Travel

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – 1

Beginning a trip in darkness stimulates my feelings of anticipation and excitement. What will this day offer? As the morning sky begins to lighten, familiar shapes are mere shadows and it seems as if anything spoken should be in a whisper.

For some reason (deep, dark, repressed, psychological reasons, I’m sure), I have difficulty retrieving detailed memories of some childhood events. (Okay, to be fair, it was a LONNNNNG time ago!) One thing I recall in delicious, granular fashion is fishing. The announcement on Friday that we would be getting up early the next morning to go to Lake Panasoffkee ensured that I would not sleep one minute that night. Hitching up the boat, checking the tackle, pulling out of the driveway in the dark, arriving at the boat ramp before sunrise, a layer of mist on the water.

Some things don’t change much. Gini and I had mentioned more than once during the winter that we need to visit the east coast while migration was still in full swing. Thus, we set our sights on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge for a day trip. One sleepless night, coming right up.

The actual drive is not all that bad. Yes, we had to negotiate the hazards of the interstate highway through the Orlando/Disney megalopolis. Accomplishing this feat at 5:00 a.m. is much more acceptable than about an hour later. Also, once past the city center, the denser traffic was on the other side, heading west toward waiting jobs. The sky in the east was beginning to glow.

Turning onto Black Point Wildlife Drive resulted in audible sighs from both of us. Tension was released and we felt that moment of comfortable relaxation which being surrounded by the natural world produces. Sounds and sights of birds preparing to survive a new day promised adventure! We were not to be disappointed.

The refuge was established in 1963 as part of the John F. Kennedy Space Center. Consisting of more than 140,000 acres, the area contains coastal dunes, salt and fresh water marshes, scrub, pine flatwoods and hardwood hammocks. Located on the Atlantic Ocean and offering protection from adverse weather makes the refuge a prime target for migrating waterfowl and other bird species. The diverse habitat also is home to a wonderful variety of other flora and fauna.

Gini, as usual, thoughtfully prepared a light breakfast and picnic lunch so we wouldn’t have to interrupt our exploration by having to forage for food in the nearby “civilized” jungle. Munching a sandwich while watching alligators and egrets is highly preferable to clinking plates and noisy diners – in our opinion.

This post covers the first half of the day. After lunch will have to wait until next time.

 

Dawn. Always a special time. Within a vast marsh, even more so.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Ducks and wading birds begin their routine of searching for food. Light fog hugs the surface of the world.

Merritt Island NWR

 

A Green Heron perches atop a mangrove tree, knowing the intricate root system harbors an amazing array of life in the shallow water.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Blue-winged Teal are by far the most numerous duck species within the refuge today. Most of the tens of thousands of feeding ducks remained out of camera range but included: American Widgeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Mottled Duck, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Lesser (and possibly Greater) Scaup.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Break(fast) dancing performed by a Tricolored Heron.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Flocks of Glossy Ibis were active throughout the day moving from one area to another.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Killdeer seem to always have something to shout about. Usually, it’s me.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Patience is the key to a meal. Here it’s put into practice by a Little Blue Heron.

 

Merritt Island NWR

 

We saw dozens of Lesser Yellowlegs during the day and a couple of their bigger brothers, the Greater Yellowlegs. This Lesser showed off its namesake.

Merritt Island NWR

 

The feathered breakfast hunters needed to be wary of another breakfast hunter. American Alligator.

Merritt Island NWR

 

The Osprey uses keen eyes and altitude to locate a finny feast in the shallow salt water. This bird disappeared in a huge splash, surfaced with a large fish, struggled to get airborne, but ultimately had to release his catch. I’m familiar with that problem: “Eyes too big for stomach.”

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

 

Following the example of the ducks, most of the thousands of shorebirds in the refuge today preferred to stay out of range of the camera. A few strayed to within a couple of miles. This Sanderling will maintain its light non-breeding plumage for another couple of months.

Merritt Island NWR

 

 

Our day began in darkness then exploded with light as blue sky and clear water were filled with birds of infinite color and beauty! A delicious picnic, a short rest – time to race the sun and pack each minute with new discoveries!

 

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Prairie Pause

“We’re not leaving before sunrise?” Gini had those raised eyebrows which signaled “I don’t believe you”. True, it was completely out of character and I had to explain in detail before she thought I might be serious.

The impeccable weatherman-who-is-never-mistaken had forecast a cool front moving in from the northwest and heading southeast across the state. My plan was to travel to the east side of huge Lake Kissimmee, about an hour-and-a-half from the house. For some time, I’ve wanted to capture one of those sunsets over the lake where the sky is “on fire” with reddish-orange-pink-purple high clouds lit from underneath by the sinking sun.

After a leisurely breakfast and a pot of coffee, we packed some cold chicken and fruit and meandered eastward. Okay, that’s not quite true. The first half of the trip required a harrowing adventure on the expressway toward the Empire of Disney and other assorted tourist magnets. The good news is that receiving a citation for driving above the speed limit is not possible along this stretch of road as one is unlikely to move the speedometer above ten miles-per-hour.

Once past the gridlock, we turned south and were soon actually meandering through pasture land owned by the same families for a couple hundred years. Early some mornings, it’s possible to spot the tall white images of rare Whooping Cranes at the distant edges of these fields. Plenty of deer, feral hogs and turkey feed here as well.

Our initial target was the vast Three Lakes and Prairie Lakes Wildlife Management Areas. Together they include over 70,000 acres (+28,000 Ha) of grass prairie, pine and hardwood uplands, freshwater lakes and marshes. The area was one of the last, large open range ranching in the United States and continued until 1949. The state acquired the property in 1974 in order to protect endangered flora and fauna as well as to preserve some of the last vestiges of Florida’s once vast grass prairies.

This is one of our favorite areas in Florida. Quiet, plenty of wildlife and wildflowers, great fishing and (shhhh!) not crowded.

The sky was encouraging! High clouds scudding across the open prairie promised a glorious sunset opportunity! We slowly worked our way through the back roads to time our arrival at the east shore of Lake Kissimmee just before sunset. The only spot for access is a public boat ramp with a private campground and small store. We had time to enjoy our late lunch/early supper and I found a spot to set up and wait for the magic moment.

Clouds. They move when pushed by wind.

About 30 minutes before sunset, the sky was almost clear. Sigh. Oh, well. A sunset at the lake is still special. Next time maybe a few pretty clouds will hang around.

We managed a few images in the afternoon with actual cloudy skies just to prove there HAD been some!

 

Cypress domes are stands of trees growing in a low place which usually stays wet year round.  The depression is lowest near the center of the dome and those trees grow more vigorously than the surrounding ones, thus creating the “dome” shape.

Three Lakes WMA

 

A large Bald Eagle’s nest has adorned this pine tree for years and has seen the birth of many new eagles. I don’t know if the nest has been used this year. It appeared unoccupied.

Three Lakes WMA

 

Gini called this a “cow tree” due to the pattern left from a fire. The texture of the burned outer bark and smooth inner bark was fascinating.

Three Lakes WMA

Three Lakes WMA

 

Wildlife activity began to increase as daylight began to decrease. A Great Blue Heron stalked a frog in the grass near the shore of Lake Kissimmee.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

A Bald Eagle made a pass over my head in search of a fishy dinner along the shoreline.

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

After taking this shot, I couldn’t get Frank Sinatra out of my head. Flyyy Me To The Moon …..

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

Sunset over Lake Kissimmee. Almost clear skies.

Joe Overstreet Landing

Joe Overstreet Landing

 

We took “the long way” home which allowed us to avoid the Empire of Disney. Whether you like your sunsets with or without clouds, enjoy them as often as you can. And if possible, be with someone you love. That way, clouds just won’t matter.

 

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Categories: Birds, Florida, History, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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