Sunday, February 21, 2016

St John's Eco Tour

Wednesday the girls and I took Amber and Eddie over to DeBary to take a trip on the Eco Tour Boat of this section of the St John River to view whatever wild life would show itself that day.  This is a trip we've been wanting to do since we moved here almost 3 years ago now and simply have never made it around to taking this.
The tour boat picture - courtesy of Eco Tour website

Eddie and Amber waiting to go

Lauren and Hannah

It was a gorgeous day with the temperatures in the 70's, a nice clear sky and no humidity - perfect for this kind of trip.  We began at the boat launch at the docks just behind The Swamp restaurant.  Our tour guides were friendly and really informative and the river was calm and seemed to be waiting for our tour group.  The first site on our trip were the vultures and one stork I failed to get a clear picture of, just at the end of the harbor area.  They were busily eating "fish guts from the fisherman" as our guide said, and standing among the cypress and cypress knees near the shore line.

Vultures enjoying their meal and totally ignoring us

The St Johns

We headed out as we were given the thorough safety talk before the history lesson could start.  With these as the introduction phase the tour would now begin in earnest as the first of our wildlife encounters began to show up. The first was a Blue Heron and around the next bend some Purple Gallinules and a young heron.

Hiding among the water lily's were these Purple Gallinules

These had a beautiful iridescent coloring that really showed when the light caught them

Young Heron with it's juvenile white coloring now beginning to transition to the blues it will have as an adult
As we moved along the trees lining the river we saw an Ahinga, the first of many, in the branches.

Then would begin the siting of many gators on this trip.  They began with these baby alligators that are challenging to see, but you can just make them out with their orange and black coloring on this large stick in the water.  We learned that up to 80 eggs will hatch, but the majority will not live to adulthood and dad is the primary predator that finishes off these little guys.

Look close and you can see the body and tail of one at the top portion of the stick and the head of the other near the lower half

 The next birds were a nesting pair of Limpkin.  These brown birds are famous for their screaming and loud calls which they kindly treated us to.

Delicate and pretty features of the Limpkin

 After the next turn on the river we saw some activity in the middle of a large area of water lily's and a very interested bird staring at the area of disturbance in the water.  It was a manatee and the egret was anxiously awaiting the little bits and pieces the manatee will bring up as it eats.

You can just see the top of the manatee's head and nose as it surfaces here to munch more of it's swamp salad

As the boat reversed it scared the manatee and I only caught this shadowy image of it diving deeper and away from us
 Our next siting was this beautiful Snowy Egret who sat basically posing for us as we rounded the patch of lily's it was sitting on.  Then another Ahinga drying it's wings.

The green ball in this tree is a patch of mistletoe

Snowy Egret


As I got ready to snap another picture it turned as if on cue to give me another view

Now begins the many sightings of the large alligators that we would see on our tour.  We saw these 3 in quick succession all lazily enjoying the warmth of the day.

The turtles were also out enjoying the sun on various logs and sticks, then these Ibis sitting with their striking white color against the red leaves of this tree. I managed to only get one shot of a Warbler that was very busy and very fast as it grabbed up the bugs it was after for it's meal.  So a single back side shot was all I managed to capture of this quick fellow.

The Warbler



Another big gator snoozing
Then we came around a turn and our guide who had the girls sit on a seat up front told me to quick go up and join them.  As I did she told us all to sit tight as she was taking us to a spot in close to the trees.  Once there we were treated to a family of 3 Bard Owls.  The male and female have been visiting there for a good 8 years, and their teenager who hasn't left home yet has been with them for a year.  Our guides brought some fish for which the owls eagerly anticipated their treat and we got an up close look at these beautiful creatures.

Our first sighting as we entered this area among the trees

What incredibly beautiful faces they have

Getting a fish

Can you tell I LOVED this part of the tour?
After the owls we saw a nesting heron and it's mate gathering sticks, another and probably the largest of the day Alligator and then it was time to start back towards the docks and the end of our tour.

Blue Heron in the nest

Mate gathering sticks to add to the nest

This is a very young Blue Heron that doesn't have it's coloring yet

Our final and by far the biggest Alligator on the trip

On the way back the 4 kids on board were each given a chance to stand behind the wheel and try their hands at steering our boat.  If this was an indication of their driving skills I'll have my work cut out for me when the girls begin to drive!! (big smile here).  They absolutely loved this and it made the long cruise back enjoyable for all the kids.

Hannah's turn at the wheel

Lauren's turn

Lauren and I as we wait to dock

And so ended a really nice tour that I would highly recommend to anyone living near or visiting the Central Florida area.


  1. So many beautiful birds! This looks like a great day trip, especially with children. Really nice that all the kids got to take a turn at the wheel.

  2. It was a great trip and I just loved all the birds. Our guide was a wonderful source of information and she really seemed to love what she was doing and worked to engage all her customers including the little ones into this experience.

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