Much More Than Manatees!

Ever since we moved to Florida, I have made an annual trek to Crystal River to snorkel with the manatees.  Winter is peak manatee season and I try to go sometime around my birthday in January.  So, when we were thinking about where to take Terrapin this month, it was only natural that I would search for campsites in that area.

My Lake Camp, Hernando FL, view from RV parking spot

I wanted something close to Crystal River, but also convenient for other places we might want to explore.  I found the perfect spot in Hernando: a private Air BnB-style campsite that the owners have set up on a lot adjacent to their weekend home.  The property is called “My Lake Camp” and can be found on the Hipcamp website:

https://www.hipcamp.com/florida/dan-deborah-s-s-land/my-lake-camp

My Lake Camp, Hernando FL, sunset with campfire

It offers electric, water, and sewer hook-up along with a level, concrete pad and plenty of room for a second car. 

It is situated on a beautiful lake and includes a small pier, gazebo, and a fire pit.  There is also a boat/kayak launch on the owner’s side of the lot. It is a perfect spot for enjoying nature and practicing landscape shots.

pano view of lake from yard

We booked four nights over my birthday week and planned to set out early Monday morning.  Unfortunately, things did not work out quite as expected!

oh no!!

Car trouble delayed us a day, but by Tuesday morning we were ready to go. We arranged for a rental car in Sebring and once we picked it up, TG drove Terrapin while I followed behind in a Nissan with Oscar and Maddie.

We arrived at our campsite around midday and spent a quiet afternoon relaxing and enjoying the view.

hanging around the campsite Tuesday afternoon

A Muscovy duck was busy taking a bath,

muscovy bath

An Eastern phoebe landed in the tree above me,

Eastern phoebe

And a pair of sandhill cranes flew across the lake and landed in the yard a couple houses down.

sandhill crane fly-in

No sooner had we sat down for dinner when we heard the unmistakable “who cooks for you” call of a barred owl.  Then to our utter amazement, she flew directly in front of us from one tree to the next!  I grabbed my camera but it was too dark for much more than a silhouette shot.

barred owl silhouette at dusk

Even so, I was absolutely thrilled.  For Tuesday WAS my birthday and I could not have asked for a more delightful gift.  After dark, we turned in to Terrapin for birthday cake and a fun game of “Trekking the World.” We both made it to Australia — something we have yet to do in real life!

birthday carrot cake and Trekking the World

Wednesday morning, we had planned to drive about an hour north for some hiking at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.  But we were completely socked in with fog.

foggy morning!

As we sat enjoying our coffee, the owl called again and we located her in the same tree as the night before. 

the owl is sitting on a branch in the upper right corner of this pano

We shot more photos as we waited for the fog to clear.

we took more photos while we waited for the fog to clear

Too overcast to even think about nature photography, we decided instead on a little road trip.  We piled the pups in the back of the car and were on our way.

quick selfie before we hit the road – yes I am very happy!

TG got some great shots of the vintage V.E. Whitehurst Cattle Co. gas station, a spot he has wanted to re-visit since the last time we were up this way (and it was raining).

V.E. Whitehurst Cattle Company

And I wanted to check out Silver Springs State Park. 

Silver Springs State Park entrance

There is a resident troop of wild monkeys which I hoped to see. 

TG and the pups waited in the car while I searched for monkeys

I did not spy any monkeys but I did see plenty of manatees in the impossibly blue water,

Silver River pano

Along with wading birds hunting at the shoreline.

ibis at Silver Springs

On our way back to camp we detoured by the Old Weirsdale Elementary School, which was closed in the 1970’s and is supposedly haunted by black-eyed children …

Old Weirsdale School (with a little help from Photoshop)

The owl was still in the same tree where we left her that morning.  I called my friend Deb who was staying that night in Crystal River and she was able to make the drive over to capture a few images before dark.

she was still there when we got home Wednesday afternoon!

Thursday morning, I met up with Deb and another friend to snorkel with the manatees.  I watched the beautiful, pink full moon set as I drove the half hour to Hunter Springs Park, our rendezvous spot.

pink moon setting

By 8am we were paddling to Three Sisters Springs.  We could not have asked for a more beautiful day with clear blue skies and bright sunshine.

we could not have asked for a more postcard-perfect day!

Unfortunately, everyone else must have thought it was a perfect day, too, as it was very crowded for a weekday and the manatees for the most part stayed inside the roped-off sanctuaries.

me snorkeling with the manatees (photo courtesy of Deb)
manatees at Three Sisters

But we still had a great time with enough “keepers” to make all three of us happy.

Deb and me at Hunter Springs Park

The sky was clear that night and the moon very full.  We did not see any owls but we could hear them calling from the trees all around us.

sunset at My Lake Camp

We spent the evening taking sunset and moon shots before a competitive game of Scrabble.

TG’s full moon shot
full moon

Friday ended up being a bonus day.  We were originally supposed to leave but due to our car trouble, our hosts graciously extended our stay for one more night at no additional charge.

sunrise at My Lake Camp

We decided to check out the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.   This is something we have wanted to do for a long time but it is only open Friday-Sundays and a long, two-hour drive from home. 

We piled the pups in the car and left bright and early, stopping at McDonalds for breakfast on-the-go.

full moon setting behind Florida Citrus Center and McDonald’s

On our way, we were once again treated to a beautiful, pink moon set.

pink moon setting on the way to Apopka

The Wildlife Drive ended up being something of a disappointment.  To be sure, it is beautiful and there are thousands of birds.

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

But it is also very crowded, with cars crawling along at 10mph stopping for every moorhen and alligator they see. 

Oscar and Maddie waiting patiently in the car

There is not much that we can’t also see here in Okeechobee — and with a lot less people around!

not much that you can’t also spy here in Okeechobee!

The highlight was a bald eagle’s nest at the exit. 

bald eagle on a nest

Including a fluffy little eaglet!

bald eagle with eaglet

On our way back to camp we passed a beautiful sunflower field

sunflower field

And swung through Colt Creek State Park.  It looks to be a great spot and we have already booked two nights over TG’s birthday in April.

Colt Creek State Park entrance

Our My Lake Camp host, Dan, arrived shortly after we got back. 

As we chatted, the barred owl flew from one tree to the next and we were able to capture a few more images in the golden, afternoon light.

barred owl in the golden afternoon sun

Just after dark, her mate landed in a nearby tree. He cocked his head at us and then flew next to her, stopping for a second before they both vanished into the night. Too quick and dark for photos, we simply thanked them for spending the week with us.

Saturday morning it was time to pack up and head home.  We love camping but after four nights we were looking forward to a good night’s sleep in our king-sized “5-Star Hotel” bed at Casa Mini.   Driving backroads, it took us about four hours and we pulled into our driveway around 12:30pm.

driving home via backroads

With its own owl “concierge” I was absolutely smitten with our choice for a campsite.  What an incredible birthday gift and a week we will never forget!

my birthday owl

Author: TG&jet

Nature photographers - wildlife, landscapes, underwater; travelers; bloggers

2 thoughts on “Much More Than Manatees!”

  1. Sounds like a great trip. Loved the last shot of your birthday owl 🦉. Warned Deb Apoka drive was a madhouse if your not there when it opens. Also very water level dependent on close wading birds. Too bad you couldn’t get to Homosasa State Park. We would have like to spend more time there but the 4 hour drive home beckoned. Nice write up. Thanks.

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