Saturday, November 12, 2011

Merritt Island NWR

Stephanie and I spent the last six days in Orlando visiting Disney World. Although we spent most of our time in the theme parks, we did head over to the coast to do some birding at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

It takes about an hour to get from Orlando out to the coast and we arrived at the refuge just after 9 on Tuesday morning. Our first stop was at the Visitor Center where I was pleasantly surprised to find one of the most knowledgeable volunteers that I have ever run into at a refuge. He knew about the birds at the property and gave us lots of great tips for birding the area. 

We set out for our first stop, the Black Point Wildlife Drive. One of the most common birds on the entire refuge was the Pied-billed Grebe. They were not afraid of people and I was able to get some of my best pictures of this species that I have ever taken.

Pied-billed Grebe

As you would expect with any coastal wildlife refuge in Florida, the waders were the real stars of the show! Everywhere you looked, there were more herons and egrets to look at including some of my favorites that I rarely get to see such as Reddish Egret and Tricolored Heron. We were also able to get some nice pictures of a Green Heron!

Tricolored Heron
Green Heron by Stephanie Ripma
When we were finished with the drive, we headed over to a boat ramp that is known for easy sightings of West Indian Manatee. We again were not disappointed! There were at least 8 manatees and possibly as many as 12! As fun as it was to watch them, they do not make very interested subjects to photograph so we moved on to the Canaveral National Seashore beaches to look for shorebirds and seabirds.

We were very excited to find the beach loaded with birds. The most numerous were Laughing Gulls. Stephanie had a great time photographing both the gulls and the shorebirds and ended up with quite a few awesome shots!

Laughing Gull by Stephanie Ripma

Ruddy Turnstone by Stephanie Ripma
While she was busy on the beach taking photos, I was scanning the ocean from a raised platform looking for any and all seabirds that I could find. Being a landlocked Midwesterner, it was amazing to watch tons of Northern Gannets moving offshore! I really like to study the birds that I am seeing in order to help me identify them move quickly and with more accuracy the next time I see the species. The gannets cooperated nicely with a number of different ages present with plumages varying from the dark juveniles to the white adults. Some were even sitting on the water allowing for even better study!
Adult Northern Gannet
While watching the gannets, I had two Parasitic Jaegers flyby as well as a group of three shearwaters that were too far out for me to identify.

Our last stop of the day was at Scrub Ridge Trail in search of Florida Scrub-Jays. I was expecting a nice leisurely walk photographing a bunch of jays. Man was I wrong. It was evident the second we stepped out of the car that the mosquitoes were going to be a major issue. Stephanie was only out of the car for about three minutes but ended up with about 20 bites all over her arms and legs. While she waited in the car, I decided to have a quick look around and try for some jays. I was only able to find two jays and they were just flyovers that did not allow for any photos. The highlight of my walk was a Gopher Tortoise right on the path!

Gopher Tortoise
We ended up with over 90 species of birds on the day and had a great time exploring a refuge that I had never visited before!


1 comment:

Kelly said...

...loved seeing Stephanie's photos! I've never been to Merritt, but I really want to go there.