Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

This weekend, I spent a very chilly windy day at one small part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  It's about two hours from where I live.  I was a little worried that I might get there and find acres of just grass.   Not so!

The Refuge is incredible.  It is 140,000 acres sharing a boundary with the National Space Center.  It was originally set aside as a Buffer Zone for the Space Center in the 1950's. 
The terrain is not impressive, but the entire place is massive.
 Since that time It has been tinkered with in a variety of ways to make it more habitable for both wildlife and people.  I was really really impressed with the entire set up!   

Not only are there areas that are attractive to birds,it also contains an area of undeveloped beach which is popular with Loggerhead Turtles during breeding times, and the endangered West Indian Manatee.  There are several miles of hiking trails, as well as a Manatee observation area.  
In the winter the Wildlife Service allows the area to essentially "flood" the marsh areas.  The flooding allows 
for the growth of foods attractive to water birds and attracts many many water birds, big and small to the area.  During the other months, when birds are not hanging out so predominantly in warm, sunny Florida the waters are allowed to ebb and flow with the tides of the rivers, which I think reduces Mosquitos as well as is a more natural state I suppose for the area.
(Above is a Flock of Pelicans, on their way to Pelican Island another wildlife refuge adjacent to  Merritt Island).
What impressed me most is that a great deal of the wildlife is very accessible to people who are not huge hikers.  There is a 7 mile "wildlife observation drive"  which has been placed so that one actually can observe a ton of activity just from the road.  In fact, almost all of my photos were taken from the road.  I think sometimes that Wildlife areas are so lovely, but that many people don't even get a chance to get interested because if they cruise through by auto they see nothing, and think Booorrrrring  This drive would have gotten anyone excited about seeing more.  Not only that, but, access to this area is free!  It really is accessible to all who can physically arrive in Florida on the Space Coast.
So without Further Ado, let me show you all what a real Anhinga, snake bird, should look like!
Anhingas are a little unusual.  Once they get wet, they really have to dry their wings, so it's pretty easy to get this photo.  I think thousands of amateurs like myself have this photo!  It's so dramatic, but frankly, unless you really really purposely disturb this bird, it is not going too far until those wings dry up!
I can't help but share two photos, I couldn't decide which I liked better.
It was a very very windy day, making things rather chilly and sometimes blowing me around as I tried to hold the camera steady, you can see the feathers of this Great Blue Heron being upswept by the wind.
By far the most exciting thing I saw all day was the field of Roseate Spoonbills.  I knew of the bird, but had never seen it.
A lot of Florida tourists mistake these odd looking birds for Flamingos.  But, as Flamingo Dancer will tell you, a Flamingo has longer legs and a dark blackish heavy bill. Like the Flamingo, the Roseate Spoonbill gets it's pink color from the foods it eats. The Spoonbill mostly eats crustaceans.  The algae that the crustaceans eat gives the birds their wild pink coloration.
They use their shovel like Bill to sweep from side to side…there are actually odd little sensors in their bills allowing them to sense their dinner.
They are really funny looking birds, who are extra social, and seem to spend most of their time in huge groups, unlike the Great Egret , which can be seen all over Florida, usually alone.
The Spoonbills are so social, they will even hang out with any other wading birds.  They aren;t judgemental about others not being quite so pink and pretty!
 I caught these Ibises flaying out of a group of Spoonbills.
The White Ibis birds are very common in Florida, and hang out at pretty much every retention pond in my area.  I loved seeing them in a more natural atmosphere.  They are easily known by the very obvious curved beak.
Most of the birds pictured here  (with the exception I think of the Pelicans)  were at one time threatened or endangered due to Hat fashions of the Victorian Era.
Thankfully, these hats have gone 
rather out of fashion….and the birds have subsequently recovered. 
 All of the birds pictured here are considered "LC" or of the least concern these days.
And I am quite pleased to not have to wear such hats 
to stay in fashion!
So,  thanks to changes in fashion and sensibilities, we now have flocks and flocks of these impressive birds to challenge my photography skills.
I love this photo, If you look at it carefully, you will notice the bird, which was flying oddly solo, has the oddest little tilt to it's head.  This tilt made me laugh, it gives the image of an aviator trying to navigate.  
Most of the time, however, the Roseate Spoonbill in flight appears more graceful than the above photo.
This is the same spoonbill, with its head in a less cocked position.  As you can see, they really are very very pink,
but they are clearly not Flamingos!
As I said, I was really really impressed with the area of the Wildlife preserve I visited.  I was a bit concerned that I was going to prepare my camera, make a long drive, and find that the wildlife, being wildlife, would have retreated to areas that can't be accessed by humans, either on foot or in a vehicle!  Instead, most of the photos were taken right off of the "wildlife viewing drive".  The Drive is seven miles of gravel road, with 14 or so stops that are marked.  At several of the stops are short 1-2 mile looping trails that allow people to get out deeper into the habitat.  At stop nine (where the Spoonbill in flight pics were taken) is a 5 mile loop with an awesome observation deck).  I walked the 5 mile loop.  While the loop was fun…there were so many mosquitos, I actually eventually wanted to rip off my pants (which were being bitten through) and roll in the scratchy grass.  
I would really recommend this to anyone who has even a passing interest in birds and wildlife.  It's free, so you won't feel like you wasted a ton of cash on a short visit.  I regret that I didn't have binoculars!!!
And on that note…..
I'll share the view I had, as the light started to go.
I hope you enjoyed the photos!  (I'm a little overly proud of myself…)

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7 thoughts on “Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

  1. Awesome photos! I love capturing photos of birds, although it doesn't happen too often around here. When we lived in Maryland we used to get a lot of bird shots.

  2. You SHOULD be proud of yourself…you got some really incredible photos out of that trip. I love the spoonbills! They crack me up with their funny faces, but at the same time they are really very pretty. If I ever make it back down to FL I will have to see if I can be somewhere close enough to make it over to this refuge to check them out for myself.

  3. Nice pictures of your trip to merit island, thanks for sharing the pics. I have some pics and a video of my hike on the Cruickshank trail on the refuge if anyone would like to see them. hctrails.com/merritt-island-wildlife-refuge

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