Brenda and her friend Barb came by to take us to the nearby Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. The first thing we did there was take a boat ride up the river. This place looks a lot like it would have centuries ago, which is beautiful.
There are a few man-made influences here. They have build nesting boxes for ducks, and recently did a controlled burn of some of the undergrowth. But generally they try to keep it natural. Our guide pointed out a big Osprey nest in one of the trees. Ospreys are not very large but apparently they build huge nests that can weigh between 200 and 300 pounds. That might be because they mate for life and return to the same nest every year.
After the boat ride we followed the boardwalk to the Fishbowl. Sections of this lake are very deep and the water is clear. We could see some really big fish down there, especially in the deeper sections. But the amazing thing was that we could walk downstairs to an underwater viewing area! The walls are glass, and the fish we saw from above were crowded next to them, moving slowly and keeping in a big bait ball formation.
The reason for that may be that just around the corner were bigger, carnivorous snook.
But nobody was aggressive; they all just kept to their own kind and drifted quietly near the glass. I love this place!
When I finally left the Fishbowl, we continued along the boardwalk. The claim to fame here are the manatees that come up the river during winter. The spring-fed river remains at 72 degrees, which allows them to live through winter. Now it is warm enough for the wild manatees to head out to the gulf, but there are at least 3 tame manatees that live here year round. We could see them but they didn't feel like getting their picture taken. They stayed below water, looking like huge blobs.
There is a famous hippo here, named Lu. When the park was remodeled in 1989, it was determined that only native species would live here. Hippopotamuses are, obviously, not native, and there were efforts to find another home for him. But the efforts didn't pay off and locals campaigned heavily to keep Lu, so eventually, in 1991 the governor made Lu and honorary citizen of Florida. He's 50 years old now, fat and contented. His enormous pond is frequented by all kinds of birds, several docents visit him daily, and he seems to know the crowds are here for him.
In the area across the boardwalk are some big, lazy alligators. Their metabolism really slows down in cooler weather. The docent said these were last fed in November, and it's almost time to feed them again.
The staff have built large, healthy-looking outside displays for a big variety of animals. The otters have a very large lake with a little waterfall, and there are bird sanctuaries everywhere for vultures, flamingos, whopping cranes, spoonbills, burrowing owls - everything. There is an island in one of the ponds with wooden crates which the pelicans use for nesting.
Many birds of prey are housed here. Most, if not all, are injured birds that cannot live successfully in the wild. The Bald Eagle area has an American flag strategically placed against the back wall, and one of the eagles posed for us.
We went to Margarita Breeze later, where we got dinner and a show. Barb, who had been here before, asked the owner to show us his fork-bending trick. I don't know how he did it, but he lightly shook the fork, and the tines bent. Then he had me hold it by the handle, twisted it very, very lightly, and the handle twisted around. Seriously, I want to know how he did this!