Kevin K. and I went over to Black Point Wildlife Drive last Tuesday. The water levels were low and although we saw quite a few birds, many of them were far from the road and hard to photograph. Here are some images from the trip that I like.
Hunter’s Dance – A Reddish Egret stalks fish in the marsh
These Egrets have a distinctive dance they use to scare up fish. It seems to work for them!
Morning minnow meal
Green Herons use a different technique. This one was wading carefully through the mangrove roots on the side of a canal looking for a snack.
Stalking in the Mangroves
And finally, here’s a photo of a Great Egret taking off from a tree beside the trail.
Great Egret Launch
This one was a little slow – normally birds are gone by the time I get my camera ready!
Surprisingly, it’s been 2 1/2 years since I’ve been to the Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Florida. Surprising because although it is a longer drive for me, it’s such a wonderful place. Every time I go, I realize again that it’s well worth the time.
Anyway, four of us from the Photography Interest Group woke up very early (me at 4:25 am!) and headed over. Sunrise wasn’t as colorful as some mornings are, but the calm winds made for nice reflections.
Calm morning – Looking west before sunrise
When we had enough light, we all shifted to birding mode and explored. The temperature was just right for walking around. We saw many warblers in the trees and bushes – I think most were Yellow-rumped, but I’m not so good with IDs on smaller birds.
U lookin’ at me? Yellow-rumped Warbler
And the canals were full of wading birds looking for breakfast.
In spots the surface of the water was completely covered with duckweed, but incredibly the birds still managed to grab small minnows.
Snowy Egret and minnow
I saw another egret pounce and come up with a stick, but as I watched it dropped the stick and kept and swallowed the minnow that was also in its beak – amazing skills!
On the way out we parked for a few minutes to meet some famous new arrivals.
Great Horned Owl nest and chicks
It wasn’t hard to find this nest – the tree was roped off, and a volunteer was doing a good job protecting the site and keeping all the photographers in order and back away from the birds! It was nice to see these two little ones, and it was nice that all the people were polite and respected the bird’s space.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Viera Wetlands are two of my favorite places to photograph and I had time to visit both last week. They’re each wonderful and seem similar, yet they can be very different. When I was at MINWR, it was very quiet with few birds or other wildlife around. July isn’t the best time for birds in Central Florida, so I wasn’t expecting much.
On the other hand, Viera Wetlands was full of activity. Right away, we saw a couple of Osprey fishing:
Osprey with catch at Viera – always fun to see and a thrill to get a good, in focus photo
And as we walked around we saw Sand Hill Cranes, a Caracara, Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Swamp Chickens (Common Gallinules), a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Least Bitterns, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, and Green Herons.
Green Heron at Viera – posing nicely in very good light
My friend Kevin M. was with me, and he saw a Yellow-crowned Night Heron. We also spotted a family of four otters crossing the road, and multiple Alligators.
Why did we see so much more at Viera than Merritt Island? Was it the weather (don’t think it was much different)? Time of day (we were there a bit later)? Water type (fresh vs. brackish)? Vegetation? Kevin’s luck?
I really don’t know. I’m just grateful I went to both places and got to see so much. The moral of the story: If one of your local photo spots is quiet, try a different one. You never know what you’ll see.
Next, along Gator Creek Road we found a group of preening Roseate Spoonbills. I liked the contrast between their pink and the blue sky reflected in the water.
Later at the Visitor Center, we found a great many butterflies. They seem to like these Buttonbrush plants.
And Green Herons were common too, especially at the rest area on Black Point Wildlife Drive where we saw several nests and juveniles. This one (also at the Visitors Center) drew my eye as it posed against the silver-like water while it waited to strike an unwary fish.
Green Heron in a silver pond
With the hot weather starting to arrive, there’s not as much activity at Merritt Island as there sometimes is. But there’s still a lot to see and photograph.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
Most people just call the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands near Viera, Florida “Viera Wetlands”, although I’m sure they mean no disrespect to Mr. Grissom. I hadn’t been there in a while, and since it’s one of my favorite places I took a trip down to check on things last week – it didn’t disappoint.
On the way, I stopped by Kelly Park in Merritt Island for sunrise. I’m not sure if this Great Blue Heron was really getting ready to fish, or just enjoying the beautiful, pre-sunrise light, but I was glad it waded into my photo.
The early birds get the fish – Looking east over the Banana River from Kelly Park in Cocoa, just before dawn.
At Viera Wetlands, I got to watch this otter’s antics as it enjoyed a dirt bath in the road:
River Otter dust bath – I watched it rolling around in the dirt on the road for a while. When it had enough, it stood up, shook itself off, and moved back into the water.
I also watched this scene and although I felt badly for the frog, I guess I should feel good for the bird:
Hooded Merganser catches frog at Viera Wetlands – This doesn’t end well for the frog.
I don’t see Green Herons as often as some of the other herons and egrets, so it was nice to watch a number of them in the reeds along the sides of the berms. This pose is typical of one of their hunting techniques. They’ll perch frozen on the water’s edge and wait for prey to come within striking distance. Green Herons are reportedly one of the smartest birds. I haven’t seen the behavior, but they’re said to drop small bits of food or insects onto the water to attract fish.
Concentration – A Green Heron stalks its prey.
Viera is a great place to see Great Blue Herons courting, nesting, and raising young and there are several pairs active now. I saw one nest with very small chicks already hatched. I also saw many of the regulars there including alligators, Great Egrets, Tri-color Herons, Scaups, Coots, Red-winged Blackbirds, and others. On the way out I also took a turn around the Click ponds, but didn’t notice anything I hadn’t already found in the main areas. A great trip and well worth the time!
Click on the photos to go to Flickr, where you can see larger versions (the otter photo especially where you can see all the dirt it’s flung around) . You can also see more photos from Viera Wetlands in this set on Flickr. And I have many older posts about Viera Wetlands – you can look through them from this link.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I’m extremely fortunate to live near the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the more I learn about it, the bigger and better it seems. I’ve been going to Black Point Wildlife Drive for several years, but only recently started exploring other locations in the Refuge. If you only have a short time to visit, Black Point is a great place to see – but there’s so much more. If you have time, visit East Gator Creek Road, Shiloh Marsh Road, Bio-Lab Road, Scrub Ridge Trail and other areas. Look here for maps of these and other MINWR trails.
Kevin M., Lutfi and I were in place on East Gator Creek Road this morning in time for sunrise. It was my first time at this spot and I was very happy with the views. Highly recommended for sunrise shots!
Merritt Island Sunrise
Next, we drove up to Shiloh Marsh Road. We were able to drive in only a short distance from either end before the way was blocked by chains – I think for duck hunting season. If you decide to drive this road, check to make sure it’s open and make sure your vehicle has plenty of ground clearance. There are some grand canyon sized potholes out there.
After Shiloh, we drove Black Point Wildlife Drive. This road was resurfaced this year and is in very good shape. Not too many potholes here.
Little Green Heron in flight; I made this photo very close to the same spot a few weeks ago – is this the same bird?
Finally, we headed over to the MINWR Visitor Center to see if the Painted Buntings had arrived for the winter. But it was closed too – we’re not sure why.
Today was a wonderful day for wildlife and nature watching. We saw Spoonbills, Ospreys, Redish Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willets, Little Green Herons, Belted Kingfishers, Tri-Color Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Crabs, a deer, flowers, Bald Eagles, Ibis, European Sparrows, Cormorants, Anhingas, Cardinals and butterflys among other things.
Butterfly and flower
For more info on MINWR, this search will bring up other things I’ve written about it. And you can view some other photos I’ve made at the Refuge on Flickr here, and here.
Yesterday, we made a return trip to see what the place is like after three months of almost daily rain in the Central Florida area.
We arrived right at sunrise, which was very pretty.
Water levels are much improved: areas that were dry in May are once again filled. However, we were disappointed by how few birds there were in the area. My theory on this (which I didn’t come up with until the drive home) is that the severe drought in the area happened during nesting season and forced birds to build nests in other locations. The nesting season lasts for several months and is just now ending, so it was premature for us to expect to see many birds back at Black Point until chicks have fledged.
I did manage to get nice photos of a green heron:
And a Black-crowned night-heron:
There were also some unusual flowers (1/14/2010 update – I think this is a “Spotted Bee Balm”):
And some very large (about 2 – 3 inches), horror show type spiders. How would you like to walk through this web in the dark?
So, even without a large bird population it was still a nice trip with plenty to interest the Photography Interest Group. And… there’s always Cracker Barrel on the way home!