We’re camped just down the road from this state park, and we’d heard it was a really interesting place, so when everybody was done with work & school, we got on our bikes and took a short ride down to the park.
The park is on the banks of the Homosassa River, and Homosassa Spring is within the park’s boundaries. The manatees really love the warm spring water (constant 72 – 74 degrees), and it is crystal clear – so easy to see them!
We saw quite a few manatees back at Lovers Key, but the water was not nearly as clear as this! Most of the time, the gates to the river are open, allowing wild manatee to come and go into the warm spring water as much as they please. They were closed yesterday, though, in preparation for the arrival of (4) visiting manatees who are recovering from red tide. Several young wild manatees were tagged before they were sent back out into the river, and they were hanging around the gate, trying to get back in!
In addition to the recuperating manatees, there are (4) resident manatees . . . and they are HUGE!! This is just one of them . . . they are being kept in an enclosed area of the spring because they are not allowed to mingle with the visiting manatees.
We had arrived at the park just in time for the manatee program, where we learned all of the above information, and were able to see the manatees from the underwater observation room. There were also a lot of fish hanging around – some of the biggest snook we’ve seen!
The manatees were there for part of the program . . . until the rangers started feeding the residents, and then these guys took off to hang out around the fence!
After the manatee program, we walked along the river
where there were several people on “swimming with the manatee” tours. This group had a manatee swim up to them and check them out.
From the river, we continued past the alligators,
and along the Wildlife Walk.
In addition to the many birds that we saw,
we also saw many other examples of Florida wildlife.
. . . and black bears! Who knew they had black bears in Florida??!!
The other guy was only interested in sleeping, but this one was walking around and got into the water to scrape algae off the rocks and eat it!
I realize they are wild animals, but there is just something so cute about bears!! I love them!
When we finally dragged ourselves away from the bears, we got behind the same park volunteer who had done the manatee program. Now she was on “feeding duty” and was throwing some leftover fish to the pelicans and blue herons. It created quite a feeding frenzy!
The birds were following her around, pushing each other out of the way, and swooping down on the sidewalk. This Great Egret flew right over Bryce’s head (nearly scared him right out of his shorts!), and landed in the wagon carrying the fish!
The volunteer kept shooing it away, but it kept coming back!
We continued our Wildlife Walk, and saw some Bald Eagles. They are here because they are injured and can’t fly, and it’s a little sad to watch them hobble around, but at least they are safe and well taken care of.
Next were some owls,
and we watched this ranger trying to get an owl down from where it had gotten itself caught in the top of a tree. She said she had been working on it for over an hour!
The last animals on the wildlife walk were the red fox and the red wolf.
We ended up back by Lu, the Hippo, just before 3pm, when he was scheduled to get his dinner.
Lu is the only animal in the park that is not native to Florida. He was born in 1960 at the San Diego Zoo, and has lived here since 1964. When the park was acquired by the state, he was given “official” residency so that he could stay. For awhile he just laid in the water, occasionally surfacing for air, but otherwise not doing much. Eventually, though, he started moving around in his pool . . . we thought he was getting impatient for his dinner . . . they were late!
We had been warned by friends to stay out of the “splatter zone” when Lu starts moving around, and sure enough, he backed himself up against the wall of the pool and let it fly!
Then the craziest thing happened – he laughed – a loud, evil laugh – when he was finished! It was the funniest thing!
We never saw him get his dinner (I hope they eventually fed him!), but he was very entertaining anyway!
We enjoyed our afternoon at the park, and it was well worth the price of admission . . . especially since we had free passes that we had received as “rewards” back at Lovers Key!