We're always up early, but it's one thing to be awake and another to get the family out the door for a dawn adventure. When I read that the best time to spot manatees at Blue Spring State Park is early morning in winter, I knew we had to make it happen on our recent trip to the Orlando area.
And we did. And you must, too, if you find yourself in central Florida. It was well worth the hurried production of changing and dressing and feeding and navigating (and maybe a few false stops for coffee before finding a shop that was open and had a functioning espresso machine...).
The park is a designated manatee refuge and home to the largest spring on the St. Johns River. It has a fascinating natural and social history. Thanks to my friend, Sarah, for tipping us off to this incredible place!
We arrived just after the park opened at 8 a.m. The rangers had counted 16 manatees in the spring that morning, including a few babies. The water was clean and clear, appearing brilliant blue in some places and grass green in others. A boardwalk stretched the length of the spring, with small docks extending over the water along the way for excellent viewing. It was teeming with activity; everywhere we stopped, we saw a handful of manatees, schools of huge fish called gar and, here and there, alligators, heron and cormorant. (Believe it or not, all of the above are present in the following frame, though a few are hidden in the shadows.)
The manatees were interacting with each other quite a bit. Cricket was sure this one was waving to her.
This enormous mama manatee stayed still during our entire visit while her 2- or 3-week-old baby cuddled against her back or side.
Can you spot the alligator and great blue heron?
Was our visit to this little gem of a place just a dream? If I didn't have the photos to prove otherwise, I'd be wondering...
In the mood for more wildlife viewing? Check out the gorgeous nesting egrets we happened upon at Kraft Azalea Garden earlier in the week.
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.