Thursday, March 22, 2012

Merritt Island Buntings

 Florida 2012 continued

One of the reasons we didn't camp longer at Canaveral National Seashore, and the whole reason we traveled to Florida in February, was to be able to spend a day, or at least an afternoon, at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Laying to the south of back country area it was on our way back to my Grandma's house, so the plan was to go there after our camping trip.

The refuge, like so many other places, is "managed".  I has to be in order to make it as attractive to birds and other wildlife as possible.  The whole area used to be salt marsh until we came along and decided we didn't like the mosquitoes that bred in the mud flats, so we built dikes to hold in rain water by dredging the mud and sand and piling it up.  This of course messed up the entire natural processes of the marsh and destroyed a lot of prime bird habitat.

So now that we understand the importance of these places we've devised ways to try to replicate the natural state of the marsh.  Rather than knock down all the dikes (what a job that would be) gates were put in to allow water to flow under them.  The marsh is managed by opening the gates in March and allowing the area to drain (it doesn't completely) and letting the grasses grow.  In late summer/fall the gates are closed and the area is flooded, providing habitat for migrating waterfowl--and lots of plant matter for them to eat. What this meant was that if we wanted to see lots of waterfowl, we had to visit before March when the marsh would be drained and only the wading birds would be left.


We stopped first at the Visitor's Center.  I had one purpose in mind, seeing a Painted Bunting.  This is one of the birds at the top of my "must see" list, and I knew that they hung out at the feeders at the Center--Lisa had seen one several years back, and two years ago I had missed one by less than five minutes.  We took a little walk first, and I watched a pair of Osprey on their nest.

Oh Fred, we're being watched again.

Fred, not now!  Have some modesty!

We walked part of the path, but it was a hot day (86 degrees) and we were tired from our long night at the campground, so we soon wandered back to the Visitor's Center.  Lori and Lisa went inside while I set the tripod up near the feeder and waited.

And waited.

I spoke with a fellow who used to live in Michigan who had taken a bunch of pictures of Painted Bunting that morning with a borrowed camera and they didn't turn out very well.  He was back with his own camera and hoping the bird would return.

Now I get wiggly when I know the girls are waiting for me so after 10 minutes or so (I know, not long enough!!) I folded up the tripod and turned to leave, having only seen blackbirds and grackles.  I turned back slightly to speak to someone and glanced at the feeder over my shoulder.  I nearly squealed when I saw who was sitting there, having a late lunch.

My first Painted Bunting!

I couldn't get the tripod down fast enough.  I was afraid these weren't going to turn out because the scene was strongly backlit and the feeder was in the shade, but they did, and I am thrilled.

There were actually two males on the feeder!

Had I not paused to talk to that fellow I would have missed this amazingly brilliant creature!  He perched and nibbled his seed, having no idea how much excitement he was generating.

After a few minutes another group of blackbirds came swooping in and scared off the buntings so I packed it up.  One of the park employees, hearing my concern about the light and whether or not the photos would turn out, suggested a fill flash.   Well duh--aren't I the one who is supposed to know that?

As we walked to the parking lot Lori noticed two Wood Storks flying towards us.  I got the camera up in time to get a few shots as they flew overhead.

Next:  The park yields another "must see" bird!

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