Manatee Madness.And, not only was it Jesus' birthday, but Jimmy Buffet's. Mr. Buffet is a mainstay of the Save the Manatee Club.
Another yaker arrived as I was getting ready, but I saw no other boat on the water until I arrived at Three Sisters Springs. I saw a few manatees on the way.
At the entrance to the Springs, more manatees. The kayaker was there, along with a pontoon boat from a local motel and another boat. Several wet suited snorkelers were in the water. I paddled past them, and a few manatees, into the Sisters. No manatees in the trio of springs, but huge schools of snapper. Lesser amount of bass, bluegills and sunfish. But I came for manatees, so I anchored the yak, donned snorkel gear, and swam out of the Sisters. Coming out of the short spring run, the area on the right, west, is a manatee sanctuary. Several manatees were in the area. I just snapped pictures.
One algae covered manatee posed for some closeups
I spent an hour in the water, then paddled to Kings Spring. On the way I paused at Magnolia Springs and watched at least another dozen manatees. One pushed the kayak of a man who was there with his wife. They told me that they had never been in the area without several other boats.
Three Sisters and Magnolia Springs are in, or near, residential canals. Kings Spring is located off an island in Kings Bay. The island, and others nearby are part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. No entry is allowed to the near shore waters during the winter manatee season. An exception is made at Banana Island, where a corridor allows divers access to the Spring. Boats must be anchored outside a buoy line. One boat and a canoe were anchored when I arrived. I paddled the edge of the buoys testing the depth, watching manatees. Turned out the canoe was in the best spot so I anchored nearby. I stepped out on the limestone bottom and snorkeled to the opening and into the Spring.
I was amazed at what I saw. Fish as big as manatee calves. Huge silver tarpon, easily six feet and bigger. In my last post, "Blue Spring, Snake Creek" I closed writing, "...what I thought were big tarpon" the ones in Blue Springs Run were guppies compared to these monsters. There was plenty of prey for these menacing looking- upturned jaw, looking fish. I described "huge schools of snapper" in Three Sisters. Well, there weren't schools in Kings Spring. It was a friggin university. Manatees too. Kings Spring is big and deep, a first magnitude spring. I was able to get a perspective I have not managed before, a manatee overhead I also got more closeups. The good folks at the Save the Manatee Club encourage observing manatees at a distance so not to affect natural behavior. But sometimes, a curious manatee will approach the observer, following him as he swims away. In that case, close interaction can't be helped.
The final manatee picture is the dark side of human-manatee interaction. Scars from being hit by a boat. Of all the manatees I saw, and I saw a least 50, this one had the most damage.
I left Kings Spring, which is also known as Tarpon Spring (for reasons that are now obvious), paddled around Banana Island, down River for a while, hoping to see dolphins. None, but more manatees. Including two I ran over. Good thing for them I'm not a fast, heavy powerboat. I got a good soaking as they surfaced from under the yak.
I was on and in the water 5 hours. Saw the usual birds, and some unusual, at least for Florida.
That's a Canadian goose behind the cormorant. Second one I've seen in Florida, both in Kings Bay, eh. I also saw a lot of these ducks, greater scaups, I believe. I ended the day with a visit to the nearby Crystal River State Archaeological Site, and a pre-Colombian site featuring several mounds. The usual shell trash heaps, plus larger burial mounds and mounds with flat surfaces, and causeways, suggesting ceremonial use. Nice site for some Florida history. Also a good view of the River, halfway between Kings Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.