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USA Road Trip - a Manatee Moment
Face to face with a Manatee
Thursday it was goodbye to Jetty Park and all the excitement of seeing the launch of the space shuttle and on 200 miles to the west coast of Florida. We were finally turning towards home, firstly to Oklahoma and then back to South Africa. As we stopped at the library in the small town of Williston to check our e-mails we were amazed to find two Sand-hill Cranes with their bright red crowns feeding in the local park. According to the parks maintenance manager they reside in the area and sometimes as many as 6 visit the park – what a lucky sighting!
Paddling down the Suwanee River.
Manatee Springs State Park proved to be another of those wonderful surprises. Located on the Suwannee River (The River of the song by that name) it is a place where these amazing fresh water animals come in the winter. We treated ourselves to a 4 hour Indian canoe trip up the river on a marvelous early winter’s day in this area of NW Florida and saw an Otter and a variety of water birds, but no Manatees- a bit of a disappointment.
At least 500 Vultures nest in the state park and deep clear springs allow divers to explore the 5 miles of caves to be found here. This area in fact boasts to have the greatest concentration of fresh water springs on earth. It also is a great place for walking, snorkeling, boating, fishing, birding and cycling, etc. It is really a beautiful river with mangrove swamps and ferns and sparkling clear water. This area is an important wine growing region and the nearby Ocala area with its horse breeding farms is a sight to see with its many acres of green grass and picket fences and beautiful homesteads.
The only Primates in the wild in North America.
This area is also the home of the only wild monkeys in the USA. They came here in the 1930’s when acting as extras for the Tarzan movies which were filmed in this area because of the swamp forests here. Perhaps they were not happy with their wages or did not fancy being returned to Africa, but some escaped and formed a breeding colony and they still are found in the area, perhaps as illegal immigrants or perhaps with green cards .The USA continues to surprise us from day to day.
We actually spent two nights at Manatee Springs where a very presumptuous bandit (a young Raccoon) raided our camp, not while we were sleeping, but while we were eating supper peacefully in our shelter, coming right in under my deck chair and only retreating slightly when I waved a big stick at it. We completed our supper indoors in Matilda. Early the next morning we were woken by the sound of missiles landing on the roof, in the form of Hickory nuts being thrown down from high trees overhead by hard working squirrels preparing for winter.
Face to face with a Manatee.
On the way to Tallahassee we stopped at Wakulla Springs State Park where Audrey had previously gone on a boat trip on the Wakulla River and we did the same. What a truly amazing experience that was, not only for the many birds and alligators that we saw, but for the 8+ Manatees that we saw from the jetty and the boat, including a mother and young one.
To cap our visit there I decided to snorkel in the swimming area, in spite of the warning to look out for alligators. As I was admiring some of the freshwater fish that were feeding in the water grass that was being gently moved by the current created by the water pouring out of the spring in the ground, I suddenly came face to face with a big Manatee that was drifting into the swimming area. After I had spat the water out, got my breath back, cleared my face mask and took a second look we both simply drifted in the same current looking as each other from a distance of about 3 meters. What a wonderful moment as time seemed to stand still until I slowly backed away to give this beautiful creature the right of way even though this was a clearly marked swimming area for humans! After lunch and some good birding and butterfly watching in the gardens at Wakulla Springs we sadly left to travel to Tallahassee. What an absolutely marvelous week it has been with so much excitement and beauty!