow from the headspring.

I was surprised at the change in the tree cover downstream.  Upstream the banks of the run were dominated by broadleaf trees (like oaks), but as I moved downstream, closer to the takeout point for the tubers, the forest along the bank changed to a cypress hall with an occasional red maple mixed in.

run downstream

Cypress trees with a band of green grass at the water’s edge.

red maple

A red maple covered with its red seeds.

One of the interesting things about this spring, besides its beauty, is that it supports a remarkable diversity of fish.  I was unable to use my kayak in the headspring, but while swimming, I observed 11 different species of fish, which is more than I have observed at any one location in any of the other springs that I have visited so far.  I calculated the average number of fish species caught in my stationary videos for each spring and Ichetucknee also wins in that metric (6.9 species for Ichetucknee vs. 4.4 for Rainbow).  Thinking about the abundant and diverse fish, I looked up the water quality.  The nitrate concentration of Ichetucknee’s headspring is approximately 800 microg/L, which places the spring firmly in the mesotrophic category (means moderate nutrients).  The concentration for Blue Hole is slightly higher, but similar (825 microg/L).  This concentration is comparable to the values for Volusia Blue Spring, but the vegetation and fish diversity were really different at Ichetucknee.  Undoubtedly due to a large part to the abundant eelgrass, the dissolved oxygen concentrations were a bit higher at Ichetucknee (~2 at the headspring), although nowhere near Rainbow Springs (~7 at its headspring).  Conductivity, which is a measure of salts in the water, was fairly low (~300 micromhos cm-1).

I was really impressed by the number of large, healthy-looking bass in this spring.  Blue Hole, in particular, was loaded with them.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0352.

This photo isn’t great, but those bass in the photo are a small fraction of the total number at Blue Hole.  This photo also gives an idea of why it’s called “Blue Hole”.

The number of lake chubsuckers (Erimyzon sucetta) also was impressive.  About the a third of the larger fish that I observed was a chubsucker.

Lake-chubsucker-specimen

Lake chubsucker.  Apparently, there are either a million in Texas or Texan really like them because almost every photo that I could find was from Texas.  http://www.arkive.org/lake-chubsucker/erimyzon-sucetta/.

chubsucker

The larger fish in this photo is a chubsucker. The smaller is a species of sunfish, but they often are hard to identify from a distance.

I also managed to catch America eels (Anguilla rostrata) and needlefish (Strongylura marina) on video.  I did not even realize that they were in front of me as I was paddling downstream, but the camera caught them.

Eels right under the surface of the water.

Needlefish in a similar position.

There also were many, many bluefish killifish (Lucania goodei), bravely defending their territories.

Bluefin killifish in breeding color (orange and blue fins).

And, of course, there were many turtles as well, some of which were quite large.

turtles2

Turtles (Pseudomys sp.)basking in the sun.

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