Posts Tagged With: american alligator

Coasting East (Afternoon)

“Can we go around again?”

Like a child at the fair who just got off the pony on the Merry-Go-Round, Gini’s wide brown eyes were hard to resist.

“Yes, but first let’s explore a couple of other spots.”

She concealed her initial disappointment well. Fortunately, new sights and sounds created just as much excitement and awe as our morning excursion around Black Point Wildlife Drive had.

After our lunch of fresh shrimp, we headed toward Bio Lab Road with a bit of trepidation. Last year’s Hurricane Dorian, which devastated portions of the Bahamas, damaged portions of Merritt Island NWR, including Bio Lab Road. Repairs were completed several weeks ago and the road is in much better condition than it was before the storm. Powerful wind and wave action altered some of the shoreline and a lot of trees were downed or damaged.

Bio Lab Road still had plenty to offer! Lots of birds, fish jumping in the lagoon, a healthy population of alligators and even blooming flowers. A breeze coming in from the Atlantic Ocean was very refreshing.

Our next objective was Gator Creek Road. Extensive mud flats make this area prime hunting territory for shore birds and waders. There were thousands of birds there to greet us. Okay, they couldn’t have cared less about us. They were all extremely active as they chased fish, shrimp, crabs and small creatures in the shallow water and in the soft mud. We were not offended at being ignored.

It was getting late and I had promised a certain brown-eyed beauty one more ride on the Merry-Go-Round. Black Point Wildlife Drive had just as many birds in the late afternoon as it had early in the morning. We were fascinated at the diversity on display.

Reluctantly, we headed out of the refuge. One more stop. Just before crossing the bridge into Titusville is Parrish Park, which has picnic pavilions, fishing areas and boat ramps. Just at sunset, the parking lot fills with gulls preparing to roost for the night. On one of the docks, we found an immature Herring Gull as well as an adult flying overhead. Another dock was crowded with a group of Ruddy Turnstones, probably planning to rest for the night.

Crossing the bridge as the sun dropped below the western horizon, the lights of Titusville began to twinkle in the darkening sky and we glanced at each other with that look of total satisfaction which results from a special day together.

 

Love is in the air. A pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers were inspecting potential nesting sites. A little flirting was also observed.

Merritt Island NWR

 

More signs of love. This Northern Flicker apparently visited the local tattoo shop and had a pretty red heart inscribed on his back. (Actual facts: The eastern version of the Northern Flicker was once called the “Yellow-shafted Flicker” due to the yellowish undersides of wings and tail. The “Red-shafted Flicker” is usually found in the western parts of North America. The eastern species has a red crescent on the nape, the “heart” seen here, and the male has a black malar stripe.)

Merritt Island NWR

 

Death stare. This Osprey was convinced we wanted his Speckled Trout. Took his photo and moved on so he could eat in peace.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Medium-sized Forster’s Terns are mostly silvery-white with a black eye patch, a dark bill and orange feet. During breeding season, they will develop a black cap and the bill will turn orange.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Throughout the refuge, clouds of pink can be seen as Roseate Spoonbills are somewhat common here. It’s fascinating to watch these large waders sweep their rounded bills through the shallows as they filter small shrimp and fish.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Wintering American Avocets line up and march across a shallow mud flat herding small minnows and then slashing with their long curved bills as they gorge on the briny buffet.

Merritt Island NWR

 

A drab-looking Black-bellied Plover almost disappears in the mottled salt marsh habitat. Soon, the males will become a striking figure in bright white and black breeding attire.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Afternoon alligator.

Merritt Island NWR

 

A Snowy Egret wonders how the Roseate Spoonbill can catch anything by swishing back and forth with that funny-looking beak. He thinks stabbing with a nice pointy bill is definitely more effective.

Merritt Island NWR

 

At Parrish Park, just outside the refuge, an immature Herring Gull prepared to hunker down for the night. An adult flew above the boat ramps toward a roost of her own.

Merritt Island NWR

Herring Gull – Immature

Merritt Island NWR

Herring Gull – Adult

 

Another dock about to become a hostel for the night. These Ruddy Turnstones began to huddle up as daylight faded.

Merritt Island NWR

 

 

Our drive home was a mirror-image of our trip’s beginning. Orange and purple sky rapidly turned black. Touching hands. We agreed it had been a glorious day. The western sky began to brighten as we neared the light pollution of Orlando. Our timing wasn’t too awful as a mix of folks going home from work and Disney World visitors had thinned a bit so we could reach almost 20 miles-per-hour for a few miles.

Home. Planning our return visit.

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

 

Additional Information

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Parrish Park – Titusville

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Coasting East (Morning)

The city of Orlando, Florida has a population of over 285,000. The “Orlando Metropolitan Area” lists a population of over 2.5 million. In another hour, almost all of them would be on this road.

As we motored eastward towards the Atlantic Ocean, Orlando was in the best possible place – the rear view mirror.

Driving Ms. Gini. Cocooned together in the dark car. Watching the sky ahead of us lighten from inky blackness to a soft glow which turned orange, then pink, then purple, then a glorious combination of all of the above. What a way to start a day!

As we crossed U.S. Highway 1 in Titusville, the edge of the sun burned its way above the horizon to provide a spectacular view from atop the A. Max Brewer Memorial Parkway bridge, down the Indian River and across Merritt Island. Moments later, we turned from the main Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge road and made our way to Black Point Wildlife Drive.

At the entrance kiosk, herons and egrets noisily chased minnows and crabs in the shallow water. Another few yards and we spotted a Wilson’s Snipe. A Bald Eagle flapped over the marsh. Migrant Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers were already examining each mangrove leaf for a bug breakfast.

The salt air was invigorating. The view of the tidal flats and creeks elicited heavy sighs from us both at regular intervals. Another very special day had begun.

This refuge had its beginnings in the early 1960’s as America’s space program was getting started. Over 140,000 acres were purchased for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop the nation’s efforts to go where no one had gone before. It turns out they didn’t need nearly that much area. Most of the land was eventually turned into what is now Merritt Island NWR and it is a fantastic place to spend a whole lot of time!

Our first destination, Black Point Wildlife Drive, is a seven-mile one-way road through salt marsh. It’s a great place for wintering water fowl, wading birds, migratory song birds, raptors, reptiles, amphibians, deer, bobcat and feral pigs. A couple of trails along the drive allow one to stretch a bit and hike through potentially bird-dense habitat.

Today’s visit was made even more special by good views of a fairly rare visitor, a Cinnamon Teal. We were also fortunate to see two rail species (within 10 feet of each other). Usually, we only get to hear rails. A very relaxing morning found us nearing the wildlife drive exit (almost five hours to cover seven miles!). A feral pig tried to hide in the marsh grass but was not doing a very good job. It may just be a coincidence, but after taking a few candid photos of that pork made us realize we were hungry.

Lunch break. (Fresh seafood, of course. Pork another day.)

 

Dawn over the marsh. (This is a photograph from 2/2019 but wanted to give an idea of how the area appears. Water, mangrove trees, grass.)

Merritt Island NWR

 

Near the wildlife drive entrance at dawn, a Tricolored Heron displays its hunting technique. A wing is held high to shade an area from the sun. Fish are attracted to the shade and the heron knows what to do next.

Merritt Island NWR

 

As Mrs. Blue-winged Teal shops for groceries, Mr. Teal admires her better qualities.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Northern Shovelers are plentiful here during the winter months.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Most Belted Kingfishers in Florida are migrants, although a few remain year-round. This one hovers above a school of fish where he eventually dove but came up empty-beaked.

Merritt Island NWR

 

The star of the day was a fairly rare visitor to Florida, a Cinnamon Teal. They are normally a western U.S. species. This one cooperated nicely as he cavorted with several dozen Blue-winged Teal. The early morning sun highlighted his plumage, especially when he showed off his colorful wing patches.

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

 

Spring is not far away here in sub-tropical Florida and many birds, such as this handsome Tricolored Heron, are already displaying breeding plumage.

Merritt Island NWR

 

A short walk by a pond revealed a Virginia Rail busy bathing and preening. As we watched, a Sora appeared from the nearby reeds. One rail is usually a big deal for us, but – two!

Merritt Island NWR

Virginia Rail

Merritt Island NWR

Sora

 

Obligatory alligator.

Merritt Island NWR

 

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. They appear nearly identical if seen separately. Their calls help differentiate the two. Fortunately, a flock containing both landed beside us so it was easy to tell them apart.

Merritt Island NWR

Greater Yellowlegs

Merritt Island NWR

Lesser Yellowlegs

 

If the Wilson’s Snipe remains still, it’s almost impossible to spot them. Lucky for us, this one blinked.

Merritt Island NWR

 

Thank you, Hernando De Soto! While exploring Florida over 500 years ago, the Spanish explorer’s group released some fine Spanish ham-on-the-hoof they had brought with them. Now we can’t get rid of them! (The pigs, not the Spaniards.)

Merritt Island NWR

Merritt Island NWR

 

We really love visiting Merritt Island NWR! It’s less than a two-hour drive from the house and it offers so much. Come see more after lunch.

 

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, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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