Merritt Island – April 10, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, I met photographer Larry Jordan at Gatorland and he mentioned wanting to visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. He hadn’t been in long while, so I offered to go with him. It was a great excuse to get out and show off one of my favorite places and it didn’t disappoint. We met before dawn at Space View park for what turned into a pretty sunrise.

Dock at dawn

Dock at dawn

After sunup, we entered MINWR in search of wildlife, first to Gator Creek Road where we saw a few birds including black necked stilts. These unusual looking, pink legged birds are only in Florida for the summer breeding season and I’m glad they’re back already. Next we went to Black Point Wildlife Drive to see what was going on there. The initial portion was very quiet, but then the action ramped way up!

Four more black necked stilts were flying all around the first pond on the right. They were very active and noisy in what I think was courtship inspired chasing and calling to each other. We enjoyed watching and photographing them, but decided we’d better move on – we didn’t want to miss out on whatever else was going on. It turns out that was a very good idea.

At the next pond, the first thing I noticed was a flock of White Pelicans. They were pretty, but a bit far off for photos – and just swimming around out there feeding. Then we noticed the Black Skimmers.

I often see these birds along the north shore of the Bennet Causeway leading into MINWR. There, they usually huddle with the gulls and this makes for static looking photos. We didn’t see any there yesterday morning and we found out why at this place. It seems they were all over there and very active. I’ve never seen so much skimming. Long graceful glides over flat water with an uncluttered background, sometimes fairly close to shore. They use their longer, lower bills to slice through the surface searching for fish and write a sharp wake behind them. Wonderful to watch and with such good light, a near perfect opportunity for photographs.

Black Skimmer skimming
Black Skimmer skimming

There were other birds in the pond feeding and flying around close to shore – great conditions for BIF (Birds-in-Flight) photography practice! Several Roseate Spoonbills flew in (toward the camera for a change!) and posed beautifully at nearly perfect angles. We also enjoyed watching a Redish Egret, a very pretty Tri-colored Heron in breeding colors, and many other birds feeding.

Roseate Spoonbill, landing
Roseate Spoonbill, landing

After the excitement at BPWD, I didn’t think it could get any better, but I was hoping to show Larry a Florida Scrub Jay since he hadn’t photographed one before. We drove to Scrub Ridge Trail, parked and walked north along the path where I’ve seen them, but they weren’t there. Feeling a little let down, we walked back to the parking area and a very pretty Scrub Jay was waiting there to welcome us. We each got several photos in different poses / locations.

Our last stop was the Visitor Center. I was hoping that the Painted Buntings would still be around, but they seem to have moved on.

By the way, the 50th anniversary of MINWR is coming up on August 28th. If someone ever asks you about benefits from the US space program, you can mention the establishment of this extraordinary refuge. See this article in Florida Today for more details.

I’ve rambled on for too long so here’s one more landscape from the morning to close this out:

Dock and pier at dawn
Dock and pier at dawn, IR B&W

I had a great time showing Larry around the area and he brought a lot of photo-luck with him! You can click on any of the photos above to see larger versions. You can also see more photos from MINWR in this set on Flickr, Black Point in this set, Birds in this set, and Florida Landscapes in this set. And I have many older posts on the site about MINWR – you can browse through them from this link. Larry posts to Smugmug and you can see his bird photos (including ones from this trip) at this link.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos! And take a friend!

©2013, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

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