The haunting beauty of Wakulla Springs and River

Comments 28 Standard
Manatee

VulturesThere was an added bonus in meeting Laurel and Eric of Raven and Chickadee.  Since they had spent so much time in northwestern Florida and have family there, they know the area very well.  They advised us that a trip to Wakulla Springs State Park for one of their river boat tours was not to be missed.  Wakulla springs is located just south of Tallahassee and is one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world.  The world?  Yep, thats right.  We learned that this spring discharges an average of 260 million gallons of beautiful, fresh water every day.

Wakulla Spring

Wakulla Spring – Some of the old Tarzan episodes were filmed here.  Today, the abundance of wildlife are fortunate to enjoy the beauty of the area.

Here are some fun facts about freshwater springs in Florida:wpid23297-2014-03-09-FL-1320158.jpg

  • Florida has the largest concentration of freshwater springs on earth more than 600 in all.
  • Most of the springs are found in north and north-central Florida.
  • Water coming from the springs flows through the Aquifer and is the source of over 90% of the state’s drinking water.

With no rain in the forecast for the next few days, we scheduled our continuing exploration of the “Real Florida”.  The spring is the heart of Wakulla Springs State Park.  It is the origin of the Wakulla River, which flows southwest and finally dumps into the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachee Bay. We came here for the main attraction of the river tour, but the park itself is beautiful with many picnic tables and walking paths that make it a great place to spend a day.

After paying the $8 per person fee, we took the first ranger-guided boat tour at 9:00am. For 45 minutes we were treated to close-up sightings of what we have recently grown to appreciate and love, classic Florida river scenery and wildlife.  Unlike other rivers we have traveled, Wakulla River is bordered by tall Spanish Moss-draped Bald Cypress trees.

Bald Cypress along Wakulla River

Seeing vultures hanging out in the treetops induced a kind of “haunted house” feeling, like something you might see in an old horror movie.

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The tour covers the first three miles of the river, which is  protected as a wildlife sanctuary within the Wakulla Springs State Park.

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As we cruised along, several of these gorgeous little guys paid no attention to us:

Male Hooded Merganser

Male Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Female Hooded Mergansers, no doubt rushing off to the beauty salon.

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One of the areas where Tarzan swung through the trees.  Pristine and gorgeous!

Anhinga

Anhinga working on his tan

River Boats at Wakulla Springs State Park

River boat dock at Wakulla Springs State Park

There was an abundance of wildlife that our knowledgeable park ranger pointed out to us.  She told us that since only the park’s tour boats are allowed here, the wildlife has become accustomed to them.  That’s why we were ignored and got such an up-close look at them.  Even the normally skittish turtles didn’t jump into the river as we passed!

Here are a few more of the beautiful creatures that posed for us:

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Turtle

Hey, you looking at me?

But the highlight on this day was witnessing some tender moments between a couple of manatees.  We have typically seen them just slowly cruising along, occasionally coming up for a gulp of air.

Manatee

A happy manatee acting like an otter.

Well, this time we witnessed two manatees actually hugging and obviously enjoying each other’s company – amazing!  Click the link below to see a short clip of what we saw (sorry it’s a bit shaky, I was so excited!).

One last shot…

Mating Manatees

Next up:  Our exploration of the Real Florida continues…

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Our “alone time” at Homosassa Springs, FL

Comments 35 Standard
Pink Flamingo

Real floridaIn our lifestyle, “alone time” is occasionally required (my fellow full-timers know exactly what I’m talking about).  Most people would otherwise end up at each other’s throats after hanging out together 24/7.  Although Steve and I do get along very well, we make sure to enjoy some alone time, even if it just means Steve running off to the store for a bit or me doing laundry by myself.  Sometimes I can hardly wait to do the laundry!

I had some real quality alone time when Steve stayed at home to work on Betsy while I went off to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, which was advertised as a showcase of Florida wildlife.  I was not disappointed, and I think Steve wished he had gone along when he saw the pictures of gorgeous wildlife I took there.  But of course he wouldn’t admit it!

There are two ways to visit this park, one by tram and the other on a pontoon boat along Pepper Creek.  I chose a 20-minute ride on the pontoon boat and gave my camera a real workout.

Pepper Creek,Homosassa Springs

During the trip our guide narrated the history of Homosassa Springs, its beginnings and the importance of the spring.  At the same time, he pointed out the many colorful wood ducks swimming alongside us.

Wood Duck

First a brief history of the park.  In the 1920’s, a train stopped at the springs to allow passengers a close look at the crystal clear 55-foot deep springs that form the headwaters of the Homosassa River.  In later years a zoo-like park of exotic animals  was built.  The ownership of the springs area changed many times since 1940 due to economic hard times and recession.  Then on January 1, 1989, the attraction officially became the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, owned by the State of Florida and managed by the Department of Environmental Protection.

Homosassa River

All exotic animals and non-native plants were removed in order to restore the park to the “Real Florida” – except for one.  If not for hundreds of school children protesting the removal of Lucifer the Hippo, the last exotic animal would have been gone.  “Luc”, who remains in the wildlife park from the attraction days, has received an honorary citizenship by declaration of late Florida Governor Lawton Chiles.

After the boat ride I immediately went to the centerpiece of the park, a freshwater spring which produces millions of gallons of fresh, crystal-clear water every hour. This spring outflow actually creates the Homosassa River.  The spring and headwaters of the Homosassa River is the only known place in the world where thousands of fresh and saltwater fish congregate.  These fish are free to come and go to the Gulf of Mexico, nine miles downriver.

Homossasa Springs

Fish Bowl floating and underwater observatory directly over the spring

At the Fish Bowl floating and underwater observatory, I saw literally thousands of fish from above the lookout and then below the surface in the clear spring environment. Unfortunately, the park’s resident manatees were not present while I was there.

And that was just the beginning!  I followed the elevated boardwalk while taking the Wildlife Walk.  The 210-acre park is home to native Florida wildlife, and I got to see them all in their natural setting.

Strolling on the boardwalk, I had a front-row view of Florida’s wildlife, including a bear, bobcats, Key deer, alligators, a wide variety of wading birds, birds of prey and some beautiful Flamingos.  Although I always prefer to see these animals in the wild, it looks like this is the best I’ll be able to do for some of them.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Bird paradise!

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Flamingo

Some of the birds here were injured and can not be returned to the wild.  I feel very fortunate to have been in Florida’s wilderness (refuges/ preserves/national parks) and exposed to many of these birds – although some at a great distance.  On this day I got quite excited as I had an up-close view of some endangered and threatened species. Since Steve was not there to whisper in my ear about taking so many pictures, I snapped away to my heart’s content.  Click on each image to get a bigger and better look.

After almost overheating my camera, I sat down and listened to the Flamingos honking in unison, while also enjoying the sound of the Whistling Ducks at the nearby Shore Bird Aviary.  I thought all ducks quacked until I met these guys.

I had a wonderful day at this park and went home whistling like a duck!  I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys wildlife and is in this area. It’s worth every penny of the $13 entry fee.

On my drive home I caught a glimpse of this sign – do people really have to be told how to use parking spaces?  Hmmm..I wonder if it’s meant for locals or tourists?

Parking notice

Back at home, Steve was also smiling and looking contented. He had completed a few of his Betsy to-do’s.  He even commented about how relaxing it is to do his work while the “supervisor” is away.

He had installed these nifty door locks for our new residential refrigerator, to keep the doors closed while we travel.  They can be “disabled” once we are parked, and they actually look kind of cool.  They’re designed to keep children out of the refrigerator, but work perfectly for our purpose.  Only about $5 each at Toys-R-Us, not bad!

Refrigerator locks

Cheap but effective refrigerator locks

He also took our noisy fireplace back apart for the second time to clean and lubricate the motor again.  It runs quiet for a while each time he does this, but we’re going to replace the motor next time it gets noisy.  Steve’s become quite an expert with electric fireplaces, so at least we’ve been able to save money on labor – and he loves taking things apart.  I love it when he puts them back together!

Motorhome Fireplace

The guts of an electric fireplace

We enjoy our alone times such as this.  How about you, are you getting enough alone time?

Next up:  Rare Species and New Friends

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Meeting some real snowbirds- Sebring, FL

Comments 31 Standard
Sandhill Crane

With our cruise vacation over, we’re back to our “normal” travel life.  This winter will be spent here in Florida, enjoying the sunshine and warmth – or so we were led to believeBear in Florida. But upon arriving back home the weather was a bit more brisk than we had hoped.  Oh well, maybe it will warm up a bit as we continue toward the southern end of the state.

As we were preparing to depart the Orlando area, we heard a noise behind Betsy and went out to see our friend the bear again, strutting out of our site after helping himself to our bird feeder.  Our neighbor came by to tell us that he had very carefully sucked all of the food out of it one day while we were gone. Hmmm.

Making our way closer to the southern tip of Florida, we first stopped for a week at Sebring and visited my niece.  Although we hadn’t seen any birds near our site while setting up here, I put my feeder out just in case.  To my surprise we began getting daily visits, not from small birds but from three really big ones – Sandhill Cranes!  Now these are some real snowbirds!

Sandhill Crane

It doesn’t take long for this guy to empty the feeder!

The trio came by looking for food every day at around noon.  Of course, I was ecstatic to see them on their first visit.  But on the following days they began pecking on things (like our car!) and we soon realized they are actually a nuisance here.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Crane

Hey lady, I can stand on one leg – can you?

The Buttonwood Bay RV Resort (Steve’s review here) is large and lush, with natural surroundings and lots of on-site activities.  Since we just arrived from a vacation, we’re mostly just taking it easy at this stop.  Fortunately, the resort has 2.5 miles of paths through and around it, so we were able to walk and bike every day to burn off some of the calories from that cruise food.  It was during one of these treks that we discovered a lake behind the resort that was teeming with various birds.  Steve and I enjoyed hanging out there, people watching, bird watching and sunset watching!

Buttonwood Bay RV Resort

It always puts a smile on my face to see birds I haven’t come across before, such as the two shorebirds below – a Limpkin and a Wood Stork.

Limpkin

Limpkin

Wood Stork

Wood Stork

During another walk on the path we encountered this huge spider.  Steve put his hand behind it to show how big it was.  Yikes!

Big spider

Many guests (people snowbirds) at the park gathered here in the evenings with their friends to witness the setting sun.

Buttonwood RV Resort

Buttonwood RV Resort

Next up:  Betsy gets a refrigerator transplant!

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