Posted by: Barbara Evanhoe | June 8, 2011

Manatee Quest

Although Keith and I were still feeling under the weather yesterday (cough/cold thing hanging on) serious cabin fever had begun to set in, so we decided that a half-day trip to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park on a manatee quest, might lift our spirits.

As mentioned in a previous blog on Manatee Spring, summer is not prime time for manatee sightings, but Homosassa just happens to be a sanctuary for injured manatees, so there are always a few lounging around the waters at the park, and they can be seen up close and personal via the underwater viewing area which is located at the deep headwaters of the spring.

Just as I have always had an affinity with faeries, Keith has been a “manatee man” since childhood, and he was pretty excited to think that he would finally get a good look at some of these huge yet docile beasts, which he claims to have caught a glimpse of, from time to time, in the waters of the Marais de Cygnes River back in Kansas. (Good imagination!)

It took about an hour to drive to the park from Cedar Key, which is oddly located on a major highway, right across the street from a CVS Pharmacy and Wendy’s. I am guessing that the city sort of built itself around the state park, which delivers a good number of tourists on a daily basis.

Once you drive into the entrance to the park, you immediately lose the “city” feel, though, and are immersed in a tall tree forest, “Old Florida”  style.

We arrived at the visitor center around 1:30 p.m.

A leisurely boat ride along multiple streams that flow through the park, delivered us to the entrance where we paid our fee ~ about $25 for two adults ~ and headed straight for the manatee area, which is just one of the wild animal viewing areas located along shaded and well-maintained pathways that wind through the park.

Our first experience at manatee viewing down in the glass-walled room, showed us beautiful schools of native Florida fishes but no manatees, so we went back up the stairs into the sunlight, and were walking along a path to another area that a guide suggested, when we spotted one!

At first it looked like a big boulder sitting in the water, but then it stuck its tiny nose out of the water for air, and gracefully moved along in the turquoise blue waters, and we were captivated!

Manatee ~ First sighting

We watched, transfixed, for quite some time, and then slowly followed this manatee as it floated back toward the viewing area to feed.

Keith stayed up top, to watch it from there, but I went down into the glass-walled room to take some pics ~ along with a number of excited children and their parents!

I got up close to the glass for this shot of the manatee eating a cabbage leaf…

Manatee Feeding

…and then she turned around and looked straight at me for this shot…

It was an amazing experience to be staring right into those ancient looking eyes, and wondering what she was thinking of all these creatures simply staring at her!

These manatees were covered in a reddish-brown lichen, and they were followed by schools of small fish that seemed to be feeding on injured areas located on the manatee’s tail.

We know they are females only because the guide told us that all manatees presently in the park are female. Some of them have lived there for over 30 years, and some are new, and in the rescue and release program.

After a while, this manatee swam off for “greener pastures”, so we took a lovely stroll through the rest of the park, seeing more manatees, alligators…

…a hippo, a cougar, and flamingos, which I actually thought were plastic flamingos stuck in the bird exhibit. They were so intensely pink/orange that my mind couldn’t believe they were real!

There were other animals at the park that we did not catch on this visit. The hot temps and  humidity on top of less-than-good health did us in after a couple of hours and we stepped onto the boat for a ride back to the visitor center.

A quick stop at Wendy’s for Frosties, and we were back on the road to Cedar Key…exhausted, but happy that we’d dragged ourselves out of the house and realized yet another goal on our Sunset Ride!

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