Well, it finally became sunny in Fort Wilderness....the day we left :-)!! Oh well, at least it was nice for our short trip back to Homosassa. We left around check out time at 11 in a small caravan, as our cousins Bill and Denise were following us over and staying an additional week here at Chassa Oaks RV Resort. I should really be getting a commission for the referrals I've sent their way the past three years :-). Its a very nice quiet small campground that is about ten minutes from our house, ideal for visiting guests.
Now, we had made different plans for the week, but with the surgery taking place we starting going on a day by day basis. Once we found out that the surgery was scheduled for Tuesday, and Susie's daughter had flown in and was spending Monday with her, we decided to take our cousins and Aunt Doris and Uncle Ronnie over to the wildlife park. The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is where Al volunteers a couple days a week driving the boats that take visitors from the entrance to the park itself. I had volunteered the past two years, but am taking off this winter as my schedule seems to be very full with appointments and errands. It was a beautiful day and we thought it would be a nice diversion for a few hours. So we all gathered and headed down there Monday morning.
There's a beautiful manatee painting by Wyland along the wall to the Visitor's Center.
The group gathered for the boat ride down Pepper Creek. Homosassa is actually an Indian named meaning "land of the peppers"
Back Row: Aunt Doris (hiding), sister Ginny and Al
Middle Row: BFF Patti, cousin Bruce Uncle Ronnie
Front row: cousins Bill and Denise.
Sorry about the shadow, I think it was my lens hood which doesn't like low light.
The twenty minute ride down the creek is hosted by a volunteer (like Al) who gives us the story behind the park. The park's early history included a series of private owners who maintained small tourist attractions on this site. Many exotic non-native animals were on display, as well as retired "actor" animals. The last private owner of the property planned to sell the property to developers, but a grass-roots effort within Citrus County collected enough petitions to have the sale blocked, and the county took possession of the property for awhile. January 1, 1989, the State of Florida purchased the property from Citrus County in order to preserve it from any future development, and added to the state park lands.
Since becoming the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, management emphasis has shifted from entertainment to environmental education, and from exotic animals to the protection and exhibition of Florida native wildlife.
The Visitor's Center is located on US19 in Homosassa Springs. There is a nice display of the history here, and the obligatory gift and snack shops as well. I can attest that the bakery has some very tasty items! From the Visitor's center there are two ways to get back to the Wildlife Park, either by a tram ride or a boat ride down Pepper Creek. As you saw above, we chose the boat tour.
Pepper Creek is a spring-fed waterway that had been dredged to allow boat travel, and runs from an upland pine habitat through a hydric hammock. Any wildlife you see along the creek does not belong to the park, but is truly wild, free to come and go as they please. I enjoyed the sight of this gator and the turtles lined up behind him. The wooden boxes in the picture above are wood duck boxes, with baffles on the posts to protect the eggs from predators such as raccoon and snakes. Later in the spring you might see the little balls of yellow fluff tumbling out of the nests into the creek.
The Fishbowl area of the Park is the headwaters for this 200-plus acre park. The deep natural spring is the centerpiece of the Park and pumps out over a million gallons of water every hour. Saltwater and freshwater fish are attracted to this spring with its constant year-round water temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. This spring also provides a refuge for captive-born West Indian Manatees and a half-way house for rehabilitating manatees scheduled for release back into the wild. Many dozens of wild manatee come up the Homosassa River to rest in the warm waters just outside the Park boundaries when the water temperatures turn cooler in the winter. We have had the pleasure of meeting some of them last winter as we were out kayaking the river...almost being dumped over by one as it surfaced very close to the kayak!
One of the first exhibits you encounter as you start the Wildlife Walk is Lu, the African Nile hippopotamus. Now, if you were paying attention, I had stated that when the State of Florida took over the Park, it was changed to be native species only. So, why do we have a hippo in the Park? Well, Lu was on the list along with the other exotic animals to be moved to other facilities. The local community, however, had grown very fond of Lu, who had been one of the movie stars in the Park ( Daktari and Cowboy in Africa). A grass-roots effort resulted in the Governor of Florida making Lu an honorary Floridian, allowing him to permanently reside in the State Park. Lu turned 54 years old this past January 24, and the park has a birthday party for him every year.
Another local favorite in the endangered whooping crane, Romeo. I think he's looking into the reflection of himself, thinking what a handsome fellow he is :-). Where most of the animals in the Park are here because of injuries or other reasons keeping them from being rehabilitated to the wild, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Romeo. He is here because he wants to be! If you know the story about the whooping crane migration, a few years ago the flock had been flying to their winter grounds at Chassahowitzka Wildlife Refuge just a few miles south of the Park. As they were flying over the Park, a whooping crane tagged #501 (aka Levi) saw the female down below him and came down for a closer look. Apparently he really liked her, as he didn't leave! The FWS came and got him, taking him to the refuge, but he promptly flew back to the Park and his female. They retrieved him again, and went so far as to place netting over the whooping crane exhibit to thwart him from landing. Undaunted, Levi once again flew to the Park, landed short of the enclosure, and proceeded to walk the rest of the way to the love of his life. It was decided to leave Levi with the female, and remove the male that was already there to a different facility. (the male was mute, which precluded the pair from becoming a mated pair, as the whooping cranes need to be able to vocalize to woo their ladies). Levi was renamed Romeo, and while a baby has not been produced yet, there are hopes as they have had a few eggs laid. A nice story for Valentine's Day, yes?
My girl Maygar was not out this day, as she has a urinary tract infection and is being treated in the medical building. I wrote about the Florida panthers here the first year we worked at the Park.
I found this picture amusing...who WOULD go swimming here??
Can anyone tell me what this great egret is doing? Is this a courtship display? I've never seen one drying its wings like the anhingas.
I didn't catch this as I was taking the picture, but look at the flamingo on the far left...I've never seen them sit with their legs out in front like that!
This Crested Caracara is quite a jaunty fellow, strutting along with his chest thrown out :-)
No matter how homely you might be, someone loves you!
Beautiful eagles with wing damage...poor baby wanted to fly up and get whatever it was he saw. Beautiful birds, I never get tired of seeing them.
High in the treetops I spotted this Great Blue Heron's nest with a mom and juvenile peeking out. I like spotting things like this :-).
There are several other exhibits to wander through, a brand new shore bird aviary, Florida bears, several other types of birds, a reptile house (no thanks) and we watched the river otters play for a while. There are different talks done at certain times of the day, a Manatee talk, Lu's story and the Wildlife Encounter program, which highlights a different species each day. I highly recommend a visit to the Park if you spend any time in this area, its and enjoyable day for all ages and helps support the Florida State Park program.
It was time for lunch, and where better to spend a gloriously sunny and warm Florida afternoon that at a Tiki Bar on the riverfront?
Beautiful view, warm, clear blue skies, good food and drink, and family....
Does it get any better than this??