Seeking Refuge – Part Two
(See the previous post “Seeking Refuge – Part One”.)
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is very well maintained and offers easily accessible viewing of an incredible variety of wildlife. There is a large and comfortable visitor’s center with knowledgeable and helpful folks to provide whatever information one may need. There are established trails with accompanying maps or you can strike off through the bush and explore to your heart’s content. Just follow the sound advice in the brochure: “Shoes should be sturdy and have closed toes. Watch for roots and rocks. Boardwalks may be slippery when wet. Thunderstorms are common in summer. If weather threatens return to your vehicle as soon as possible. Poison ivy is common along many trails. Although uncommon there are several venomous snakes in the Refuge. Spider webs should be avoided. Do not feed or approach wildlife.” I’ll also add, don’t forget the insect repellant. Don’t think just because it’s cool outside there won’t be mosquitoes and no-see-ums!
Refreshed from our rest stop along Black Point Wildlife Drive, we went to the boat ramp area at the north end of Biolab Road. The American Kestrel is gorgeous, small and very fast. One day, perhaps I’ll get a decent picture of one. A Great Egret defended his freshly caught mullet from a loud and persistent Great Blue Heron. We proceeded south on Biolab Road and discovered the weatherman had been right about one thing: strong winds. The brisk breeze zipping in from the Atlantic across Mosquito Lagoon made me long for my usually balmy Gulf Coast. I think the wind and time of day kept a lot of birds grounded. We did see a few shorebirds, gulls, cormorants and several small flocks of American White Pelicans. Proceeding through the salt marsh adjacent to the lagoon we spotted many alligators, White and Glossy Ibis, pods of pelicans, egrets, herons and Belted Kingfishers. An adult Red-shouldered Hawk sat still just long enough for a portrait then disappeared into the mangroves. Rounding a bend we flushed a Peregrine Falcon from his perch and had no chance to get his picture. He remained ahead of us traversing the road hunting in the marsh and along the shoreline. What a beautiful raptor! By the way, beware of the many deep potholes on this road. They were dug by ‘gators over many years and are the origin of the term “tourist trap”.
It was past lunch time so we drove to Playalinda Beach to find a scenic spot. The actual beach is obscured by sand dunes but we found a good place with a view of Mosquito Lagoon across the palmetto scrub. Lunch was great, accompanied by the sound of the pounding surf and the best companion I could ever hope for. A Northern Flicker stopped in a distant tree and more pelicans drifted overhead. After lunch, a stroll along the beach was exhilarating. (That’s a word us Southerners use to mean it was cold.) Willets, Sanderlings and Ruddy Turnstones probed the sand for good things to eat. A pair of Black Vultures hunched over unidentifiable remains. Northern Gannets and Brown Pelicans plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. A Jaeger flew right over my head but I wasn’t quick enough to see much detail. I snapped a couple of quick shots and I think it was a Parasitic Jaeger. The entire shore within my line of sight from North to South was devoid of humans. The beach music of the waves, the swaying of the delicate sea oats and a bit of sunshine – our kind of day.
As we started to leave the beach area, I spotted a mammal along the road entering the palmetto scrub. I thought it might be a raccoon so hustled over to see if I could get a picture. Imagine my surprise to find a Bobcat! I was very fortunate to capture a few images before he slinked off into the dense scrub.
It was mid-afternoon and we still had a two hour drive to get home. We sighed heavily together, looked at each other and knew what had to be done. One more loop around Black Point Wildlife Drive!!
We saw most of the birds which were there this morning. Alligators were beginning to become more active as night approached. A Green Heron perched atop a water control enclosure waiting for supper to swim by. A Snowy Egret tensed on a mangrove branch for the same reason. I stood for awhile watching the evening light play over the salt marsh and was surprised by a Northern Harrier approaching from behind me and swooping low over my head. I was not going to include the picture since it’s out of focus and only shows it flying away, but it sort of sums up our day. It was thrilling, surprising and all too fleeting. For at least one day in November, we sought – and found – our refuge.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit.