Friday, January 11, 2008

Mermaids or Manatees?

Our very first winter as full time RVers was spent in the area of Homosassa Springs, home to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. I can't really say that I had ever heard of manatees at the time, but after visiting the park the first time, I was hooked. These huge, gentle and oh-so-ugly creatures glide at the blinding speed of 1-2 miles per hour through the crystal clear waters of the Homosassa River, eating anywhere from 100 to 300 pounds of vegetation a day, depending on their size. It is believed that early sailors who claimed to have seen mermaids actually saw manatees. Makes you think they had either been out to sea too long or that they had really ugly girlfriends back home, doesn't it?

The park has made some improvements since we were there last; there are new trails and exhibits and a lot more volunteers available to answer your questions about the park and the animals there. One of the newer paths leads to an area of the river outside the park where you can see wild manatees feeding or resting peacefully while people in kayaks (some are "watchers" who make sure the manatees are not disturbed) and boats sit quietly watching them. The manatees within the park are rescue manatees--those that have been injured by power boats and brought to the park to heal.

The park has a new reptile house with a variety of snakes. While I'm not a fan of snakes, I have to admit the coloration and pattern of the skin of some of them, especially the venomous snakes, is quite striking. I passed on taking pictures since the building is dim and I didn't want to disturb the snakes by using a flash.

The wild animal exhibit area is pretty much the same, although there is a new pavilion with a huge movie screen for lectures by the park staff. There are talks given on the alligators and hippo in the park, the manatees and one given on the wildlife. You can spend several hours here easily and there are many areas where you can eat a picnic lunch or buy something at one of the park's restaurants or snack bars.

Seniors with AARP memberships or folks who are AAA members get a discount on the entrance fee. The cost for the two of us was just over $15, which isn't bad for an afternoon's entertainment.

This is probably the best shot I got of the manatees. The bright sunlight on the crystal clear waters of the Homosassa River made it difficult to get a snapshot that you could see. This lady (there are only females in the refuge) was surfacing to get some air. This is a mermaid???

The preserve has an underwater observation tank in the middle of the Homosassa Spring, a 35 foot deep well of 72 degree water. Manatees need warm water to live as they will die of hypothermia if the water is 68 degrees or less, just like humans.

The rescue manatees within the park are well acclimated to humans and sometimes seem to show off. This gal liked to roll on her back as if asking for a belly rub and even waved her flippers at the crowd. How can something that's so ugly be so cute?

This is a zoom shot of a wild manatee that could be seen in the waters of the river from an observation deck on the edge of the park. Female manatees travel in a group, surfacing every few minutes to breathe and then sinking below the surface to rest or feed.

This cormorant sunning himself on a "no boat" warning sign in the river seemed to be telling me not to take his picture. Cormorants have to spread their wings in the sun to dry themselves off after diving in the water to catch a fish because they don't have a lot of oil on their feathers to keep themselves from getting waterlogged.

You have coveys of quail and prides of lions; would this be a flow of flamingos?

Where's the beginning and where's the end of this fellow?

Isn't he just the most gorgeous color? Denny and I passed a yard where someone was selling plastic flamingos wearing tiny little Santa hats--I was SO tempted to get one! Everyone needs a bit of Florida kitsch, right?

The clear waters of the spring-fed Homosassa River allows you to easily see all the fish below the surface.

These are the Florida Key deer. They are much smaller than normal deer so that they can survive the heat of Florida and live within the smaller confines of the Florida Keys. These are two bucks. That's male deer, not their price. (boo!)

We weren't the only ones watching the wild manatee. This osprey sat long enough for me to get his picture and then soared off in search of food.

When you think of storks, you think of the Vlastic pickle cartoon character or storybook storks that bring babies. In truth, they aren't really all that attractive close up.

A very much endangered whooping crane. In the children's education center a display explains how baby whooping cranes are raised and trained to migrate by humans who dress as cranes to imitate adult cranes. It's a fascinating story.

These three female manatees were eating leaves and vegetation that had been caught by the fencing that separates the park from the rest of the river.


Coll said...

I have read much about manatees but have never had the pleasant experience of seeing one for real. I have heard they are giant beasts with gentle souls. Loved all the photos.

SkippyMom said...

You're pics simply never cease to amaze me. They are spectacular...and the writing is such an added bonus.

I seriously think you should consider a "coffee table" type book of your photos along the lines of an RVers travels [or something... ;)]

You are quite the photographer [the flamingos - PUHLEASE! Can I have one? - too beautiful!]

Thanks for a great blog!

Soulknitting said...

I would never have recognized the Storks for what they are. The Flamingos are just lovely! And an Ibis, very cool.

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