Wesley Chapel, Florida
Today was cloudy and rainy on and off most of the day, but yesterday (Sunday) was nice, so we took advantage and made a day trip.
We have an annual Florida State Parks pass, so we drove up to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. It’s about 60 miles north from the Tampa area. We got in free, with our park pass, but I think they charge $13 per person. It is more of a zoo, but with all native Florida species, except for Lucifer the hippo.
When the state took over the animal park a few years ago, they relocated all non native species of animals, except Lucifer. There was a public outcry when they tried to relocate Lucifer, which ended up with Lucifer being made a Florida citizen so that he could live out his life at the park. He will be 55 years old in a few weeks and will be having a birthday party. Poor lonely Lucifer.
We started our day on a boat ride. The captain points out any wildlife he sees along the way, and of course no trip on a Florida waterway would be complete without a gator.
Once we got off the boat, we walked around the grounds.
Lots of beautiful birds.
Red Shouldered Hawk
This was the first time we’ve seen Caracara there. They appeared to be very small compared to the ones we saw at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park.
I think the Flamingos are the star of the place…or at least the most colorful. We actually saw wild Flamingos here in Tampa one year. Unfortunately, their habitat was destroyed to build houses, but we always remember seeing them in the wild.
There are foxes, Florida panthers and bobcats. I think the bobcats are the most handsome.
The two red wolves were from a captive breeding program. There are only about 100 of them left in the wild. This guy looked sad. So was I.
Love the white ears on this bobcat.
How about this face? I think this is a horned owl.
The underground springs that supply the Homosassa River provide warm water temps of 72 degrees. The warm water brings the manatee in from the gulf seeking warmth.
We walked up on the viewing area by the spring and spotted quite a few manatee. They were hard to see because the water wasn’t real clear there.
The boats couldn’t go past the ropes, but there are plenty of manatee all through the river.
We continued our walk along the trail to what is called “the fishbowl.”
It sits on top of the springs, which are where the water looks blue.
As you walk on the trail to the fishbowl you start to see a lot of fish, and usually a manatee or two.
You walk down under the water line to go into the fishbowl.
Here is what you see. Those are all fish, from near to far.
These fish with the stripe are snook.
Each different type of fish swim with the same type and the same direction.
The fish in the picture below are jacks. We had an interesting encounter on a dive in the gulf one day. It started out with a school of jacks. They (and us) ended up being in the middle of a shark feeding frenzy. We ended up being surrounded by at least a hundred sharks. It was one of those memories you don’t forget and every time I see a jack, I remember it.
We spoke to a lady in the fish bowl that had lived in Florida 25 years and has never seen a manatee. We’ve been to the fishbowl many many times and have always seem manatee there…until yesterday. She thought she was the jinx that kept the manatee away.
We told her exactly where to find the manatee that we had just seen and even pointed her in the right direction.
As soon as she left, and we started walking back along the trail we saw this lone manatee swimming towards the fishbowl.
We decided to back down into the fish bowl and get a better look at her underwater.
Isn’t she pretty?
Notice how the schools of fish thinned out? Those fish are not captive fish. They can come and go into the river and gulf of Mexico as they wish. I guess they like the warm water too.
Look at the cute face.
She swam around the fishbowl a while then headed back to the river, doing a little flip on her way. That is her belly you’re seeing.
Here are a few more things we saw on our walk around the park.
These are white pelicans. They are a lot larger than the brown pelicans.
Poinsettia growing in the park. They will bloom every year and can take some freezing temperature.
The animals here are mostly ones that have been injured and can no longer live on their own. They do a lot of manatee rehabilitation there too, with the goal being to release them back into the wild. The manatee you saw in these pictures were all wild and free to come and go. There was one that was captive and held in a pen, so I assume was being nursed back to health.
It’s a fun place to go and see all the native Florida critters. It’s nicer on a bright sunny day. We had a lot of clouds the day we went, but at least it was warm.
This wasn’t the end to our day. Come back in a day or so and I’ll show you a LOT more Manatees in some crystal clear blue water!
If you want to visit Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park, It’s just off highway 19 in Homosassa, Florida.