Nov 052011

After spending Thursday working at my computer most of the day, yesterday I needed a break. So in the afternoon we drove out to the Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in the hope of spotting some alligators. I saw my first (and only) alligators in the wild there a couple of years ago, and I wanted to see some more of the prehistoric reptiles.

But when we stopped at the Visitor Center to pick up a map, the lady at the counter told me that many of the gravel/shell roads where the best wildlife viewing opportunities are found are flooded out due to recent heavy rains. She said that between that and yesterday’s cooler temperatures (yes, Nick is in Florida), the chances of seeing any alligators were slim. However, she suggested that we drive a few miles to the manatee viewing area at Haulover Canal instead, where several of the huge aquatic mammals can usually be spotted.

Canaveral National Seashore sign

Manatees are gentle giants that tip the scales at up to 2,000 pounds, and can grow to twelve feet in length. They eat 150 – 200 pounds of sea grasses and other aquatic plants every day, and gather in the shallow water of the canal much of the year. We had seen manatees once before, at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park several years ago, and seeing more of them was on our bucket list.

Haulover Canal

There were a few people at the viewing area, which is next to a drawbridge, and they said they had seen one manatee an hour or so earlier. It was windy and chilly, but we decided to hang out for a while and see if we could get lucky.

Bridge up 2

And sure enough, within about fifteen minutes, Terry spotted a “boil” on the water’s surface, and a moment later a manatee’s tail broke the surface, then slipped back underwater.

Manatee swirl

Manatee tail 2

You usually don’t see the entire animal, because they don’t breech like a whale, but a few minutes later, we saw more of the tail. then we saw a couple more boils and realized that there were at least two animals swimming just offshore. This isn’t unusual, since manatee are social animals and are usually sighted in groups.

Manatee tail 3

And then one came to the surface and poked its nose out for a few seconds, just long enough for Terry to get a picture. We were thrilled.

Manatee nose

We waited a while longer, but didn’t see any more manatee, so we drove out to Playalinda Beach and watched the waves rolling in for a while. There are a dozen or so paved parking areas along the beach, and apparently the northernmost one is an unofficial nude beach, but we didn’t venture that far. Each parking area has a porta-john, and at least one had marked RV spaces. Wooden boardwalks lead over the dunes to the beach. We watched a couple of surfers paddling around, waiting for the perfect wave, and a few beachcombers, until the wind got to be too cold and we retreated to the Explorer.

Playalinda beach

It was getting late in the day, but we were hoping to spot at least one alligator, so we took a chance and drove the seven mile Black Point Wildlife Drive loop.There was water everywhere, and shore birds were everywhere we looked. Terry’s Panasonic Lumix FZ-40 camera got a real workout, and she was snapping away in every direction.

Birds swimming 2

Blue Heron


This is a beautiful place, and we had a wonderful time just poking along on the one way road and enjoying the scenery. We only encountered a couple of other cars on the entire drive, so we could take our time and stop whenever we wanted to.

Wetlands 2


And then it happened. I had given up on spotting an alligator when suddenly Terry yelled “Stop!” and there it was, sunning itself on a grass hammock. It was only about four or five feet long, but it was a real live alligator, and it was bigger than I’d want to mess with!

Gator 2

It’s always a thrill to see an alligator, but basically they are not all that exciting to watch. Mostly, they just sit there and stare back at you. So after a while, we moved on and left him to ponder what strange creatures those human beings are.

By the time we got back to the motorhome at The Great Outdoors, it was getting dark, and cold enough that we closed all of the windows and roof vents. The weatherman says a cold front is coming through, and it’s going to be windy, with rain showers the next few days. Yes, Nick is definitely back in Florida! 🙁

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  13 Responses to “Gators, Manatee, & Shore Birds”

  1. “The weatherman says a cold front is coming through, and it’s going to be windy, with rain showers the next few days. Yes, Nick is definitely back in Florida! ”

    As a winter Florida camper all I can say is “Thanks Nick” he,he

  2. Each year, during the eight years that we wintered in the Homestead area, we transported our bicycles to Shark Valley located 18 miles west of the intersection of US 41 (Tamiami Trail) and SR 997 (Krome Avenue — also known as “Killer Krome”)

    On the bike trail at Shark Valley, you will see in several hours, more alligators than you would see anywhere else in Florida with the exception of an alligator farm.

    Many first timers to the park get a bit alarmed when they first see a congregation of “gators” basking themselves on or near the bike trail. The advice I gave to riders in my group was that when (and you will) encounter an exceptionally large gator on the trail: “Get off your bike and walk around the gator with your bike between you and the gator. This avoids the possiblility of the gator abruptly awakening, being startled, and, knocking you off your bike with its tail in its attempt to get away. — or you can do what I do and ride around them quickly with as much space between the two of you as the trail allows!

    The paved trail leads directly south eight miles to an observation tower, and then winds its way another seven miles back to your starting point. It generally takes about five hours to complete because one seldom pedals far before stopping to view the varied wildlife. Start around 10 a.m. and pack a lunch for the tower stop.

    This ride is a must for your bucket list, but don’t forget your camera.

  3. Funny the things we remember – factoid picked up at a nature learning center in south FL – it takes seven days for food to get from one end of the manatee to another. Aren’t you glad I remembered that? 😉

    If it’s not too cold for an airboat ride, check out Captain Rick with Grasshopper Airboat Ecotours in Cocoa.
    Rick is a good friend and does a wonderfully informative tour.

    Enjoy FL – maybe by the time we get there in Feb, it will be warmer!

    Lu & Larry

  4. As an avid lake fisherman from Canada to Florida Just FYI that flock of black duck-like birds are Coots and are often found in huge raft-like flocks numbering a hundred or so birds. I was in central Michigan the last couple of days and there were small groups of them still present on the water north of Muskegon (Silver Lake)… fishin was good but not great

  5. I think those coots should be called Halloween birds–mostly black with a candy corn beak? C’mon!

  6. As a former SoFla resident myself, I can appreciate your interest in the gators. My favorites though are the ones from UF!

    Also keep in mind that in SoFla, especially near western boundaries of the Everglades, there are an over-abundance of snakes (pythons especially) that pet owners have turned loose over the years once they grew too large for home cages. The snakes can (and do) eat alligators and they are thriving in that environment.

    Another critter often seen are HUGE iridescent green lizzards (IGUANAS), often sunning themselves on a rock or canal overpass. They move really REALLY fast and sometimes I would trip over myself trying to get out of their way. They are so ugly, some people think they are “cute” but they show pretty colors.

    Miss Terry’s camera sure does capture some great close-ups. We are shopping for a good camera with zoom lens right now. Our point-n-shoot is OK with close-ups, but too often we want to capture a subject 100+ feet away.

    BTW – a great RV spot in Broward county is Markham Park, which borders the Everglades and offers lots of bike trails, a model airplane park and is close to stores, but feels secluded. Here is the link

    Enjoy Florida !

  7. Hiway 41 from Naples to Miami has canals on both sides. Last year in the short stretch just west of the turn off to Everglades City, we saw 30 or so ‘gators sunning in the canals. Then, if you go south out of Everglade City you end up on Chokoloskee Island which has an old general store (Smallwood Trading Post) which is now a museum. There you could buy anything you needed back in the day. There was a man murdered there also. Very interesting place.


  8. One of my favorite animals is the Manatee. We were fortunate enough to discover a wildlife refuge not far from, Bushnell Fl that treated injured Manatees that had been seriously hurt by humans in boats. It seems they like warm water and the boat channels are where they find it. Careless boaters are warned they are in the area but disregard the notices. We were lucky enough to be there at feeding time. The ranger was in the water with them and hand fed them. Even though these animals weighed several hundred pounds they were as gentle as a puppy. These animals will live out the rest of their lives being cared for by folks who love them. Some of the ones that were not injured severely are treated and released back to the wild. I also would love to see one in the wild, as for the gator pictures are just fine.

  9. We went kayaking with the manatee’s near Homasassa Springs a few years back and one of our group had a manatee rise to the surface and she was on top of it in the kayak. What a hoot. Luckily when it came up it was parallel with her and she managed to balance until it submerged again.

  10. Well!! It sounds like you brought the wet weather with you from Celina!! Don’t worry, it will warm up and dry out eventually…..

    Love your pictures, they are great!!

  11. Nick, if you want to see manatees and I mean a lot of manatees, go to the power genteration station in Tampa. I think it’s on Tampa Bay. You will see several dozen at the same time. They come there for the warmer water that the station expells. All of a sudden they will all surface at the same time.
    As far as alligators, have you seen Stumpy, the 3 legged gator at TT Peace River ? We have several close up photo’s of Stumpy.

  12. If you want to see tons of alligators in the wild. .next time you are going through Houston stay at Brazos Bend State Park. . .there are boardwalks that go all around the perimiter, so you are walking above where all the alligators are lying around everywhere. I would never stay out there with kids or pets. . .seriously!

    This is one of the reasons I love blogs, and RV’ers. . .I bookmarked several new places to visit the next time we are in Florida. . .just from this one post. . .and all the comments. . .it’s great!


  13. “Terry’s Panasonic Lumix FZ-40 camera got a real workout, and she was snapping away in every direction.” Don’t you love being in a place that’s so interesting and beautiful, you’re afraid you won’t be able to capture it all? 🙂 I’m writing notes for my next trip to Florida. Thanks, Nick and Terry, and all the blog’s commenters who post great suggestions.

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