Manatee Springs is one of my favorite places to camp. It’s located on the Suwannee River near the tiny town of Chiefland, Florida. The campground is perfect for tent camping. There are still a lot of RV’s, but the sites are large enough and spread out enough that you still feel like you’re actually in the woods and not in a parking lot.
The springs put out about a hundred gallons of fresh, cool spring water every day. Seventy two degrees cool, to be exact. Year round. That’s why the manatees love it here in the winter. The best time to see the manatees in the run is early in the morning. Otherwise, they all hang out where the spring run meets the Suwannee River, and it’s not so easy to see them there.
There are eight and a half miles of hiking trails in the park. They’re all clearly marked and well maintained. The park sustained a bit of damage from Hurricane Irma, so there are a lot of downed trees. They’ve mostly all been cleared from the paths though. The trails are beautiful, going through oak hammocks, cypress swamps, and uplands. There are also sink hole ponds peppered throughout the park’s trails.
There’s a lot to do here! Rent kayaks, scuba dive, take a guided pontoon boat ride down the Suwannee River, swim in the spring (It was waaaay too cold for all that craziness this time around!), hike, go fishing, ride bikes, and eat BBQ made by Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures. These are the same people who rent the canoes and kayaks and do the pontoon ride. They start the smoker up first thing in the morning, and it smells so good, and tastes even better!
We saw a lot of critters during our six days camping here! The deer were very curious, and not very afraid of people. Clearly they’ve been fed by well-meaning campers. It’s so bad for them to eat people food! They need to be left alone to do their own natural deer thing, but it’s hard to tell some people that. It’s very tempting to feed them when they give you that “But I’m starving to death here” look. I even watched one run straight into a lady’s car, denting the door pretty good. The deer was chasing after her baby, and didn’t even notice the car. They’re losing their fear of people, and going toward the cars because people feed them from the cars. Hey guys, don’t feed the wildlife! It’s bad, okay? 🙂
I took pictures of most of the critters we saw, except for the raccoon. There was just the one, but he didn’t stick around very long because he must have known I’m a big meanie who knows better than to leave food or garbage out for him. I used to like raccoons and think they were super cute, until one killed my parrot. But that’s another story for another time. I’m slowly getting over it, and I no longer wish death upon all raccoons I see. They really are kind of cute. Though I still think they’re evil little jerks.
On to the pictures! Enjoy!
These four deer wandered around the campground all the time looking for handouts. You can’t really tell from the picture, but one of them was a little baby. So cute! They were all pretty small.
These are seed pods from the sweetgum tree. I just thought they were cool-looking, so you get a photo of them.. You’re welcome.
Little armadillo friend scrounging for some grub. These little guys are loud at night when they creep around the tent rustling through the dry, dead leaves looking for food.
Shelf mushrooms are so cool!
A great egret.
So at first I thought this was a black crowned night heron, but Sadie educated me with her new bird book. He’s a green heron. And I think he’s incredibly cute! As evidenced by the many photos I took of him and his brethren.
Here’s our great egret friend again. What’s the difference between a great egret and a snowy egret? The snowy egret has yellow feet and is much smaller than the great egret. Though honestly I get the two mixed up all the time. Throw in the juvenile little blue heron, which is pure white, and the white morph of the great blue heron, and I’m all confuzzled. They’re all very similar!
I know turkey buzzards aren’t the most beloved birds of all time. But they really are kind of cool in their own creepy sort of way!
Nope, not gonna feed you. Stop looking at me like that!
I love these crazy, bendy oaks on the sink hole loop trail!
I kept thinking “life on life” needs to be an upcoming photo challenge for our Optical D’Illusions photo club. The lichen are really quite beautiful.
Resurrection ferns. These are so cool how they can go from dead to bright green and lovely with just a little moisture.
Some reflections in a little fresh water pond because, why not?
There were no pretty wildflowers to be found! This is why I could never handle winter up north and I’m forever a Florida girl! All the brown, crunchy dead stuff is a little depressing. Beautiful to be sure! But still a little sad.
These squirrels were hilarious shoving gigantic, larger then their head, hickory nuts into their tiny little mouths!
So many vultures!
You’re going to have to take my word for it: this is a manatee.
Great blue heron really didn’t want me to take his picture, so he took off. Bye bye birdie.
So many little fish! I don’t know much about fish, so don’t ask me what kind these are. They’re little. And crazy! They dart all around when you put your hand over the water, forming a shadow near them.
I do not recommend picking up an alligator snapping turtle, like… ever. But these were people on some sort of research expedition. They tagged this guy, weighed him, took some notes, then let him go back in the water.
I kind of wish we had rented kayaks. Though I kept having visions of me falling overboard. And that water is cold! Plus, it barely got to sixty degrees any of the days we were there. Yes, I’m admittedly a wimp when it comes to cold weather. Don’t judge me.
More manatees. It’s really hard to tell, but this was a mama and baby.
That great blue heron finally decided to let me take his picture.
I vowed to take a photo of every creature I saw, no matter how hard it was to capture. So here you go: a turtle. Don’t ask me what kind. I can tell you it is not a snapping turtle and it is not a soft shell turtle. Red eared slider? No idea. Just a turtle swimming along.
A cute little cormorant. These are the guys you see with their wings spread out, drying off. The other ones who do that are anhingas, sometimes called the snake bird. What’s the difference? Cormorants have a hooked bill, and anhingas have a spear-looking bill. Also, anhingas have a fanned tail, and cormorants have a little stubby tail.
I thought this was a baby cormorant, but honestly I have no clue what it is. Little ducky looking guy.
These vultures reminded me of that scene in Ice Age where the vultures are all singing “Food, Glorious Food!”
We’ll call him a great egret.
And we’ll call this autumn in Florida. Really, it does happen.
There are only 6,620 manatees in Florida. They’re still endangered. They’re doing better, but they still need our love and protection. It’s pretty rare to see them without injuries on their backs from boat propellers. They really are such gentle creatures. They just float around, munching on vegetation and hanging out. What a life! Until they get too close to a boat.