The floating Florida potato

One of the magical things about living in central Florida is seeing the manatees out in the wild. One of the best places to see them up close is at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park, an hour north of Tampa. The springs that run through the area stay fairly warm all year so the manatees congregate far into the springs in the winter. The wildlife park has both a bridge and a dock that goes over the springs.  I headed up in late December early in the morning and got there when the park opened. Most of the manatees were around the dock. I caught two mothers with babies right when I got there. One baby was hanging on to Mom’s flipper as they came up for air right in front of me. The dock looks over the area where you can swim with the manatees.  After seeing all of the crowds here in the winter, I’m not a big fan. Not when I can see them this close from the dock. I don’t really feel like people need to swim right up to them. The manatees do have roped off “no people” zones where they can hide but I’ve seen the river here almost body to body with people. I get that it’s amazing having a manatee swimming right up to you but I still feel like they should remain truly wild. I do have to say Brett and I were at the Fort Desoto beach several years ago in the summer and I had a manatee swim up to me when we were swimming out to the sand bar. He didn’t get quite close enough for me to touch him but it was still amazing. All I could think of was were was my camera?


So many coming up for air right in front of me. Most of them have distinctive marks on their backs so you could track the different ones coming up to the dock. Many have barnacles or moss growing on their backs.

I’m glad I brought my shorter lens with me but I took the two above with my phone since I couldn’t fit them all in with my camera. You can really see the boat propeller scars on the first one.

Looking out over the bridge, you could see the manatee dots in the clear water.

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An interesting morning at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park

It’s always fun to see lots of robins in the trees. We only see them here briefly in the winter. The trees were full of them at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park in late December.

A few of the resident birds. The caracara in the bottom picture is a not a bird you see in this area. They are mostly in south central Florida so it’s interesting to see them here. This one had some type of injury. Possibly missing wing or vision.

The otters were being so cute this morning, although seeing those teeth makes you realize they can be pretty tough. They were feeding in the pond right up against the boardwalk. I love watching them eating while swimming on their backs. That’s a real talent.

I’m sure this happens more than we see out in the wild. The alligator was not fed this bird by the staff. I missed the early action but people saw him grabbing this bird. Based on the pink legs and white wings with a little black, thinking it’s a white ibis that got too close. The alligator was all the way across the pond in the first shot but was swimming fast away from the other alligators who were chasing him trying to steal his snack. He then heading into the far corner right in front of me. Sad but circle of life.

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Birds at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park

It’s not often you can get this up close with an eagle. This one was missing part of his wing and was spending his time at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. I caught him taking a bath.

Pelicans were hanging out in their big open space. Some were starting to nest.

Other birds were just hanging out and preening when I was there in mid-November.

I caught these two wild night herons fighting over nesting space over the roof of an exhibit.

You can also get close to the spoonbills. And since the flamingos were right behind you, you wouldn’t have to look at them and think they were flamingos.

It was too early for manatees.

The water at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park was so clear you could see the fish.

We had a small cold spell in mid-November and I headed up to Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park hoping to see manatees along the boardwalk at the park. They congregate in the springs along the park in the winter where the water stays fairly warm. The morning I was there the river was void of wild manatees. The only ones I saw were the 2 living there that were rehabilitating at the park. They were right up against the boardwalk so it was great to see them up close. I think I was just too early for the wild ones to have made their way to the springs.

The otters were so cute that morning. The vultures were hanging out in their exhibit and driving them crazy.

The view from the boardwalk.

Seeing Florida animals up close and a hippo too.

Birds you can see up-close at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park include a pair of whooping cranes that are both missing wings. They winter in Florida and were injured at some point and brought here to live. I overheard someone say “They cut off one wing so these birds can’s fly away.” and that is not true. Most of these animals are here due to man made injuries (hit by a car, a parent was hit by a car and now they are orphans, fishing lines, some were shot with a bb gun or arrow). I follow several wildlife rescue groups on facebook and it’s horrifying the things that happens to these animals.

Big animals that live at the park. On a recent episode of “Secrets of the Zoo:Tampa”, a baby bear was brought in to the zoo to be checked out when his mom died getting hit by a car. The zoo was able to secure a home for the cub here.

A snake up close.

Lu was a tv star on Flipper and was given to the park to live out his retirement. Lu is very popular with the kids and he just turned 60 in January.

I really went up to the park in January to see the manatees but there are also a lot of other fun animals to see as well.

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White, brown and pink at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park.

It’s not often you get to see white pelicans up close. They usually only spend the winter in central Florida and even then they are usually across a lake. There are a few that live at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park year round, having ended up there with some form of injury.

The pelicans there are all missing a wing or partial wing from injuries, usually that involves fishing line being tangled up around their wings. They nest at the park and their offspring grow up there and then fly off.

The flamingos were spending the morning preening, eating or napping.

A girl and her manatee

Just outside of the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park, you can go on a tour to swim with in the river where the manatees hang out. There are many roped off areas that you cannot enter so the manatees can get away from the humans if they want to. There’s a dock inside the park that looks over this area and this is where I spent part of a recent Saturday morning watching the manatees swim by.  A young girl was hanging out close to the dock and a manatee swam right up to her.

She wasn’t moving and the manatee came right up to her and bumped her in the face. He definitely wanted a scratch. She would scratch him for a few minutes and he would swim away but then come back again several times. It was pretty amazing to watch and I know she had to be so excited for this encounter.

At one point another manatee started swimming back and forth against her flipper like he was using it as a scratching post.

What a great memory for her.

There are manatee patrols out keeping an eye on things to make sure no one is chasing the manatees or the area doesn’t get too crowded. They are all volunteers and I would think “What a great job” but they probably have to deal with some unsavory people at time. Probably not everyone is as respectful as the girl was with the manatees. I’m not a big fan of people being allowed to swim in the same area with them but it was great even being out on the dock watching the girl and her manatee.

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Birds at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park

Nested season had already started for the great blue herons at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. Some were just starting to work on nests, some were still showing off for their mate and some were already sitting on eggs.

Resident pelicans.

The permanently injured resident white morph great blue heron was showing his breeding colors in his beak.  The colors were really pretty against his white neck.

A caracara yelling at something. It’s rare to see a caracara in the Tampa bay area so this is a new bird for a lot of people They can usually be found more inland in central Florida. unfortunately this bird is here because he was injured out in the wild and lost a wing.

An eagle with a missing wing.

A wild phoebe flew right in front of me and posed so I had to take his picture.

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