I don’t usually like photographing captive animals, but Homosassa Springs State Park in Florida has birds in an outdoor exhibit without obstructing bars or mesh. That gives a more intimate experience, and most of them are native species. Some of these birds have been injured in some way, so they cannot fly. Others, like the brown pelicans, are completely wild and have chosen to make nests and raise a family amid the non-native flamingos and the native ibis, egrets, herons, ducks.
It’s hard to find a captive bald eagle exhibit that doesn’t have an American flag draped in the background.
The first whooping cranes I ever saw were in the Audubon Park Zoo in New Orleans when I was about ten years old. They were named Crip (he was crippled) and Jo (for Josephine). I did see some wild whoopers fly over an interstate in Montana about 20 years ago. And I saw a few banded birds on the shore of Lake Kissimmee, Florida that were part of a reintroduction project.
But at Homosassa Springs, you can get the most intimate view of these very rare and endangered birds. It becomes fairly easy to make them look like they were photographed in the wild if you blur out the background with a telephoto lens.
Of course, these whoopers are not able to come and go as they please. However, the wood storks below do.
Many native birds like the marbled godwit are in the aviary (I did see a wild one at Jekyll Island, GA last week.)
Wood ducks in the wild are notoriously difficult to get close to. In the Okefenokee Swamp they generally see you before you see them, and take off with their peculiar whistling calls.
Red-tailed hawks are common…
But crested caracaras are more frequently seen in the south and west.
Brown pelicans are tender lovers, even though their smooching looks a little odd…
The male pelican brings sticks to the nest, which the female arranges to her satisfaction. More Homosassa residents:
Lu (Lucifer) the hippopotamus is leftover from the era when Homosassa was a tourist trap, and has been declared an honorary citizen of Florida. He starred in TV programs as part of the Ivan Tors Animal Actors. The black vultures seem to like Lu. Or some food item he attracts.
There are also manatees, otters, and a huge fishbowl where you can see the fishes in the springs. But be careful of the squirrels – if you sit down to enjoy a trail bar they literally climb on you to get some. Talk about freaky! (I don’t feed the wildlife, so this wise guy did not get a reward for his bad manners.)
Florida has some amazing state parks, and this is now among my favorites. It is also close to Crystal River, which is famous for its wintering manatees. While there, visit The Freezer, a local tiki bar that is literally in a fish freezer, part of the working waterfront. They don’t advertise. There’s no sign. Ask a local, or use your GPS. Siri knows! The seafood is fresh and cheap. However, it was too salty for my taste, and I don’t like Old Bay seasoning which is what it tasted like they used. Plus they were out of chowder. But it is a very popular place, and some folks just loooove Old Bay, so it’s worth a visit for lunch or dinner.
There is an anomaly in the area, though – the nuclear power plant. And big sirens in nearby neighborhoods to warn residents in case of a nuclear accident. Very very strange. Other than that, it’s a great part of Florida. What a way to spend the winter!
Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
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Online gallery: Smugmug
To purchase these bird prints online: Homosassa Springs Gallery
Original hand-painted BW photographs for sale: Etsy
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