Sunday, September 30, 2012

Silver Springs, Florida- Part One

We have finally reached Florida!  It was great to finally reach this state after pushing the miles this past week.  Our joy on arriving here on Friday however, was short-lived when we realized how hot and muggy it is here.  And it did not help that a few scattered showers moved through on Friday, it just made everything wetter!  However, we did pick a great area to park in for over the week-end before we have to move on.  Silver Springs is the area of the world's largest formation of springs.  We had a great day on Saturday touring Silver Springs (touted as "natures theme park"), where the main springs is located.  It amounts to a zoo of sorts with the usual caged animals, as well as some animals and birds running freely through the park. There are many wild animal shows which are informative as well as entertaining.  My favorite was the bird show which had birds flying low over the audience.  In our travels we have seen the red tail hawk, but yesterday we had the experience of seeing his red tail feathers up close.  We also saw the smallest hawk to be found in the wild, which is the kestrel.  Also of interest to me was a variety of owls.
And who ever has wondered about Mexico's national bird?  It is the caracara, a mix between an eagle, a vulture, and a cousin to the falcon.  He is mostly a ground bird and his rather saucy attitude reminded me of the roadrunner. Tequila, the bird pictured below, would make an interesting cartoon character! 
Another bird, running free in the park and always underfoot, was the ibis- a pleasant change for us from the usual egrets and herons.  And speaking about wild and free, the park claims that 600 rhesus monkeys are running around in the area, as well as outside of the park.  I have since spoken to locals who dispute that there are that many around anymore.  They were imported into the park around 1938 with the hope that the Jungle Cruise would be enhanced by their presence.  Some think they were brought in for the movie Tarzan Finds a Son, which was filmed in the park- that is incorrect.  On the Jungle Cruise we saw two monkeys swinging high up in the trees.  We also saw a jeep which was left in the jungle from the Tarzan movie.  The park has a wilderness setting and most of the area is swampy with bald cypress trees and tall pines.  As most jungles it has numerous alligators, in one pond there are about 25 of them.  A big attraction of the theme park is the alligator feeding show.  Park staff dangle a piece of raw chicken on a pole above the pond and alligators jump out of the water to snatch the food.  Amazingly enough, not many of the gators rose for the bait.  They feed from April 1 until the end of October, after which they go dormant and do not eat.  Probably even now they are starting to get sluggish and are not in need of much food.  Below is a picture of the pond just before feeding time.  The gators were starting to gather and come in for the food.  One chicken was enough for the crowd.
While at the park we noticed a couple of alligators motionless for long periods of time with their mouths open- I at first thought they were not real until I notice their tongues pulsating.   We inquired of the park staff what that behavior was all about.  The information we received was that what they were doing was regulating their temperatures, one way of keeping cool.  Pictured below is a dwarf alligator keeping cool.
We did not think we would find enough to do in the park, but we spent five hours there.  I will continue this narrative of our time there in the next posting.

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