A curious white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fawn stops to check me out while passing through our campsite on a morning forage with two others.
Near NW 115th Street, Chiefland, Florida: 11 October 2014
part of the Manatee Springs State Park album
A staple of my family camping trips, usually at one of forty-eight Florida State Parks that have a campground with in-site power and water, is our ongoing effort to see and photograph as much wildlife as possible. Most of the parks that we particularly enjoy and end up revisiting have provided us with excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, although this obviously fluctuates based on season, weather and other conditions. In hindsight, my journey to Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland last October was a harbinger of our upcoming luck in this department.
At one point while driving southeast on U.S. Route 98 between Perry and Cross City, a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) swooped down out of nowhere and clutched with its talons a piece of road kill on the centerline of the highway. It took off again, just in time to clear the car in front of me, and majestically flew over the center median parallel to me for probably fifteen seconds. I was stunned for a moment, my mouth literally agape. This would be the most distant encounter of the long weekend.
For a first visit at a state park, Manatee Springs made quite an impression on us. Not only was the campsite we reserved quite nice by our standards, but we saw and got close to deer, tortoise, snakes, birds, insects and small mammals. Hopefully not to their detriment, the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) living at Manatee Springs State Park were more curious and less afraid of humans than any that I have encountered previously.
Who knows how many other times they dropped by, but small groups of two and three deer came right through our Hickory loop campground site five times on Saturday and Sunday while we were sitting around the campfire. The area around our campsite was wooded and offered a nice buffer between sites, yet the deer came remarkably close during most of their visits.
For the most part, the deer seemed content foraging for their normal diet of legumes, plants and acorns on the forest floor as they made their way through. Based on how they checked us out and got fairly close, they did however seem interested in whether or not we perhaps had something more tasty for them to eat. Cranking the cute dial up to eleven, several of the deer seemed to be fawns learning the ropes from their mothers.
I was too engrossed in the moment to notice, but in reviewing the photograph timestamps of each encounter I am surprised at the durations of the visits. Three of the meetings were about ten minutes each, while the last two were about three minutes and one minute, respectively. While the deer's friendliness was certainly a bonus for us, I unfortunately fear that it is the result of other campers or nearby residents feeding them.
A couple of the deer were even more curious and unafraid than the others. During a late afternoon visit on Sunday, one of the deer kept getting closer and closer to me. I was shooting pictures rapidly, but the shutter noise was apparently not startling to it. As it got even closer, I decided to stop taking photos and instead put my empty hand out to see what would happen. To my amazement and joy, the deer came right up and sniffed my hand. It got even closer, so close that my hand was petting its neck for a brief moment, before moving away and rejoining the others.
The park gets its name from the first-magnitude Manatee Spring, located not far from the campgrounds at the end of a crystal clear stream that flows to the Suwannee River. The spring produces an average of one-hundred million gallons of water every day and is frequented by West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus) during the winter months. When the manatees are not around, the springs are a popular spot for humans to swim.
Although the deer were a particular highlight of this trip, we had many other close encounters with local fauna that I will have to document in a future article. In the meantime, the Manatee Springs State Park album contains more photographs of the friendly deer. Needless to say, we really enjoyed our time at Manatee Springs State Park and will definitely camp there again someday.