A refuge is a place of protection from danger or distress. Like my house. This past Friday, the weatherman predicted areas of dense fog in the morning, low thick cloud cover all day, high winds and cooler than normal temperatures. It sounded like a good day to take “refuge” in my house and remain in my warm bed as long as possible then sip hot coffee and think about all the things I need to do. My plan was to drag out that thinking process long enough so it would be too late in the day to actually DO any of those things.
However, just as sure as a duck in Canada has the overwhelming urge to migrate south each fall, I had the urge to go find the spot of water where he decided to float on this day. That’s how we ended up on the nice high-speed roadway at 4:30 in the morning heading due east across the state to visit a refuge of another sort.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) is near Titusville, Florida and consists of 140,000 acres (56,656 ha.) of varied habitat, including saltwater estuaries, freshwater impoundments, hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, scrub, beaches and coastal dunes. It’s a magnet for an incredible variety of wildlife. This would be our first visit to the area.
As we approached the east coast, the horizon began to glow with the impending dawn. Just as the weatherman predicted, we looked up at the nice, bright blue sky…….HUH? He said thick clouds all day! The “Queen of the Obvious” whispered, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t listen to him?” Well, yeah, in retrospect, it was a brilliant decision, which is how I arrive at most of my brilliant decisions. We were blessed with mostly sunshine and clear skies for the entire day.
Not wanting to waste a sunrise moment, my sharp-eyed Queen spied a spot on the Indian River where we shared the beginning of a beautiful day, hot chocolate and breakfast. And some serious hand-holding, but that’s another story. I even managed to click a couple of pictures (of the sunrise, not the hand-holding thing).
Almost as soon as we entered the refuge property, we saw a Bald Eagle who had secured his breakfast. An Osprey was screaming at him and started to fly toward the eagle. The eagle’s mate suddenly appeared and convinced the Osprey to go home. It’s possible the eagle stole the fish from the Osprey.
The morning was filled with birds. On a day such as this, even a Black Vulture in a dead tree almost looks “handsome”. We took a seven mile driving tour around Black Point Wildlife Drive. Extensive salt marshes bordered by hardwood hammocks and vast areas of open, shallow water provided perfect habitat for a variety of life. There were hundreds of ducks (most beyond camera range) including Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Canvasback and Hooded Merganser. We enjoyed watching the different hunting techniques of the Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Glossy Ibis, White Ibis and the gyrations of the Reddish Egret. A Lesser Yellowlegs showed off his frantic style, darting here and there and stirring up the muddy water to grab a snack.
In this vast area of such abundance, the undisputed king of the food chain is the American Alligator. With his prehistoric appearance and unflappable attitude, you know he is not to be trifled with. It’s amazing how such a large reptile can sometimes be so hard to see when he nestles down into the ooze to take a nap or await brunch. Just a reminder, be aware of your surroundings out here!
As we came around a curve, we spotted a Feral Hog feeding in the marsh. He was in no hurry and ambled his way toward a nearby hammock of cedar and oak. These pigs are likely the descendants of animals left by the Spanish explorers in the 1500’s.
We took a mid-morning break about half-way into the Black Point drive and soaked in the atmosphere of the marsh. We enjoyed the sounds of hundreds of different birds, palm fronds rustling in the wind, salty air, butterflies floating among the flowers, sunshine on our faces – a combination which provided “refuge” for our souls.
Our first visit to MINWR had been wonderful so far and we’ll continue the day in “Seeking Refuge – Part Two”.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit.