Manatees and more

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The last time we were in Florida we were too early for sighting any manatees, who come here in Winter seeking warmer waters, don't we all? anyway, now that we are in the right area, a visit to Homosassa Wildlife State Park was definitely on the cards. We could have walked there from our campsite as it's just up the road - I say could - if this country was geared up for pedestrians that is. There just isn't anywhere to walk along the side of the road. The park was very busy and that was a bit of a culture shock after experiencing almost personal tours in many of the locations we have visited. But this is Florida and although coming to an end, it is still 'the season'

However it didn't detract from the great day we had. The springs, which throw something like 4 million gallons out each hour at a constant temperature of 72 degrees, attracted early developers in the 1920/30's. Plans for a resort development never really took off though it was used as a film/TV set - remember 'Daktari?' Well you've been here too then!  But it's in colour now :) The springs were eventually bought by Citrus county in which they flow. Subsequently bought by the State, they became the focus of a wildlife rehabilitation park. 
Whilst some of the residents live in an enclosed environment many do not. The bird population is free to rome at will, so it was amazing to find such a variety of beautiful feathered friends fraternizing side by side. You may remember if you've been following us we saw Sandhill Cranes on dawn patrol in New Mexico and  Whooping Cranes delightfully territorial in Texas  

  - all from a distance, well here we got the chance to see them up close and personal and wonderful they were too. Throw in several contorting flamingos, some very awkward looking wood storks, graceful swans, impossibly fragile egrets, several ibis, 'spooning' rosebills, endangered white pelicans and what seemed like hand painted ducks, such a delight.

 But it is the manatees that bring thousands of visitors to this location every year. These gentle giants cannot survive in water below 60 degrees so they make the lagoons and springs around Florida their winter quarters. The six that live here permanently have either been injured or born in captivity; they are kept separate by a 'gate' that prevents wild manatees from joining them. Unbelievably they are vegetarians, fed each day by volunteers working in the park who educate the public about them. There are several stretches of water outside the park where they are protected from boats and other hazards.

Thanks to an underwater observatory we were able to watch these graceful creatures below the surface too! Along with literally thousands of fish which have swum in from the sea to 'take' the waters so to speak. Apparently this is the only place in the world where fresh and salt water species swim side by side.

Lucifer, the resident hippo who has been here since his days starring in Daktari amused the crowds as he too was fed, though one sign warned about getting too close though! 

All in all this was a very people friendly park with the boardwalks taking you close to the wildlife and the relaxed atmosphere seemed to extend to the residents. Oh, and did I forget to mention the Florida panther, the black bear
and the alligators? Check out the gallery for more on these. 
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