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Christmas in Florida

Part 11:  Merritt Island NWR

I'm very glad I gave in and did Merritt Island: first of all, you don't have to wait till 8:00 to get in J, and I really racked up quite a day list, as well as adding a bunch more birds to the trip list!  Got to the wildlife drive literally before dawn, being greeted by a Bald Eagle right away, but it was fun to see lines of wading birds starting to fly from their roosts.  Rails were calling from the marsh that, were I back in San Diego, I'd call Clapper without hesitation, but I know Kings and Clappers can sound very similar, and I'm not sure what's more likely on the drive (I'm assuming Clapper until told otherwise, as it's more of a salt-water area).  Also had calling Least Bitterns in there as well, and a Sora later on the drive.

           

Fog over the marsh with Bald Eagle; secretive rails love this marshy habitat

As one FLBirder pointed out, there were lots of Pintail around!  Other ducks in much smaller numbers included American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, Shovelers, Mottled Ducks, and a single pair of Green-winged Teal, but I was very happy to see more Hooded Mergansers than I've ever seen in my life!  They were great!  In the diving duck department there was a single Lesser Scaup in one big pond, all by himself, and managed to find one of the birds the locals had been seeing/looking for: the female Common Goldeneye!  There were all sorts of waders, of course, but the spoonbills were in particularly gorgeous array!  Kept running into pods of shorebirds; most appeared to be Dunlin with a few Least Sandpipers thrown in, but I think I picked out a few Westerns as well.  Had a single Wilson's Snipe early on, and a smattering of Greater Yellowlegs, as well as a large flock of Avocets.  Kicked up a couple of Savannah Sparrows at the Cruikshank Trail, but nothing else very exciting.  Somewhere along the drive a Caspian Tern went powering by.

                             

Female Common Goldeneye, rather unusual here, and Northern Pintail

           

Striking Hooded Mergansers; males with deflated "hoods" at left, and with females at right

           

L-R:  Tricolored Heron, Snowy Egret with Roseate Spoonbill, and Glossy Ibis

        

Wide angle of an "egret pond", with close-up of Snowy Egret at left and Great Egret at right

        

Habitat along the five-mile Cruikshank loop trail, and more birdies along the auto route...

                                     

L-R:  Turkey Vulture, Black-bellied Plover, and Boat-tailed Grackle

Headed out to Canaveral NS after that, stopping periodically along the road where I at least heard the Florida Jays!  At one pullout had several Bonies and Forster's Terns fluttering about, while a Swamp Sparrow gave a brief but satisfying look.  At another stop there was an absolutely knockout gorgeous spoonbill, and at another a little flock of Lesser Yellowlegs came wheeling in.  It was a real delight to see a big flock of White Pelicans circling in a thermal along with the vultures!  At the beach I took several boardwalks out to scope (thankfully there were no nude bathers this time... J) and was delighted at all the Gannets flying and diving offshore!  (I told the FLBirders not to laugh at me, but one of them was flying low to the water and with a flight pattern just like one of our large shearwaters back in SD, and because it was brown with a paler belly I got all excited about a possible life Cory's Shearwater or something, but thankfully it raised up to where I got a better look at it...)  Also had a few Common Loons and several of the expected larids, including a first-year Herring Gull.  Added Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstone to the shorebird list.

Birds around Cape Canaveral...

             

L-R:  Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, and Savannah Sparrows

"Brown" Palm Warbler; on this race the yellow is confined to the undertail coverts

Ruddy Turnstone on the beach

Headed back and hiked the Oak Hammock Trail, where the first thing I stumbled upon was a lady Downy Woodpecker excavating a nest hole like there was no tomorrow!  At the boardwalk before the railroad tracks I heard something slithering in the leaves next to me, so I was naturally thinking "snake", but when I finally caught sight of the scaly thing it was so big I thought, "They don't have any anacondas here!!"  My "snake" turned out to be an Armadillo, the first one I've ever seen (alive) in the US!  And he was totally oblivious to me: he kept rooting around and eventually made his way right to my feet practically!  I moved a little to get a picture and that seemed to startle him to the fact that a potential predator was nearby, but that didn't last long as he continued to root like a little piglet!  On the rest of the trail a Carolina Wren actually decided to show off for me, and an incessant scold turned out to be a White-eyed Vireo.  Couldn't find the reported Warbling (although I could have been on the wrong trail for all I know; I took that one cuz that's what the ABA Guide recommended, and since it was shorter it was a no-brainer...).

               

L-R:  Downy Woodpecker excavating her nest site, Oak Hammock Trail, Armadillo, and Carolina Wren

Headed to the VC after that, picking up a souvenir T-shirt (I figured it was now or never, since I was heading home in a couple of days), and then made a quick stop at Titusville Parrish Park just before the bridge, as it was recommended by the Birding Trail Guide (I guess I could still get away with calling it a BBB for Brown Bin Brochure!).  The gulls and grackles sure liked the gourmet peanuts Dave gave me for Christmas (I knew I'd find a good use for them J), and it made for great photo ops (along with the Fish Crows), but the real treat was a young Great Black-backed Gull just off shore, trying to decide if he had the guts to come join the rest of the mob.  After that I made an even quicker stop at Scottsmoor Landing, where I just picked up a House Wren for the day.

Got into New Smyrna Beach for the night after that, staying at an old-fashioned beach hotel where the guy had to check me out the night before cuz he wasn’t gonna be open that early! Had a very nice little suite (that’s all they had on the first floor) and some delicious shrimp scampi at the seafood restaurant down the street.

Moochers at Titusville Parrish Park...

             

Boat-tailed Grackles (male left, female right) and Fish Crows

        

1st-year Great Black-backed Gull (left) and Ring-billed Gulls (1st-year bird center; adult right) 

Continue to New Smyrna Beach

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