Posts Tagged With: sanderling

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

Honeymoon

Salt water sloshed over the transom as our small boat motored from the relative calm of the shallow flats into the deeper waters of the channel which would take us through Hurricane Pass to the Gulf of Mexico and “big fish”. The little 15-foot craft was laden with four teenagers, fishing tackle, ice chest and groceries. As we approached the pass, the waters of the Gulf were all capped in white foam and appeared to form a watery wall warning against entry. Good sense prevailed. We came about and were content pulling in speckled trout and Spanish mackerel from the shallower but more peaceful waters of the bay. As Gini waited patiently for me to place another bait on her hook, she let the line and empty hook drag lazily through the turquoise water. “I got a fish!”, she exclaimed. A plump trout joined his friends in the ice chest. That was 50 years ago.

Catching fish with no bait. That’s the sort of person she is. A few weeks ago, as she was waiting for me to return from a hike, a wren flew in the open car window, perched on my pack in the back seat, chirped at her and flitted away. Strangers, birds, fish – and me – cannot resist her magical charm.

Old maps called it Sand Island. The local settlers referred to the place as Hog Island. In the 1940’s a northern developer built a dozen thatched huts on the sand and together with Life magazine ran a contest for newlyweds. The lucky winners got to spend two weeks on “Honeymoon Isle”. World War II interrupted blissful lives and the huts fell into disrepair. The name stuck, however. We spent many happy days on the beaches, sandbars and waters around Honeymoon Island when we were young. A bucket of cold chicken, watermelon, catching fish, playing in the clear waters under impossibly blue skies … how wonderful Life can be!

The state of Florida began acquiring the land on Honeymoon Island in the 1950’s and eventually placed it into the state park system. A causeway built in 1964 facilitated public access. Condominiums, concessions and crowds soon followed. Today almost one million visitors annually visit this park which has been consistently ranked in the top five beaches in the entire country. Now when Gini and I visit, our selective vision still sees only sand and water.

I recently traveled to Honeymoon Island with two talented birders and we spent a chilly but productive morning combing the beach, marsh and upland trails. With relative low temperatures and a “brisk” wind coming in from the Gulf of Mexico we didn’t have too many sunbathers to step around. We found over 60 species including five species of Plover, a group of 60 Red Knot, an unusually good look at a Clapper Rail and an uncommon White-crowned Sparrow.

It was a great day of birding.

Yes, of course there are pictures!

 

Even if you don’t get a good look at the Spotted Sandpiper, its characteristic tail bobbing as it feeds is a pretty good indication of its identification. In breeding season, the undersides will be covered in large dark spots.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

 

A Black-bellied Plover comes in for a landing on the shoreline. It lacks its namesake black belly during the winter.

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

 

Our smallest sandpiper, the Least Sandpiper, enjoys a bath in the cold water.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

 

One of the small “peep” sandpipers, the Western Sandpiper is distinguished from the Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers by dark colored legs and a slightly longer bill which normally droops a bit at the end.

Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

 

Semipalmated Plovers are named for a partial webbing between the middle and outer toes but you need to be pretty close to see that feature.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

 

Just a bit larger than the above Semipalmated Plover, relatively large black bills help identify the Wilson’s Plover even at a distance.

Wilson's Plover

Wilson’s Plover

Wilson's Plover

Wilson’s Plover

 

Piping Plovers have a short “chunky” looking bill compared to other plovers. This species is threatened and endangered worldwide. The bird in the fourth image below sports a yellow leg band (ring) which was likely attached near the Great Lakes. I couldn’t get a look at the band number.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

 

Even smaller than the Piping Plover is the Snowy Plover. Its bill is a bit slimmer and these guys seem to always be running, screeching to a halt to probe the sand and then running off down the beach again. Unfortunately, this species is also threatened.

Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover

 

Flipping over a rock can sometimes yield a meal for the Ruddy Turnstone and that’s how they got their name. They are also quick to turn over shells and, in this case, a whole pile of seaweed. Once this bird moved all the grass a horde of other birds swooped in to scoop up the goodies.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

 

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

 

Dunlins nest in the Arctic tundra and spend winter along our coasts. They have a longish bill which is usually curved downward. They can look fairly plain in their non-breeding plumage.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Dunlin

Dunlin

 

Similar in size to the Dunlin, Sanderlings also nest in the Arctic. It’s very pale in non-breeding plumage and its bill is not as long as a Dunlin’s and is usually straight. These are the birds we see at the beach in winter right at the edge of the water being chased by the waves.

Sanderling

Sanderling

Sanderling

Sanderling

 

Another tundra breeder, the Red Knot is normally pretty gray looking by the time they arrive in our area for the winter. Occasionally, they will begin to attain their beautiful reddish plumage in late spring before returning to the Arctic to nest.

Red Knot

Red Knot

Red Knot

Red Knot

 

Red Knot, Short-billed Dowitcher

Red Knot, Short-billed Dowitcher

 

Okay, I not only got carried away with a bunch of words but tried to stuff a lot of photographs in here as well. So, this adventure is —– TO BE CONTINUED.

 

Additional Information

Honeymoon Island State Park

Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

 

 

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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