Friday morning I woke up at sunrise to the sound of vaguely familiar bird calls--what kind of birds were these? Eventually it dawned on me, they were cardinals, but with a southern accent! It was hard to get out of bed and dress with the chilly temperature in our room. Looking out the window over the guest parking lot, I saw only one car besides our own--there was frost on them--it must have been below freezing last night. They did say these months were their slow season, and it was great to have the place nearly to ourselves.
After breakfast we went down to the dock to arrange for a morning boat tour. We were told they rarely ran the glass-bottom boats these days, and only when the water was clear enough to permit viewing. Out of a fleet of about six tour boats operated by the park service, we boarded the aptly-named named Alligator. Our group consisted of six avid bird photographers equipped with incredibly large telephoto lenses, and us.
|Looking down the Wakulla Springs basin|
The hour-long tour cruises down the Wakulla River below the springs for about a mile and circles back up along the opposite shore. There were lots of birds to be seen this morning: coot, moorhen, ducks, herons, white ibis, and many anhingas.
|Anhinga perching on cypress knees|
The anhinga is among the few birds that lack oil glands, so its feathers cannot repel water. It's also called the "snake-bird" because it hunts for fish underwater. After a dip, the anhinga must dry its wings before it can take flight, accounting for its classic posture perched with spread wings.
|Another anhinga near the Cypress trees on the Wakulla River|
Ancient cypress trees draped in Spanish moss formed islets in the shallows, giving the river a marvelous atmosphere. We pass by a blue heron, the feathery plumes on its breast showing hints of its mating plumage.
|White Ibis on the Wakulla River|
The birders on board were as knowledgeable as our captain--one of them actually spotted a limpkin! The captain said limpkins had become a rare sighting since the mysterious disappearance of its main food, the apple snail, about a decade ago.
|A pair of Hooded Mergansers|
Further on, they pointed out a pair of Hooded Mergansers swimming near our boat--Herb and I had never seen this unusual duck before. Once the boat reached a certain point, it began to turn around to cross the river towards the northern shore, passing islands of vegetation where birds fed, and alligators and other reptiles basked.
|Alligator on the Wakulla River|
|Turtles basking on a log|
Along the other shore the water was a bit clearer, indicating the flow of another spring into the spring basin. A few islands with large trees shelter the mouth of a creek that flows from Sally Ward Spring. The captain told us that this was where the old horror classic "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" was filmed back in the 1950's, adding another note of fame to the springs.
|The Black Lagoon|
The fossilized bones of mastodons and other prehistoric creatures have been found in the depths of Wakulla Springs since before the Civil War. These are mostly in museums now, though they keep one original and a few reproductions on display for the public here.
I got this amazingly close shot of a black vulture here before we wound back towards the spring basin--don't think I've seen this sinister creature so close before. Our boat circled by the main spring on its way back to the dock. Despite the murky water, we saw a pod of manatees there; they probably stay right over the springs to keep warm on frigid winter days.
|Manatee surfaces in Wakulla Springs|
Our tour was over much too soon (I was tempted to get on the next boat to take the tour again); we'd have to figure out what to do in the afternoon. For more photos of Wakulla Springs see my Flickr album here: Wakulla Springs.