Travel Report Florida Februar 2017

Manatees and more

One of the largest retreat areas for the threatened Manatees is in the middle of Florida. In the cooler winter months hundreds of sea cows are looking for shelter in the warmer springs of the Crystal River and the bays of Kings Bay. Since long time we had planned to visit this area and now it finally worked out.

The Lufthansa-flight took us to Orlando, where Manuela already awaited us. She was to accompany our small group of 6 people as a photographer and tour guide. The following morning she drove us to our hotel the 'Plantation Resort on Crystal River', which should be our accommodation for the next week. At the dive center in the afternoon by means of a video training we got the briefing regarding the correct behavior with the Manatees.

In this area, already several providers of snorkeling tours are active, so one should be aware of a relatively large rush of day tourists. That's why one should plan the visit as early as possible during the week, in order to escape the mass and start as early as possible. We basically started before sunrise with a small boat for 6 guests, alone with our experienced captain and guide and were mostly, although not always, the first on the place. The best places are 'Kings Bay' and 'Three Sisters', the latter because of the crystal clear view. We visited also other places, this was decided on site.

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The snorkeling with the gray giants constantly is monitored by rangers of the national park, which even are partially on the water with canoes. There are various behavioral rules, so diving to the manatees and the use of weight-belts is forbidden. In particular for photographers, there are different regulations, which vary from place to place, so for example within the source pots of the springs the use of flashes or torches is not allowed. Professional photographers can buy a special permit for 100 USD, which then also obliges to wear a yellow vest.

There are special retreats for the manatees, which may not be entered, these are indicated by lines or plastic pipes on the ground. Moreover, it is strictly forbidden to swim or touch the manatees. However, the latter can be quite complicated to meet as the animals are very trusting and often, but not always, seek contact with humans. We had incredibly touching and also funny encounters with them. You just have to experience it yourself. Cuddling, stalking, touching, nibbling on the neoprene, looking at each other in the mirror, in the wide angle of the camera - we never thought you could spend hours with these wild animals. The time passed as in flight, around 10 o'clock we mostly came back to the hotel and had a decent breakfast or even an early lunch.

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Manatees are both day- and night-active creatures. Most encounters with them we had in the early morning and morning. In the afternoon, they usually lay at the bottom in smaller groups. To breathe, they only stretch their nostrils out of the water. The duration of a dive varies from 4 to 16 minutes. In the sea they usually prefer to live in shallow coastal areas, also lagoons and mangrove areas with more than 20 degrees Celsius water temperature. The manatees, also called 'round tail sea cows' have a Fluke or tail fin, which looks like a spade. They reach a length of 2.5 to 4.5 meters and a weight of up to 500 kg.

The area around the Crystal River seems to be an ideal retreat in the winter. During our stay there were about 500 manatees on site. Very respectful of the regulations we were, but the shear number of visitors is also a serious thread. Although every tour operator is allowed to operate no more than six boats, several hundred people are on site at the same time, in different places. There are also various canoe and kayak riders and of course several motor boats, which have to go extremely slow. Unfortunately you also see manatees with injuries, which are due to collisions with boats.

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We also enjoyed the dives at Rainbow Spring State Park. With a constant water temperature of about 22 degrees, the springs of the river of the same name promise pleasant diving or snorkeling. The water doesn't come only from one main source, but from many small spring pots, which are found everywhere on the bottom of the Rainbow River. Alligator breeders, snapping turtles, even an otter accompanied us during the dives in the turquoise blue waters. From time to time cormorants dived in search of fish and disappeared in no time.

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After a week it was already over again - we said bye-bye to our fellow travelers and huddled the gray manatees for the last time. The second part of our journey took us to the South of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

The last time we were here was 18 years ago and we just wanted to know what has changed. The first days we spent in Naples and surroundings. Already at the check-in to our hotel we met an osprey again. It was directly opposite to our room in the bush or sat on the flagpole. Ospreys often accompanied us during our vacation. They were omnipresent - at the sea, on the beach, at the many waters in the country, at the roadside, on the lights of the public parking lots, in the trees of the parks and golf courses, and so on. We met them during their hunting, bathing, feeding the offspring, bringing the nest material together, it was just wonderful. They were partly very intrepid, seemingly accustomed to the proximity of man.

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The great diversity of species and the already-mentioned low distance to escape of the animals make the nature photography in Florida something very special. You can approach herons and waders to a few steps. Within two weeks, we were able to observe 60 different species of birds, including 9 different herons: Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egret, Green Heron and Black-Crowned Night Heron, Tricolored Heron and Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron.

Florida has a number of national refuges, we visited some of them, but also in city areas we took wonderful pictures. So we visited the Lovers Key State Park near Fort Myers Beach, reached the beach by fog and had encounters - once again - with ospreys, terns, seagulls and herons, in close proximity to visitors to the beach Life.

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Also the pier in Naples was good, especially at the time of the sunset for beautiful photographs, but (many) other visitors had the same idea.

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We were almost thrilled that we almost accidentally found several burrowing owls in a normal habitat in the vicinity of Naples. The "Burrowing Owls" (Athene cunicularia), or rabbit owl, Prairie-owl or the "Cave-owl", are living in the grassy steppes of the western North and South America. They also come in isolated populations in Florida and on some Caribbean islands. They live in caves in the ground that either originate from mammals or turtles or have been dug themselves. The dwelling extends up to one meter below the ground and can represent a winding path up to three meters long. The species sometimes forms colonies of a maximum of 12 breeding pairs.

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Again we had encounters with herons, cormorants and other waders in the actually not so attractive village on Marco Island, here at the Tigertail Beach. At low tide you could explore the area very well, we also met on Sanderlings, Plover, Sandpiper and Ruddy-turnstones. In the middle of the residential area, but on an undeveloped brownfield, the bald eagle breeded, the terrain is not allowed to enter, but the horst can be observed from a distance of about 50 m with binoculars.

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A little further on is Sanibel Island, a beautiful holiday island with a very special charm. On Sanibel, the Wildlife Drive in the J.N. (Ding) Darling National Wildlife Refuge provides the best chances for good photos on early morning and low tide. Once again, we met our friends - the osprey and our great joy, among others the Roseate Spoonbill which showed us a dance in the best light one evening. On Sanibel Island, there are plenty of opportunities to watch birds, on the beach, on golf courses and on several trails.

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At some point, this week ended much too fast. On the last day we drove from Fort Myers across the country to Orlando, on the one hand, to avoid the fast-track (toll)roads, and on the other hand, to find some discovery do. We were also rewarded, several Sandhill Cranes we met in different places, always as a couple on the road. A great end to a really successful trip, starting with the winter quarters of the manatees, to interesting encounters with birds and other animals and plants. The dollar rates and also the price levels in Florida, however, ensured that our travel budget is now gone. brille-0016.gif von The times, where you could book a decent hotel room for 100 dollar, seem to finally be over. And the price for a beer, served in a plastic cup, for 6 dollars (and more) seems to be a bit too much for us.

We would also like to send greetings to Manuela, Diana, Netti and Cornelia, maybe we meet again. There are still so many great places to discover....