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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
A Muscovy duck was busy taking a bath,
An Eastern phoebe landed in the tree above me,
And a pair of sandhill cranes flew across the lake and landed in the yard a couple houses down.
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.
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!
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.
As we sat enjoying our coffee, the owl called again and we located her in the same tree as the night before.
We shot more photos as 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.
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).
And I wanted to check out Silver Springs State Park.
There is a resident troop of wild monkeys which I hoped to see.
I did not spy any monkeys but I did see plenty of manatees in the impossibly blue water,
Along with wading birds hunting at the shoreline.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
But we still had a great time with enough “keepers” to make all three of us happy.
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.
We spent the evening taking sunset and moon shots before a competitive game of Scrabble.
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.
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.
On our way, we were once again treated to a beautiful, pink moon set.
The Wildlife Drive ended up being something of a disappointment. To be sure, it is beautiful and there are thousands of birds.
But it is also very crowded, with cars crawling along at 10mph stopping for every moorhen and alligator they see.
There is not much that we can’t also see here in Okeechobee — and with a lot less people around!
The highlight was a bald eagle’s nest at the exit.
Including a fluffy little eaglet!
On our way back to camp we passed a beautiful 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.
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.
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.
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!