2010 Florida posts con't....
On the third day of my trip I made my way north to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Since my grandma lives on the island I have been there many times. However, I have never seen the sheer number of birds there as I did last February. I had always been disappointed in this refuge, and longed for a return visit to Ding Darling, on the Gulf side, where I had gone back in '96. There just never seemed to be much going on at Merritt Island.
Boy, was I about to be surprised! But first, a quick overview of the park, straight from their website:
"Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 as an overlay of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center. Consisting of 140,000 acres, the Refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater estuaries and marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals."
It really is a wonderful place, with hiking opportunities and the Black Point Wildlife Drive, a seven mile one way loop that winds through the salt marshes. While the birds are pretty used to cars passing nearby, most are very leery of people on foot, so you end up doing a lot of shooting out of open windows.
One of the first things I saw was a pair of (I think--this image is pretty poor) Mottled ducks. All I knew as I was trying to shoot them through the passenger side window is I'd never seen them before. Another first!
Around a bend I came across two male Blue-winged teals. Now, I have been to Florida more times than I can count, and I don't remember ever seeing these before. I have to imagine that I have, but never paid them any attention. As I said a while back, I thought all ducks were mallards--shame on me!
They led me to a small group resting on the shore.
When I visited the refuge in 2009 it was very dry. I don't know if there was a drought, or if it had been drained (the ecology of this whole area is controlled by man, and the water levels are lowered in the spring and summer to facilitate vegetation growth, then flooded fall and winter). Whatever the case, in 2010 there was water water everywhere, and with the water came the birds.
Flocks of White and Glossy ibis filled the sky.
Farther away from the road I could see flocks of White pelicans, Spoonbills, ibis and egrets. Unfortunately I still had only a 200mm lens.
Coming around a bend there was a lone tree on the left side of the drive. It was full of Wood storks, an endangered bird here in the states. I had never seen one in the wild before.
Fish eaters, they like to hang out in marsh and swamp lands.
Here they are, hanging out.
Yes indeed, a face only a mother could love.
Next: more from the wildlife drive