February in Florida: Citrus County

Who cares about Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions about the coming of spring when you live in Florida?

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On the first day of February we launched the boat at Pete’s Peir and then spent the day on the water. We started the morning playing hide and seek with the fish. The fish won.

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Then we played a little Marco Polo with the dolphin as they would surface and hiss before disappearing.

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Next, we played Peek-a-boo with the manatee as they’d quickly peek their snouts above the water but then slide beneath the surface before I could snap a satisfactory picture.

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Finally, we quit playing games and headed to Three Sisters Spring where we knew we’d find manatee we could photograph.

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And we weren’t disappointed. Dozens of the swimming potatoes were moving out of the spring in the warm weather to feed before the next cold front chases them back to their warm, protected hideaway.

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The spring area also housed numerous manatee in the roped off portion of the river. A river congested with swimmers, boaters, photographers and people kayaking.

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Only in Florida is it possible to enjoy  what those living in other states would consider summer fun in February.

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Daycation: Crystal River

 

2014: The Year of the Manatee

In the book Deadly Waters, author Gloria Skurzynski, compares manatee to giant potatoes.

IMG_5595.JPGNot a bad description, but a potato may be more active.

These creatures are so ugly, they’re adorable.

Every year seems to be devoted to a different animal: sea turtles, black bears, moose, killer whales, grizzly bears. Last year was the year of the manatee, starting last January at Fanning Springs State Park and then at Blue Springs, Homasassa Springs, Wakula Springs, and finally swimming with them at Crystal River.

I wonder what animal will dominate 2015?

Another New Bike?

One of our goals for 2014 is to swim with the manatee. We didn’t have any luck finding manatee that we could join in the water last weekend, but spending the day on the water at Crystal River can never be considered a failure. No manatee…no problem.

We knew it was a long shot to find manatee on a day when the temperature is 90º, but we’ve seen them on summer days in the past so it was worth a try. The day quickly became a boat ride instead of a manatee swim, but what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Back at the boat ramp we met a couple with a pedal powered pontoon boat. This “green” boat uses pedal power connected to a riverboat style paddle wheel to move through the water. In addition, the boat had an electric engine powered by solar panels to provide a power boost while pedaling or as an alternative power source.

At only 14′ long and 750 pounds, the owners claimed that it was easy to maneuver and provided good exercise while enjoying a day on the river. I’m not sure I’d be too keen on taking guests since it would add extra effort, but maybe my next bike will be a pontoon boat!

 

Homosassa Springs: Spring #12

After a disappointing trip to Weeki Wachee Springs, the day got much better when we stopped at Homosassa Springs on our way home. While we determined Weeki Wachee “wasn’t anything”; Homosassa was not a disappointment.

IMG_6302Shortly after arriving we made our way to Homosassa’s famous Fish Bowl where the people descend into an underwater observatory and watch the manatee and fish swimming in the spring that surrounds them…much more interesting than watching the mermaid show earlier in the day.

By following the paved trail and elevated boardwalk, visitors can check in on the progress of manatee being rehabilitated in the Manatee Care Center which cares for injured and orphaned animals.

The manatee at the park share the spotlight with Lu, the resident hippo, as well as the alligators. Park Rangers or volunteers lead daily educational programs teaching about the role of the American alligator in the Florida ecosystem and then feed Lu, an exotic species allowed to remain at the park since being made an honorary Florida citizen.

In addition to its more famous residents, black bears, bobcats, playful river otters and a variety of birds including owls, eagles, swan, and flamingos inhabit the park.

However, the manatee and crystal clear water of the spring remain my favorite parts of the park.

It looks like we’re going to make our goal of visiting at least fourteen of Florida’s springs this year since Homosassa Springs State Park makes number twelve!

Crystal River: Spring #9

We spent the day on Crystal River swimming and snorkeling in a couple of the springs in Kings Bay. Since the constant 72° temperature of the spring attracts manatee, we hoped to swim with the gentle creatures so we could check off another activity on the 14 in 14 list; but no such luck.

DSCN0022Manatee prefer the springs in the winter but finding them during the warm weather months is a bit more challenging. However, since I’m not fond of swimming when the weather’s cold, looking for the manatee on a summer day was worth a try.

We finally anchored the boat and made our way back to Three Sisters Spring, the ninth spring we’ve visited this year. Fortunately we avoided crowds by going on a Thursday morning, competing with only about two dozen swimmers and kayakers.

Even I enjoyed swimming in the refreshing water of the spring, and it was the perfect place for John to test out the underwater camera the girls gave him for Father’s Day.

We continuing exploring the Kings Bay region, and John jumped over for some more snorkeling. I decided to remain in the boat, afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back in without the aid of the shore (a good move).

No manatee, but an otherwise perfect day exploring yet another of Florida’s magnificent springs. And now we have an excuse to make a return trip!

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Blue Springs

Instead of entering Blue Springs State Park the traditional way, by car, we entered by boat traveling upstream from Hontoon Island on the St. John’s River.

IMG_3417After mooring the boat we walked the popular boardwalk which serves as a manatee observation deck. The run to the spring was crowded with a variety of fish – too bad fishing isn’t permitted in the Blue Spring Run.

And despite the fact it was not a cold day, over a dozen manatee congregated in the warm water designated as a manatee refuge. For the first time I saw a manatee tagged with a tracking device. I can only imagine the embarrassment the belt-like contraption attached to the manatee’s tail must cause as the creature drags a small buoy as it swims.

The boardwalk leads to the largest spring on the St. John’s River and while it’s a popular destination for swimming, snorkeling, and diving, it’s closed to those activities from mid-November until March 15 during Manatee season. In addition, St. Johns River and Cruises and Tours offer two-hour narrated tours from the park and both canoes and kayaks are available for rent.

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The park is so popular during the spring and summer that it frequently closes when it reaches capacity so better to plan to be there early.

Image 2On our way back to Hontoon Island, we encountered a paddle boat and a couple of eight-man sculling boats. The sculling boats actually moved down the river more quickly than our boat  since our speed was limited by the no wake requirements designed to protect the manatee.

Blue Springs State Park…another of Florida’s treasures.

54 Ways to Celebrate Florida!

On this date, March 3rd, in 1845, Florida entered the union as the 27th state. That sounds like reason for celebration. Make March celebrate Florida month. Can you complete ten of these Florida friendly tasks this month?

Visit a Florida State Park

Go to the beach

Wear sunblock

Eat key lime pie

Listen to the music of Floridians like Lynard Skynard, Mel Tillis, Tom Petty, Ray Charles, or Gloria Estefan.

Read a Carl Haisaan book

Eat a Cheeseburger in Paradise

Go fishing

Place a bet on the “ponies” at the Florida Derby at Gulfstream.

Wear flip flops

Travel by boat

Visit the “Ancient City” of St. Augustine

Swim with the manatee

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Sail

Drink a glass of orange juice

Eat shrimp

Visit a Florida spring

Ride a bike trail

Paddle a canoe or kayak

Snorkel

Register to vote (or update your registration)

Visit a tacky tourist trap

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Eat a Cuban sandwich

Sip a frozen tropical drink

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Take a hike

Birdwatch

Visit a botanical garden

Tour a fort

Take an airboat ride

Drink from the Fountain of Youth

Play golf

Watch a Major League Baseball Grapefruit League spring training game

Enjoy to a festival

Go to Ron Jon

Explore the Rocket Garden at Kennedy Space Center

Drive on Daytona Beach

Eat gator

Smoke a cigar from Ybor City

Collect seashells

Climb a lighthouse

Ride a glass bottom boat

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Experience bike week in Daytona

Eat sugarcane

Sleep in a chickee

Collect sharks teeth

Treasure hunt

Drive the overseas highway

Ferry to the Dry Tortugas

Sing the state song while on the Swanee River

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Get LOST on the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST)

Drive Spook Hill

Whale watch from Gamble Rogers State Park

Crack a coconut

Leave a comment and let me know what I forgot, but don’t forget to celebrate Florida! And don’t forget to take pictures!

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Mom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Authentic Florida

A couple of months ago I started receiving Authentic Florida,  a monthly newsletter which focuses on simple and delightful pleasures for living in Florida. The newsletter highlights Florida travel and Florida living, and I’m often reminded of places I’ve visited or hope to visit.

This month’s edition included 50 Authentic Things To Do In Florida in recognition of their 50th newsletter. I was amazed at how many of these things I’ve done during the past 12 months.

How many I’ve done in previous years:

  • Tubing the Ichetucknee
  • Reflecting at the Bok Tower
  • Snorkeling for Florida Scallops
  • Cabbage Key’s Cheeseburger in Paradise
  • Historic Cedar Key
  • Spelunking Florida’s Caverns
  • Letting Go on the Hillsborough River
  • Birding at St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge
  • Alligators at Myakka State Park
  • Matlacha’s Lovegrove Gallery

And how many are on my “To Do” list:

  • Reflecting at the Bok Tower
  • An Oak Canopy on Ft. George Island
  • The White Sands of Siesta Key
  • Old Florida on the Chassahowitzka River
  • Paddleboarding
  • Wateralls at Rainbow Springs
  • Fossiling on the Peace River
  • Picking Florida Blueberries
  • Beachcombing for Shark’s Teeth

It’s great to read about the adventures of others to plan weekend getaways. Any suggestions?

 

Skunk Ape Taking a Bath!

"Is that Big Foot taking a bath?"
“Is that Big Foot taking a bath?”

“Have you ever seen this before?” I texted this message to the girls along with this picture. Sarah’s response, “Is that Big Foot taking a bath?” Well, since this is Florida, that would be Skunk Ape, not Big Foot; but the answer is still no. That’s not Skunk Ape or Big Foot. It’s a manatee.

We’re no strangers to manatee. We’ve seen them at Blue Springs, Homossasa Springs, on the St. John’s River, and on Crystal River. We’ve seen manatee in the shallow water just off the beach in Sanibel, and we’ve even had a manatee chew on the anchor rope of our boat. But, this was a first. Several manatee rolling, playing, and raising out of the water under the bridge at Blind Pass between Sanibel and Captiva. For about fifteen minutes we watched the unusual behavior.

It seems we witnessed manatee mating. According to Save the Manatee Club, this is manatee mating season and it’s not unusual for people to report herds of manatee in very shallow water “playing rough”. Some even try to rescue the animals by pushing them back out in to deeper water.

Instead, the best plan:

  • Watch from at least 100 feet to avoid interfering with the mating process.
  • Don’t push animals back into deeper water. You risk injury to yourself or the manatee.
  • Don’t feed or harass the animals…mating or not. They are a protected species under federal and state laws.

So not only will this be the summer of the red fox, but the summer of manatee mating as well.

 

 

 

Honeymoon at Pete’s Pier

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Last Saturday when we pulled in the parking lot of Pete’s Pier in Crystal River the first thing I saw – a car with a “Just Married” sign plastered across the back. As I looked past the car to the pair of green Port-a-Potties I thought, “Why would anyone spend their honeymoon at Pete’s Pier?”

 

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Then a few minutes later as we pushed off the dock and headed toward Seven Sister’s Spring I realized just how much I take for granted. Sure, Pete’s Pier isn’t anything special. Small boat ramp. Primitive bathroom facilities. No restaurant.

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But what a beautiful piece of Florida. Clear water. Sunshine. Warm weather. Surrounded by wildlife. People come from all over the country, no, all over the world to visit a part of the world only an hour from home.

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Approaching the spring area, the tour boats packed with divers lined the river…a reminder of how popular the river, springs, and wildlife, especially the manatee, of the area are to the thousands who visit each year.

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What a great reminder that our backyard is someone else’s paradise! And, a perfect place for newlyweds to spend their honeymoon.

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(Meghan, thanks for the great manatee pictures!)