Saturday, October 25, 2008

Homossasa Springs Wildlife Park

On Monday, October 13, we headed to Crystal River, where Sarah went on a “swim with the manatees” boat excursion. Brian hung out at a hotel and surfed the web, thinking that swimming with the manatees sounded pretty gimmicky. Sarah really enjoyed the trip though. It turns out that it isn’t a great time of the year to swim with the manatees -- there aren’t that many of them in the bay this time of the year -- but she did get to see several manatees from the boat. There was also plenty of other wildlife to watch including two raccoons and a bunch of neat birds.

She also got to swim in to the Crystal River spring, which, unlike the river, was very clear. The tour boat stopped outside the spring area and Sarah snorkeled through a narrow channel of mangroves into the spring. On the way, a large black bird swam by her under the water. She was so startled to see it that she didn’t get a good enough look to know what it was. At the end of the channel, there were three springs bubbling up from the bottom of the river. This is the area where the manatees hang out in the winter.

After that, we went to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. It was a privately run wildlife park until the state acquired it. Now, it’s still run as a wildlife park, complete with a slow boat ride down a man-made river to the main area where the animals are housed, but two changes have been made. First, all but one of the non-native animals have been removed and sold to other parks and zoos. Second, the park is now run with the primary goal of saving injured and abandoned animals, with human visitation a lower priority.

The initial boat ride down Pepper Creek was peaceful.

We saw lots of turtles along the way and some huge, gorgeous birds. First, we saw a great egret.

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Then a great blue heron.

Once we arrived at the park, we first checked out the manatees. They’re hard to see when they’re underwater.

Then we visited the one non-Florida-native creature in the park: Lu the hippo. By proclamation of the governor at the time Homosassa became a state park – no kidding – Lu will be allowed to live out the rest of his life in the park. He’s a Florida fixture, after all – he’s many decades old and a movie star, too! Here he is:

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Next we came to a large area that housed the park’s injured waterfowl. We got fantastic up-close views of all sorts of beautiful birds. We saw several more egrets:

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Here’s a roseate spoonbill:

And a wood duck:

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Some pelicans:

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An ibis:

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And another great blue heron:

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Bird viewing in this park was fantastic. After all, the birds are used to humans – more than that, they’re dependent on humans, since they’re generally injured birds that can’t be released. But the park was better than a zoo, in that the birds’ environment seemed more natural, and they had a large open area to roam, although that area was pretty crowded with a huge bird population.

The park’s one bear looked a little sad, even though he, too, got a pretty large area to rove. And yes, the bear is allowed because black bears are native to Florida. For some reason, we think of them more as cold-weather creatures or maybe mountain inhabitants – you’ll find them in the Rockies, the Cascades, the Sierras. But they can apparently be found in Florida as well.

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Next up were the birds of prey. Bald eagles look most majestic when they’re soaring through the air, but these two were still quite impressive.

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We forgot the names of a couple of other big birds.

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Back on the water, we reached the area where the flamingos were hanging out, all perched on one foot.

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As flexible as most birds are, flamingos take the cake for contortionism.

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We especially liked how they burrowed their beaks under their feathers.

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As we walked away from the waterfowl area, we happened upon a beautiful butterfly.

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Next up were the owls. This one seemed to be waking up from a nap.

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But this one was totally alert, and staring right at us.

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Next we checked out the gators. They look sinister swimming in the water.

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But when they smile at you with their big sharp teeth, they look downright frightening. We wouldn’t want to meet this guy in a dark alley.

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Now it was time for a manatee show. The park has six manatees, most of which were abandoned as babies. Manatees need their mothers around for several years before they can fend for themselves. A baby manatee whose mother dies or otherwise disappears is going to die, so the park saved a few of these orphans. They’re large mammals most closely related to elephants, and although they have no natural predators, they’re endangered, largely due to man. They can live in freshwater or saltwater. We learned all of this from a park ranger who walked right into the water in his ranger uniform. Here he is with one manatee in front of him.

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Then one came up behind him.

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This wasn’t a manatee feeding – apparently manatees eat truckloads of food. This was just a chance for park visitors to get a little better view of the manatees. We watched them feeding later, and the pool was basically covered with heads of lettuce and other vegetables, which the manatees grabbed and ate whole.

We wandered by the Florida panther after the manatee show. Like the bear, he had a large area to wander, but he still seemed a little sad. What a beautiful animal, though.

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Finally, we walked by the river again, where we got some more good views of wood ducks in their natural habitat.

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What a fun day of wildlife viewing! That night, we stayed in a hotel in Clearwater on our way toward Tampa / St. Pete.

1 comment:

Walter Tully said...

That place looks great! We also have quite a good number of wildlife parks here in Denver, Colorado! Parks and other wildlife preserves should be taken care of all the time to give these rare and endangered creatures a fighting chance against global-warming and deforestation! That's what we do here in Denver - for our wildlife not only keeps nature in order, but also gets us some decent number of tourists!