One thing that I can say about Florida:
It is freaking packed with wildlife. I go to many wild places in the eastern USA, and often I visit these so-called wilderness areas without once seeing anything more exotic than a beetle or spider. (Yes, such creatures have their charm, but I want to see more traditionally attractive wildlife.) For instance, just before my trip to Manatee Springs, I hiked down into the Linville Gorge, easily one of the wildest and most rugged places in the eastern half of the continent. And I didn't see a single bit of wildlife. Nothing. Nada. But if you visit a parkland or wildlife refuge in Florida you will almost certainly encounter wildlife, and lots of it. So it was on this trip. We are never disappointed when it comes to this aspect of visiting the unspoiled corners of our southernmost state.
A cormorant posing for us as we paddled along the Suwanee River on our first day at Manatee Springs State Park, before the flood waters got too deep and the river debris too heavy for paddling the current.
The ever-present common painted turtles. These guys were rather large, having avoided their two most potent predators, alligators and great herons.
Communal vulture tree. Filled with one of our two species of carrion eating raptors: the black vulture.
A closeup of a black vulture. These are actually very intelligent and impressive birds. I rather like them.
To partially steal a line:
"Old raccoon in the tree
Has his hungry eye on me."
This guy had been sitting in the tree above our campsite watching us until I started spying back. He was waiting, I'm sure, for a chance to steal something from the campsite. The raccoons at Manatee Springs were not nearly so bold as the ones at Blue Springs. After I eyed him for a bit, he climbed down and hauled ass into the forest.
Yeah, yeah. I know I opened up this blog with my vertebrate-centered chauvinism. However, this caterpillar we saw at Rainbow Springs was so impressive that I ended up taking about thirty photos of it. This was the only one that came out halfway decent. A more complicated critter you will never see in the so-called "higher" animals. (Click to embiggen and be stundified.)
One of a number of brown pelicans on the waterfront in downtown Cedar Key. Once critically endangered, they now are common since DDT was banned.
The deer in this part of Florida are quite, quite small. Not as tiny as the Key Deer, but pretty darned little. This doe was the biggest one we saw, and she would be dwarfed by a local white-tailed deer. I suspect she was pregnant. She looks rather more plump than any of the others we saw. I caught her in mid-slurp here, as she was licking her lips.
On the coldest day of our trip, a ranger came to our campsite to inform us that the spring was full of manatees. So we hustled down to get some shots. The rangers had the spring "off limits" to swimming. Believe it or not, many people wanted to get in with the manatees. Not that I was stunned at that (I enjoyed swimming with them last year), but because it was so damned cold. But then I was reminded that the water remains a constant 72 degrees no matter what. So the water would have felt quite comfortable. At any rate, we enjoyed watching them swim about and graze. I got this shot as this large individual rose to the surface for a gulp of air.
"What?" You ask. "No alligators?"
Indeed. This was the first trip to Florida that I've ever taken in which I didn't see any alligators. We saw only one--briefly--and a small one at that--while we were paddling down the Rainbow River. And we're not sure that it was a small alligator or a medium-sized alligator snapping turtle. All we caught were the ridges on its tail, so it might have been the snapping turtle.