The third day of our time in Florida was the best day of all ~ we drove early just a bit south
to visit the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.
We first had to take a 20-minute pontoon ride through the early Florida morning to reach the wildlife.
Our guide said we were gliding through “what Florida used to look like”.
The park is not exactly a zoo, as many of the birds can come and go as they please;
it is more like a controlled refuge, we were told, because
much of the wildlife living there can no longer survive in the wild, due to injury, etc.
It was so still and peaceful ~ we were the first on the river that morning.
The mirror-like surface of the water was so glassy and smooth,
it was sometimes a bit difficult to see where the trees stopped and the reflections began.
~ wood duck nest ~
~ wood duck ~
~ double-crested cormorant ~
When we first reached the wildlife habitat, the first thing I noticed were the great blue heron rookeries above our heads.
~ anhinga ~
All the wildlife in the park is native to Florida ~ except Lu(cifer), the hippo;
he was “grandfathered in” by popular demand
after the former collection of animals at this location was dispersed.
Lu was legally declared a “Florida resident” so he could stay ~
Lots of black vultures were hanging around Lu most of the time.
Seriously? No swimming?!!
~ white ibis (above pic is a juvenile) ~
~ black swan ~
~ bobcat ~
~ wood stork ~
~ American flamingos ~
~ white pelicans ~
We learned the bumps only appear on their beaks during breeding season.
~ brown pelicans ~
~ wood duck, black-bellied whistling duck, mallard ~
The wood duck was so difficult to photograph against the multi-colored water.
~ great blue herons ~
~ great egret ~
~ yellow-crowned night heron ~
This heron and the following birds were in a large outdoor aviary.
~ a yellow-crowned night heron rearranging its eggs~
I caught this shot just after the heron lit onto the nest.
~ roseate spoonbill ~
I thought it was funny that it posed atop its nameplate for me.
~ little blue heron and green herons ~
~ black-necked stilt ~
I don’t understand why they didn’t name it a red-legged stilt ~
~ osprey ~
~ juvenile black-crowned night heron ~
(top) barred owls; (center) great-horned owl ; (bottom) barn owls
One of the barred owls winked at me ~
~ red-tailed hawk ~
~ crested caracaras ~
~ bald eagles ~
Three of these are at the refuge ~ all have broken wings from being hit by cars or being shot ~
~ whooping cranes ~
It was the first time we had ever seen these beautiful birds.
~ royal tern ~
~ river otters ~
~ gray fox ~
~ red wolf ~
The biggest attraction at the park are the manatees which are drawn to the refuge in the winter
by the huge, natural spring which shoots 2-3 million gallons of freshwater into the river,
every hour of every day, keeping it at a year-round temperature of 72º.
Many manatees are sheltered there year-round because, for various reasons, they are no longer able to survive in the wild
We saw dozens of these beautiful, air-breathing creatures;
they surfaced every 3-5 minutes for air, except when sleeping ~ they then only breathe about every 20 minutes.
After leaving the refuge, we drove to a condominium complex called “Plantation” and took a boat tour of the Crystal River.
Our guide told us this is John Travolta’s latest place.
We saw many more wild manatees in the river and bay, which has around a thousand of those springs,
keeping the water at that constant 72º temperature.
The vegetarian manatees eat sea grass and seaweed 8-10 hours a day and keep the river very clean;
we were told that without them, the river would be un-navigable in 3-5 years.
They grow to weigh a few thousand pounds ~ kind of scary to think they can get that big by eating vegetables!
~ manatee cow and her calf ~
The babies stay with their mothers for 2-3 years.
Lots of manatees lolling around one of the springs.
Manatees are protected world-wide ~ there are only about 4 or 5 thousand left,
but this is the only area in the world where it is still legal to swim with them.
That evening, we again ate by the water ~ I took this shot of the harbor area and later saw I had “captured” a manatee!
~ fried oyster supper ~
To end the day perfectly, we spotted an osprey as we left the restaurant.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“But these are they of which ye shall not eat: the eagle, and ossifrage, and the ospray.” (KJV)