I stopped specifically to take a picture of the cement manatee, but I was curious and went inside the visitor center. It turned out that the visitor center was just the entrance to a large nature park. From the center, I boarded a boat along with 5 or 6 other folks. The boat captain/park ranger talked about the various birds and plants along the way. It was similar to the Weeki Wachee boat tour, but the vibe was different because it was later in the day — more shadows — made Florida wilderness seem more like a jungle (which it more or less is).
Once on dry land, you’re free to explore the wildlife park, featuring animals native to Florida, and a one that is not (a hippo). Walk the grounds and you’ll find herons, bald eagles, roseate spoonbills, flamingos, ibis, pelicans, snook fish, Florida panther, Sherman’s Fox squirrel, vultures, deer, alligators, lizards, snakes, and of course manatees.
A hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) and her squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) buddies.
The park is almost entirely devoted to animals native to Florida. I forgot the exact story, but if memory serves, the hippo came with the property when it was turned into a park.
Pink Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber):
A Roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja):
A different shade of pink than the flamingos.
A manatee (Trichechus manatus) eating lettuce:
The Homosassa area is known for manatees that frequent local streams & springs. The wildlife center had two … my first time seeing these amazing creatures (and possible inspiration for mermaid tales).
Snook Fish viewed from the “Fish Bowl”:
The “Fish Bowl” is unique. It’s a submerged room on the shore of a lake with windows that allow you to observe fish, and presumably manatee & alligators. When I visited, there were hundreds of Snook (Centropomus undecimalis) swimming around the Bowl. It was quite a sight, and unexpected.
Sherman’s fox squirrel (Sciurus niger shermani):
A very big squirrel. Prefers fire-prone pinelands.
Once you’re done exploring the park, you can stop at the gift shop and load up on alligator and manatee souvenirs. From there, you take a trailer pulled by a truck back to the Bubbles the Manatee statue.