Many years ago we told my mom that we'd like to take her on a trip. "Where do you want to go?" we asked. "To Florida to see the manatees," she replied without missing a beat. We finally made good on that promise January 13-20, 2007. Here's the proof. (Note: all of the animals were photographed in the wild, except for the manatees in Homosassa).
Before we got to the manatees, we passed by Weeki Wachee Springs, which I had read about years ago. We made a detour for some serious road kitsch.
In 1947, some clever entrepreneur figured he could build a giant tank at the spring, which pumps out thousands of gallons of fresh water a day, and put women in mermaid suits to perform in the spring. The whole place is staffed by former mermaids, and there was a cute video before the performance of generations of mermaids performing at a "Save our Tails" benefit. It completely fulfilled my wildest expectations. If you're ever on the road on the northern gulf coast of Florida, don't miss the Weeki Wachee mermaids!
All that questionable taste got to me, I guess.
With that out of my system, we headed to Homosassa, where there is an excellent wildlife park featuring manatees.
Sue and Theresa thought the manatees looked like ticks, with their (relatively) tiny heads and big, bloated bodies.
Lisa and mom, searching for manatees
Don't miss the homos, indeed.
Next we drove way down the gulf coast to spend a couple of nights on Sanibel Island, advertised as having the best shelling beaches in the Western hemisphere. More importantly, it is home to the J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife refuge, which takes up nearly half the island. We took an excellent tram tour, then returned the next morning to drive through on our own. Here are some of the birds we saw:
Wood ducks in breeding plumage
Tri colored heron
Golden crowned night heron
Great blue heron
Little blue heron
Pie billed grebe
We picnicked on the beach hoping to see the green flash. We didn't, but we got a heck of a sunset anyway.
After Sanibel, we were headed to the Everglades. On the way we stopped at Corkscrew Sanctuary, run by the Audubon Society. This little guy (a brown anole, I think) greeted us--or was he telling us to get the heck away from his women?
There is a 2.25 mile boardwalk through the sanctuary that took us almost 4 hours to walk, there was so much to see!
(no, he's not in a cage--he flew in and flew away again just as quickly)
Florida white-tail deer
Red shouldered hawk
Then it was on to Everglades City, a weird, remote outpost on the Western edge of the Everglades in an area called 10,000 islands. The islands are formed by mangroves, and the actual number of islands varies greatly depending on whether the tide is high or low. Suffice to say, you could get very lost out there where the fresh water meets the Gulf of Mexico. We went on a 2-hour guided boat ride of the area.
Bottle nosed dolphins
We also saw some wild manatees, but only their little noses sticking up out of the water.
During our time in Everglades City we visited some nearby sites. There were several boardwalks set up just off old Hwy 41, the "Tamiami Trail", where you can see wildlife with some feeling of security that you won't be eaten by an alligator you didn't see until you stepped on it.
We also visited Clyde Butcher's gallery. He is described as the Ansel Adams of the Everglades, and with good reason. He takes stunning, gigantic format black and white photos. For a taste, www.clydebutcher.com
Here is Theresa with her own fancy camera on the short nature trail behind Clyde's studio.
On our last day, we had to head to Miami, but on the way we stopped at Shark Valley where we went on a long tram ride with a terrific park ranger who told us all about the saw grass prairie that comprises a good chunk of the Everglades.
There were lots of anhinga nests with babies
We saw so many alligators we eventually lost count. Here's one good shot:
Other birds we saw but didn't get photos of:
double crested cormorants
green backed heron
magnificent frigate bird
black crowned night heron
lesser yellow legs
We had a few hours to kill in Miami that afternoon, so we went to the Fairchild Botanical garden, where Dale Chihuly had done several glass installations around the grounds.