"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Friday, March 29, 2013

Florida's Nature Coast II: Homosassa Springs

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

On the second full day at Rock Crusher Canyon RV Park we ventured slightly south to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.  Originally a privately owned exotic animal petting zoo, the park was purchased by the state in 1989, and now houses only native Floridian animals. 

Oh, except for Luc, the hippopotamus, left over from the exotic animal zoo. He was very active the day we visited, keeping up a constant circuit around his pool, lifting and shaking his enormous head, and displaying his fine teeth.

While best known for its manatees, the park has a full collection of everybody's favorite Florida mammals, birds and reptiles. We saw river otters, two bobcats, a Florida panther and two black bears, none of which we have seen in the wild around here. But no wild pigs, which we have seen on several occasions.

Of course they had many alligators. No swimming with the alligators? Really?

There was a grand aviary with several ducks we hadn't had the pleasure of seeing before, one being the beautiful fulvous whistling duck (below).

There were also black and yellow crowned night herons, some of which had loud babies stashed in the bushes whom they were feeding. Here's a yellow crowned night heron not on baby duty, taking it easy in the sun...

...and a nice shot of a green backed heron.

Zoos do give you a chance to study animals that you would never see so close in the wild. Here are a couple of crested caracaras. We have only seen them at a great distance before. 

We spent a long time watching the flamingos. It was nesting season, so there was a lot of interaction and unusual behavior.  The park has been trying for many years to get the flamingos to nest successfully.  Flamingos make mud mounds for nests, that keep the eggs and babies up above the tide line. The keepers have made some nests for them, in hopes of stimulating nesting behavior. This year they think it might be happening. We got to watch one flamingo who seemed to be trying to build her own nest. 

These four looked and sounded like they were having a loud, heated and protracted argument. 

In addition to the four resident rehabilitating manatee and countless transient ones, an elegant pair of swans in courting mode, glide around the springs.

Our last stop of the day was the "Fish Bowl," an underwater observatory right over the deepest part of the springs, where the natural fish are abundant. Yes, there were large schools of several kinds of fish, including mangrove snapper, crevalle jack and sheepshead.  The spring is much deeper than it looks from the surface, and is replenished naturally with 6 million gallons of fresh water every hour!

My next post will cover our visit to Cedar Key, a sleepy, funky town on the Gulf Coast, said to be like Key West was 30 years ago.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Florida's Nature Coast I: Crystal River

Rock Crusher Canyon RV Park

This is a two night stop on the first leg of our visit to Florida's "Nature Coast."  Rock Crusher Canyon is a very large campground laid out more like a state park than a private RV park. You don't feel like it's a big park at all, as you can only see a few of your neighbors. The sites are sand and grass, very long and wide, and most are wooded. We're lucky and have a site clear enough to the SW sky to locate the requisite three satellites on our Direct TV dish.  We chose this park based on very high recommendations from several sources, and they were right. It is a comfortable, high quality place with nice amenities, and a great location to visit Inverness, Crystal River and Homosassa, which is just what we did.


The town of Inverness has a small historical square around the Citrus County Courthouse (above) and a thriving sprawl just outside of town. In contrast to Titusville its a regular Hilton Head. We started our visit at Liberty Park, on the banks of Cooter Lake, named after the Florida cooter I assume, based on the statue at the entrance. 

The park must be pretty new, with several nice pavilions and a path that looks like it goes around much of the lake.  The Withlacoochee State (bike) Trail also goes right through the park. There were kids fishing and lovers strolling along the lakeshore. Idyllic.

They've got their own 9-11 memorial as well.  I liked Inverness, even though we didn't see a lot of it.

Crystal River

Our explorations of the area took us next to the town of Crystal River on Kings Bay, fed by 30 springs, waterway to the Crystal River National Wildlife Preserve, home to a multitude of manatee. There are plenty of public parks, marinas and boat launches in town to help folks get on the water. It was a windy 57 degrees, so we did our sight-seeing from land.

Roger Goettelmann Memorial Peer with a nifty public canoe/kayak launch on the right

Roger Goettelmann Memorial Peer
Hunter's Spring Park

King's Bay from Hunter's Spring Park

Fort Island

A drive out Fort Island Trail Rd. took us closer to the Gulf, but still not beyond the many islands and salt marshes that line the coast here.  At the end of the long, winding, scenic road there is a boat launch, fishing peer and beach.

The Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant from Fort Island

Fort Island Beach - Pretty, but NOT a beach day

Although there were no people enjoying the beach on this chilly day, the birds were happy.

We saw our first confirmed black skimmers, standing around on the beach, facing into the wind, with royal terns and laughing gulls. (We think we may have seen them before out on Merritt Island, doing their skimming thing, but we weren't sure until now.)

On our way back on Fort Island Trail Road we slipped into the Fort Island Trail Park for a quick look.  It had a picnic area, a boat launch and a reminder about manatee friendly boat behavior.

While we were there some clammers pulled in the canal. (Is that what you call clam fishermen?) They had about ten burlap bags filled with shellfish, that we guessed were clams. ("Hard" clams are seeded and farmed around here.)  

Those cute houses next to the canal seemed to be empty and had "Auction" signs on them. We hear that living on the water is becoming difficult due to rising home owner's insurance costs.

Another view of the canal at Fort Island Trail Park.

Peck's Old Port Cove

For lunch we sought out Peck's Old Port Cove Restaurant, based on recommendations from the internet. It is supposedly a real favorite for seafood. It was in a great location, on Ozella Trail Road, one of these roads that meanders out through the salt marshes and rural neighborhoods, right on to the water. It reminded us a lot of the outlying islands of the Caribbean, except the water wasn't as blue. 

Frankly, I thought the food experience was, well...meh. The place was kind of old fashioned, and not in a good way. It needed a thorough steam cleaning and an updated menu.  The most interesting thing about Peck's was the "crab farm" out back...

...and the crabs.

Next post, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Never Change Your Plans for the Weather!

What an exciting last day at The Great Outdoors! We had our first tornado warning since being on the road. At about 2:30 this afternoon we got an alert on Rick's cell phone from the National Weather Service that there was a tornado warning in our area effective immediately and for the next half hour. We quickly gathered up Kona, my purse, the weather radio, and a couple of portable folding chairs (What was I thinking?), and ran down to the bath house, which is a little more substantial that our RV. There was no time to do anything else! We expected that many people would be there, but there was only one other couple with their dog waiting out the storm. About 15 minutes of high wind, rain and hail, but no tornados that we know of. By 3:30 we were back in the RV with nothing but light rain and occasional thunder outside.  We'll have some picking up to do after the rain stops, but nothing serious around here.

I've thought before that we really should have an emergency backpack ready to go for occasions just like this when you have no time to think about what to bring. I did have one ready when we were in South Dakota last summer, but since then we haven't been in areas that have emergency situations that require such quick responses. Maybe now I'll make one up again so that we have more than folding chairs to get us through the storm. Geez.

Yesterday we had a great last day at the beach with some new friends.  It looked like it might be a cloudy and rainy day, but we decided to go anyway. (One of our mottos is: "Never Change Your Plans for the Weather," but emergency weather alerts don't count.) We picked up Cindy and Nick at their RV across the park and all piled into Ms. Subaru. Kona and their dog Lucy had to stay home, as there are no dogs allowed on the beach in this part of Florida. : (

I suggested a first stop at the Sunrise Bread Company in downtown Titusville, one of the coolest places in town. Sunrise is a perfect bakery/coffee shop that makes a wide selection of breads and other delights, including some whole grain varieties. We wanted lunch, but because they don't serve any they sent us to a place across the street - Kloiber's Cobbler Eatery - that uses Sunrise's breads.  So, we had a light breakfast snack at Sunrise, and ordered a picnic lunch from Kloiber's. That turned out to be a very yummy decision.  I'd highly recommend their Firecracker sandwich.

We parked almost all the way at the north end of Playa Linda Beach, part of the Canaveral National Seashore on Merritt Island. We didn't park at the very end, because it's a nude beach, and we weren't exactly looking for that experience.  We walked for a loooong way, and did actually get to the nude beach, then turned around and walked back.  

Cindy and Nick from Gig Harbor, WA

Even though it was an intermittently cloudy day, it was very warm, and not too windy, so we were comfortable enough to have our picnic lunch on the beach after the walk. Nick even had a swim. We sat on the sand and talked for a long time, and finally thought we'd better head home to our doggies. 

Rick and Lenore

The storm is picking up again right now, but our weather radio is not reporting any more tornado warnings, so we're staying put. Tomorrow we leave The Great Outdoors. We'll miss our new friends, the nature trail, the free yoga and tai chi classes, the Sunrise Bread Company, and Merritt Island, but maybe we'll come back here someday. It's been a great two months.

Our next stop is Crystal River, over on the west coast of Florida, and then Cedar Key.  We're heading north!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Orlando Wetlands Wildlife

Geez, I'm really sorry that you got this post in its unfinished state. I must have accidentally clicked on Publish instead of Close when I went to bed last night. Here it is again with all the missing parts filled in. 

Rick spent most of today sitting in the GMC dealer in Orlando getting various things on the truck taken care of. Let's just say it turned out to be a much longer visit than he expected and leave it at that. : (

So Kona and I were on our own. After my tai chi class, I took my bike to a shop in Titusville for a tune-up. It had gathered a lot of dirt and grime on the chains and gears because of all the riding I'm doing on the nature trail here, which is mostly sand and dust. It is actually a dirt bike, so this is its specialty, but I just don't know how to keep it clean enough not to get all squeaky. After that we visited the causeway out to Merritt Island to a place where I have seen people letting their dogs swim. Unfortunately, when Kona waded out, it was only up to her knees. She played anyway, but it wasn't a great swim.

So here I am back at the RV, with the day to myself. Kona is wiped out from her "swim" and sleeping. It's kind of nice and quiet. 

Yesterday I took a walk in the Orlando Wetlands Park, just ten miles west of here in Christmas, FL.  It is a 1,650 acre nature preserve park created by the City of Orlando as method of disposing of its "clean" waste water.  Because most of this part of Florida was wetlands before the extensive canals and ranching changed it drastically, it becomes wetlands again pretty readily. This method of water treatment and disposal is being experimented with in other parts of the country where similar wetlands are being created or recreated, and wildlife seems to thrive in them.  Santee Lakes in California, a place we stayed and enjoyed the abundance of seasonal ducks and other birds, was one of the first to try turning water treatment into a multi-use park, very successfully.   

Pretty, huh? The wetlands here are very large, but there is no driving around them, so they require a long walk or bike ride on the trails. The 2.5 mile birding trail, shown below, is the one I took. I'd like to go back on my bike and take one of the longer trails some time.

Of course there were the ubiquitous vultures, both turkey and black types.  (There are more vultures in Florida than anywhere else we've been.)  This one was doing something a little unusual. It was auditioning for a part as an American eagle - for the USA motifs.  Fat chance, buddy.  

There are bald eagles here too. I'm always surprised to see bald eagles down here. I still associate them with the Pacific Northwest. But there are plenty of fish and habitat down here too, so why not?

There was a lovely pair of sandhill cranes.

Tucked away under some bushes I spotted what I'm pretty sure is a juvenile black-crowned night heron.  He was too far a way to get a very good picture.

The star of this Orlando Wetlands is the purple gallinule. (Not to be confused with the common moorhen, which is a little bigger, and plain old black.) In this picture you can really see the flashy coloring of his feathers and beak.

Here you can see him stepping out on his wild legs and feet. You can just see one of his really big yellow feet sticking out of the water in the above picture too. They're big like that so he can walk on top of the lily pads.

Right between the road and the water there were two little raccoon kittens out getting food without their mother. They were about half adult size. Maybe they were out on Spring Break too, like all the other adolescents visiting Florida this month.

On my back to the parking lot I passed a gaggle of children screeching about something, and as I got closer I saw what it was.

A mass of hundreds of eastern lubber grasshoppers must have just been hatching out. They were about 1/2 in long and on the move.  

OK, that's my cue, I better be on the move too.  I've been sitting long enough to grow Spanish Moss.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Surf's Up!

A trip to Florida just wouldn't be complete without some good beach time. We've been waiting for better beach weather after this cold snap, and we finally had a day that we thought might do it.

 Merritt Island has a very long stretch of undeveloped National Seashore, sans the strange and unfortunate practice of beach driving that's common in parts of Florida. 

We walked as far as we could down the beach, which is blocked when it comes to the Kennedy Space Center property, and then spent time watching the surfers. It was a big surf day, as a strong northeastern  wind out at sea had whipped up some pretty big waves.

Later in the week we got all dolled up to go contra dancing, drove down to Cocoa Beach (about an hour away) and found out that the dance was in Melbourne. Oh well. This isn't the first time we've missed out on a dance due to either poor communication or insufficient research. So we headed home along the Cocoa Beach strip of A1A, and passed the infamous Ron Jon's. There must be a hundred billboards for Ron Jon's spread all over the highways from South Carolina to Miami.

With the lighting effects and the giant surfing statues, it looked like a little slice of Las Vegas at the beach.  We had driven down this stretch of A1A during the day and it looked very different - kind of bland. Now it was brightly lit and hopping.

Usually these kinds of places don't interest us much, but we were all dressed up with no place to go, so in honor of Spring Break we cruised on in. Boy if you need anything remotely beach related, this is the place.

Flip-flops anyone?

They had a great selection of skate boards and long boards and of course...

surf boards. 

Can you imagine, we got out without a single purchase?

We'll be here in Titusville for one last week, and then we'll be moving to the west coast of Florida. All three of us will be getting haircuts this week, the truck will get an oil change, and we'll do all those last minute things to get ready to travel again.  I'm sure there will be few more posts before then. I've got some unique wildlife sightings to share.