Florida Springs and Manatee

20 Feb

Whilst settling back in to haRVey, after our Christmas break back in the UK, we stayed in Quails Roost Campground near Crystal River. This had been recommended to us by our friends Doreen and Joe from Ontario (we met beside Lake Superior in Michigan) they have wintered here for the last 6 years. We enjoyed catching up with them while visiting some of the local beauty spots. We all took a ride out to Homosassa and despite a cold wind we found blue sky and blue crabs,

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and a Blue Heron, with blue water – even the boat had a blue canopy!

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It was a lovely afternoon!

We had stopped off en route to look for the Manatee who overwinter in the warm spring waters around here. We stood and gazed over the bridge at two brown shadows as they passed beneath – hmm! is that what all the fuss is about?  I wanted to see more.

We did spot a bunch of Wood Stork beside some water at the side of the road, they looked cold too. No one was enjoying this cold snap and overnight temperatures below freezing were not what we had hoped for in Florida.

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A couple of days later things were marginally warmer and Robert and I drove to Homosassa State Park. From the Visitor Centre a boat took us to the area of the park where we  able to walk into a sunken viewing room, aptly named The Goldfish Bowl, to view the huge fish of various types who congregate in the  spring. Close by were their captive manatee who are joined by wild animals later in the day as the river P1160191water gets too cold. We watched as the manatee were fed an artificial diet of large volumes of salad. Various  birds, from a patriotic bald eagle to the majestic pink flamingo’s were gathered around a central island and pond. We felt this was more like a zoo than an area to view wildlife, however, we enjoyed our afternoon.

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This part of Florida has perhaps the most concentrated number of springs, these occur when ground water flows back to the surface through cracks in the limestone which lies beneath the thin sandy soil. The spring at Homosassa bubbles around 70million gallons of water a day out of the ground, at a consistent 72 degrees summer and winter alike.

Another State Park set around a spring was even closer to the campground, near Dunellen. After an open top spin in Doreen and Joe’s Mustang we arrived at Rainbow Springs where more than 90million gallons a day fill the water courses. Natural spring flow sits well beside the manicured gardens, developed around man made water falls.

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Banks covered with azalea show the first signs of Spring and in a week or so will be a tapestry of colour. We glimpsed the beginnings of this picture, spotting yellow, peach and pink flowers all bursting into bloom.

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After months of deliberating we have finally got around to a special purchase – cycles. Robert had ordered a cycle carrier to fit on to the tow bar on the back of haRVey and it was delivered to the campground in time for our return. A quick visit to Walmart and we were the proud owners of  shiny new bikes, mine white and pink (now nicknamed by my daughters the Barbie Bike!) and Roberts black and yellow, very smart!

It took a few days for me to pluck up courage to ride around the campground road, but, when I did I managed two and a half circuits without too many problems, until I tried to get off that is… and promptly capsized sideways…. don’t ask how!

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After a week of relaxing, sightseeing and lots of conversation fuelled with red wine, we said our good byes to Joe and Doreen, setting off east to Blue Spring State Park. Near Orange City this park has been designated a Manatee refuge and I had high hopes of some better viewing over our three night stay in the campground there.

We arrived early afternoon and after settling into our site we took a stroll to the boardwalk which overlooks the spring flow (this one spills over 100million gallons daily). Overhung with trees which drip withP1160226 Spanish moss the shallow sandy water reflected the colours above. The board walk stretches  about half a mile in either direction from the central grassy area. Jutting out from the walkway are large wooden viewing platforms, ideal locations for the visitor to observe both Manatee, fish and other wildlife below. On our first visit there were only a couple of Manatee, sleeping in a pool of sunlit water on the far bank.

We were told by another visitor that mornings were best for viewing as the Manatee go out into the river to graze through the day, coming back to the warmer spring water to sleep and rest overnight. We walked away from the main river and towards the headwater of the spring. This portion of the boardwalk was much quieter,we heard rustlings in the dry leaves to the side so stopped to follow the noise with our eyes, we were delighted to see an armadillo rooting for bugs for his tea. The only other armadillo we had seen so far had been road kill.

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Next morning arriving at the boardwalk area just after nine we were able to see many Manatee had joined our friends of last night, again on the opposite bank in the sunny water. Also many more people were gathered along the board walk, a roped off area made us curious. We overheard snippets of conversations and  eventually discovered there was to be a release of three rescued Manatee by the Florida  Sea World and the Manatee Rescue Team.

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Transported to the park in a large van the Manatee were lifted to the water, one at a time, on stretchers by the Sea World staff, who gently lowered them into the shallows. Sea World and the local TV network filmed the operation.

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Radio transmitters were placed around their tails so that in the coming weeks and months the rescue people can keep an ‘eye’ on where the manatee are and what they are up to. It is important that they get along with the rest of the wild manatee and learn to go out foraging for their food and when the time comes, migrate as they do.

One of the three released was born in captivity, the other two had been at Sea World recovering from injuries caused by their only predator – humans. Many of the Blue Spring manatee showed scars from injuries they had received having been hit by boat propellers. A film we watched later showed manatee being rescued and the deep wounds inflicted by the boats, also a flipper entwined in fishing line to the point it had cut deeply into the flesh of the gentle animal.

It seemed like the socialising was beginning as everyone looked on, the manatee rolled and frolicked together in the water. It also seemed like they all knew something special was happening as the exodus to the main river did not  happen, a large number of the manatee staying in the spring run for most of the day.Next day when the crowds had disappeared we arrived at the boardwalk around 9.30 am the water surface less ruffled by the wind gave us a better chance to take photographs and one Mum and pup obligingly swam right below us.

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One of the newly released manatee was still in the spring but the other two had presumably gone off to forage. The released manatee were easy to distinguish by their transmitters bobbing behind them.

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The boardwalk was such a lovely place to wander, apart from the manatee, gar,tilapia and catfish were abundant in the water, some were – to us – huge. We spotted Great Blue Heron, smaller heron, ibis, white heron, egret and high on a dead tree overlooking it all sat a bald eagle.

The land the park sits on belonged to a Pioneer and his family who came up the St. John River on a steam boat, settled on the land, eventually cultivating oranges to make a reasonable living and raising six children in the large house which stands beside the water. We were able to view the ground floor of the three storey property which has rooms recreating life in the late 1800’s.

Being close by in the campground meant we were able to view the spring at various times of day, a later evening walk to the boat launch when most of the visitors had gone showed a very peaceful and more natural view of its inhabitants just before the sun set.

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Our three nights at Blue Spring had been enjoyable, we had seen manatee in plenty and learned a lot more about these gentle creatures. Now off to the coast, hopefully to see space creatures….. the shuttle launch on Thursday 24th February and a visit to Kennedy Space Centre.

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2 Responses to “Florida Springs and Manatee”

  1. Jennie February 20, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    todays blog highlight is an armadillo that is not road kill!!!

    • elainethehill February 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

      Well….I thought the manatee were the highlight but then I was writing it not reading it….is it good or bad that the armadillo is the highlight?

      Mum

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