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Monday December 23, 2013: Homosassa State Wildlife Park
The high point of our day was a trip to Homosassa State Wildlife Park, a natural spring plus wildlife zoo that had a nice selection of animals, most of whom were willing to pose for photographs. The star attraction was a group of three or four "rescue" manatees that were kept at the park as pets and fed lettuce daily, a monotonous but apparently quite healthy diet. At certain seasons other wild manatees would swim up the Homosassa River to the springs and stay overnight to keep warm. I had no idea that water temperatures even in the low sixties were sufficient to "cold stress" manatees and kill many of them, so taking refuge in the warm springs was necessary for their survival during winter cold snaps.
At the head of the springs, the wildlife park boasted a floating chamber with underwater viewing windows. We were all surprised at the huge schools of fish either swimming slowly in circles or just keeping station in the water welling up from the spring. Some of the fish were clearly predators and others looked more like prey, but the docent said she had never seen an instance of a fish attacking another fish while in the springs, so apparently the warm water was a "truce" zone.
A separate area of the springs was set aside for a few alligators,and a separate, smaller pool for a rather large hippopotamus. The hippo surprised me as hippos are NOT native to Florida (rather Africa) , and I think it was a remainder from an earlier period where the park was a private zoo before being taken over by the state of Florida.
Otherwise, the park's somewhat eclectic collection of mammals were all found in Florida: a Florida panther, a small herd of the ubiquitous white-tailed deer, and some midget-sized Florida Key deer, plus what looked like a family of river otters. The otters ambled down to the shore of their part of the headwaters of the spring with a somewhat awkward or ungainly gait, but then gracefully slid into the calm waters and frolicked around. Clearly the water was their preferred habitat.
Ondina had mentioned seeing "rescue" birds in an aviary on a previous visit, and sure enough we found a set of cages plus a big aviary with a really nice assortment of Florida birds. They had two ospreys and a kingfisher who reminded us of the Australian kookaburra. The main aviary was built with spring water flowing through it, and it included water fowl like ducks and roseate spoonbills.
Just outside the aviary was an small island where we also saw flamingos, swans, and a lot of essentially wild waterfowl who were free to come and go as they wished, as far as I could tell.
Smaller bird cages along the path held other birds and several species of owls, which particularly pleased Ondina. I recall seeing at the very least barn owls, hooting owls, barred owls, and some kind of tiny midget owl, most of whom I think were rescue birds. And, of course, they had an All-American bald eagle.
Although Martin was on the mend, poor Tanya was now coming down with the flu. That evening, Ondina and Martin cooked a variety of meats, beans, and vegetables so that we could all make our own tacos and burritos for dinner, which was a lot of fun.
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|Map of Homosassa, Florida||Map of Western Caribbean Cruise||Map of Panama Canal Cruise|