Birds, Manatees, and Mermaids on the Florida Gulf Coast

Our home away from home for our recent getaway to Florida’s Gulf Coast was a cute Airbnb in a quiet neighborhood near Crystal River. It was our first Airbnb experience and it was exactly what we were looking for. When we weren’t out exploring the area we enjoyed just relaxing on the large screened porch or walking around the neighborhood in search of wildlife.

I started each day with a walk. The sunrises were glorious and I enjoyed seeing the many birds each day.

Florida Sunrise
Brown pelicans stand by while an American White Pelican scratches an itch
Two kinds of pelicans
A fisherman tossed a fish to this Great Blue Heron who enjoyed a free breakfast
Brown pelican at sunrise

Weeki Wachee Springs

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park was just a 45 minute drive south so we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see the famous mermaid show there. The park is celebrating it’s 75th anniversary this year. In addition to the mermaid shows there is a swimming beach, Ranger led wildlife talks, picnic areas, kayaking and a nature cruise on the Weeki Wachee River. Mermaid statues around the park are part of the 75th anniversary celebration.

We took the nature cruise where we saw Martha, one half of the resident Bald Eagle pair George and Martha, and a Tri-Colored Heron in the mangroves.

The highlight of our visit was attending the mermaid show. We arrived early for the show and while we waited for the main show we were entertained with videos of the history of the park and highlights of some of the old mermaid shows. My favorites were the old black and white videos with the mermaids in their old style swimsuits.

Swimming with Manatees

One of my bucket list items was to swim with the manatees in Crystal River. We had done this back in the 1990’s and I’ve been wanting to do it again ever since. We booked an early morning tour with Fun2Dive in Crystal River. Before we left home we watched a manatee manners video which explained what was acceptable and what was not when in the water with these gentle giants.

I donned a wetsuit and met our guide at the dive shop before riding a bus to the dock where we boarded our boat, the Manatee Life for a tour through the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. There are several springs which are protected Manatee sanctuaries in the refuge. Henry stayed on the boat with the captain to watch the manatees from above the water. I was one of four guests who got in the water with our guide. As soon as we hit the water we watched a small female chewing on the anchor line of another boat.

Two manatees enter the sanctuary while we humans watched from outside the roped off area
Following our guide outside the sanctuary in search of manatees

Our guide led us in our search and showed us where to look. We spotted several manatees and stayed in the water for about an hour before getting back on the boat. Our captain then took us on a boat ride around the bay to a second location. The highlight of the day was observing a huge female moving along the bottom grazing on the grass as we watched. She weighed about 1500 pounds and ignored us.

We watched her for a while before it was time to head back to the boat. While we were in the water Henry and the captain spotted a mating herd in the water near us.

Scenic Drive on Fort Island Trail

Another day we took a drive along the Fort Island Trail. We stopped to walk out on a fishing pier on the Gulf and watched a manatee swim under the pier. We took a walk on a beautiful white sand beach near the pier and stopped at another smaller fishing pier before returning home.

Boardwalk trail on Fort Island Trail
A manatee swam under the fishing pier
Fort Island Beach
View from fishing pier at Citrus County Fort Island Trail Park


Watching the sunset on Florida’s Gulf Coast was a great way to end each day.

Nesting Birds at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Wood storks, egrets, and herons build their nests every spring in the trees of Woody Pond at the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Located in Georgia just a few miles from I 95 in between Savannah and Brunswick, it is a great day trip from our home.

Woody Pond at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge
Woody Pond at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Wood storks were placed on the Endangered Species list in 1984. After almost 30 years of conservation efforts to increase the wood stork population, their status was upgraded to Threatened in June, 2014.

A path along the dike beside Woody Pond provides a great place to view the birds. The wood storks and egrets shared the trees.

Wood Storks and Great Egrets
Wood Storks and Great Egrets

Nesting Wood Storks and Great Egrets at Woody Pond
Nesting Wood Storks and Great Egrets at Woody Pond

Many of the wood storks were working on their nests. None of their eggs had hatched yet.

Wood Storks building a nest
Wood Storks building a nest

Wood Stork on nest
Wood Stork on nest

As I took photos, Henry used the spotting scope and pointed out a mother egret with chicks that I would have never seen. The nests were a long way from where we were so the picture isn’t the best but it gives you an idea of the size of the baby egret.

Great Egret with chicks
Great Egret with chicks

In the shallow water at the edge of the pond a tri-colored heron entertained us as he searched for food.

After leaving the refuge we stopped at the Smallest Church in America to take a look and do a little geocaching.

Smallest Church in America
Smallest Church in America

An arsonist burned this church in November, 2015. The church is being rebuilt through the efforts of volunteers and the work is almost complete.

After finding the geocache hidden near the church we headed for home.