Ospreys are hardly rare up here in Connecticut, but they were all over the place in Florida. This fellow struck a nice pose for us above a boardwalk on the coast, and I couldn't resist taking a picture of such a magnificent bird:
I also had a lot of fun watching the numerous terns at the shore as they performed their aerial acrobatics and dove into the ocean to snatch fish. There were Least Terns, dinky little birds with quick wings:
And also much bigger Royal Terns:
It was amazing what these agile birds could do in midair -- in addition to the twists and dives, I saw a few terns shake themselves free of water (think of a wet dog with wings), and one even scratched its head with its foot, all while on the wing! It was hard enough just getting pictures of these birds at all, though, let alone while they were doing some of those crazier things, so you'll just have to imagine those sights. :P
Here's one of my favorite birds of the trip:
It's a Wood Stork! These are some big birds, standing a good 3+ feet tall, with a nice big wingspan to match. Wood Storks are federally endangered, and I don't think I'll be south enough to see them again any time soon, so I'm glad we met them here. I know, it's one of those "a face only a mother could love" things. Well, I think they're beautiful:
We saw plenty of other birds as well, including about a dozen species I'd never seen before. Not many of them were keen to have their pictures taken, however, so my avian account will end here. Which leaves just one more creature.... Manatee!
One of the last places we stopped was a small harbor on Merritt Island, where Paul's parents had seen manatees on a previous trip. I admit that I was trying not to get my hopes up, because the internet was telling me that summer is not the best time to see wild manatees in Florida. It's a good thing I didn't listen to the internet! As soon as we got out of the car, we spotted bristly snouts bobbing up in the water:
There are manatees here! Much excited babbling then ensued (from us, not the manatees). West Indian Manatees are endangered, of course, and the only other time I'd seen them in the wild was years ago, and from a very great distance. What an awesome opportunity!
One manatee was even hanging out right near the edge of the dock, and we were treated to some close views of its head as it came up for air:
And its huge paddle-like tail as it lounged in the sun:
(Sadly, I guess it really is true that manatees run into a lot of trouble with boats in the wild -- almost every individual we saw here had some pretty nasty looking scars from past encounters, presumably human.)
So that was cool, but it wasn't even the best part.
A few minutes after we got to the harbor, two wildlife biologists arrived on a manatee rescue mission -- they'd gotten a report of a manatee tangled in some rope, and they needed to look at all the manatees in the harbor to see if one of them was that manatee. So they turned on a couple of hoses and let the fresh water stream into the harbor, and the manatees just came right over to drink the stuff. They loved it! And I loved it too, because we got to see active, excited, happy manatee faces right below our feet, and it was wonderful.
**Note: The biologists wanted me to make it clear that turning on hoses to attract manatees is completely illegal, unless you're a biologist and specifically allowed to do so. The manatees just love it too much and they're too vulnerable. So don't try this at home without authorization.**
OMG manatee faces!
This turned out to be a great opportunity for me to learn (or re-learn) some cool manatee facts. Their eyes are really tiny! Apparently they don't see very well at all, but those bristles on their faces give them a great sense of touch instead (all the better for finding vegetation in murky water, I imagine). Their nostrils have those really cool flaps that close to keep the water out, which seems super handy. And they have no front teeth! They have molars in the backs of their mouths to grind up food, but the actual grabbing and tearing is done with their incredibly mobile lips.
Have you ever wanted to see inside a manatee's mouth? Here you go!
One of the hoses eventually became the site of an adorable three-way snorgle-fest:
In retrospect, I should've been filming this whole thing, but here's a very brief video to try to convey the wonderfulness (and massiveness) of these creatures:
When can I cuddle a manatee?
So anyway, I'd say it was a pretty great trip!! It's back to normal reports of Connecticut wildlife for a while now, at least until the next trip I have planned for July.... Thanks for adventuring in Florida with me!