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Christmas 2006

Part 12:  Merritt Island NWR

For my last birding day in Florida I decided to do Merritt Island NWR, as the guy at Loxahatchee told me that they had a butterfly garden!  It was New Year’s Day, but little did I know the Visitor's Center was gonna be closed (where I assume the garden is)!  Thankfully it was lousy butterfly weather (because I woulda been heartbroken otherwise), but the birding was fabulous, pushing me over the 200 mark for the trip!

  The first new bird was picked up while waiting for the drawbridge over the Indian River to close: a Great Black-backed Gull!  There would be several of these along Cape Canaveral, but no Lessers, alas.  I tried birding the impoundments as the ABA Guide suggests, but quickly gave up that idea as I discovered that area was reserved for hunters!  Did pick up Mottled Duck for the day back there, though...

Great Black-backed Gull at the drawbridge 

So headed out on the Black Point Wildlife Drive, and that started out with a bang with a gorgeous Roseate Spoonbill and his "kid" feeding right by the road!  There also happened to be both White and Glossy Ibis there for a Threskiornithidae Feeding Frenzy!  Northern Pintail and Blue-winged Teal were also right by the road (they weren't dumb—they knew where not to hang out), and a little further down was another trip bird: two pairs of Hooded Mergansers actively feeding!  (It was fun to watch the males raising and lowering their hoods as they dove...)  Several Ring-necked Ducks were around as well.

Birds along the wildlife drive...


Pintail mob


Threskiornithidae feeding frenzy consisting of Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibis, and Glossy Ibis (which should all be self-explanatory…)


Glossy Ibis portraits with White Ibis at right


Roseate Spoonbill with Mottled Duck (center) and youngster (right)

More duckies...


Blue-winged Teal and Hooded Mergansers (getting ready to dive at left)

Didn't get far on the Cruikshank Trail as the mosquitoes, interestingly, were pretty bad along here (whereas I had had no problems with them at all so far this trip)!  Something apparently got the Moorhens cackling like a jungle movie, and down the road I saw the possible reason: a little alligator swimming amongst them!  Here and there were pods of larids that, in addition to the Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls, had Caspian Terns, skimmers, more Black-backed Gulls, and a couple of Herrings.  The few shorebird flocks I found had Semipalmated Plovers and Dunlin mostly, but also a single Least Sandpiper and a few Westerns.  While I was stopped an American Bittern flew by, which was very exciting; when I literally pointed him out to the lady behind me, the bittern must have thought my arm looked like a gun barrel cuz he took a hard right at the sight and put distance between us!


Palm Warbler along the Cruikshank Trail and Loggerhead Shrike along the back side of the wildlife drive

  The usual selection of herons was about, of course, including a nice Reddish Egret.  After dumping onto the main road I stopped periodically in hopes of at least hearing a Florida Jay, but got a Pileated Woodpecker swooping by in kingfisher-like fashion instead.  Hiked the Oak Hammock Trail, where there was sufficient shelter from the wind to have a little warbler party with Orange-crowned, Black-and-white, and Pine all represented (in addition to the ubiquitous Butterbutts)!  Found another Obscure Skipper along this trail, but it mainly was just a pretty hike.


Giant mushroom along the Oak Hammock Trail


Biardwalk through the cypress forest with interesting vine...


Fuzzy Prairie Warblers and Obscure Skipper

After that was when I discovered that the center was closed, so I headed back to Canaveral National Seashore (after making a wrong turn and almost winding up at NASA...)  Although the weather was not the greatest (overcast, windy, and occasionally spitting), the flowers along the roadside were just covered with Great Southern Whites!  Those things were troopers!  At one spot I did a little closer scrutiny and found a Mangrove Buckeye, a couple of Gulfies, a gorgeous Ceraunus Blue, and a new butterfly: a Saltmarsh Skipper, which is one of the well-marked ones!  While I was poking around the bushes a Savannah Sparrow popped up and stayed put for pictures, as well as a Prairie Warbler (Palms were all over, of course)!


The Great Southern White Attack—how many can you find? (I counted at least ten…)  Whether well-marked or worn, the black tips always follow the vein, and they have bluish antenna clubs. 


Female Great Southerns are more strongly marked below.


Another Gulf Fritillary hangs off a flower (what a face…)


Ceraunus Blues


Saltmarsh Skippers and Savannah Sparrow


View of the marshes of Cape Canaveral and the launch pad

Checked out the beach accesses here and there, and the butterflies weren't the only "big white things" out there in numbers: so were the Gannets!  I had never seen so many, and so close to shore!  Granted, most of them were youngsters, but it was fun to watch them dive-bomb!  Got a good selection of "beach birds" as well, including Willet, Sanderling, Red Knot, Black-bellied Plover, and Ruddy Turnstone in addition to those already seen on the refuge.  Also added Royal and Sandwich Terns, and after much scanning finally picked out a jaeger beating past, although I couldn't tell which type; it seemed too slender to be a Pom, but according to the ABA Guide, that's what's most likely, so unless talked out of it, that's the assumption for now...


The seashore proper and tourists enjoying it!

Birds on-shore and off...


Royal Terns and Ruddy Turnstone


Gannets (near-adult at far left)

The rain soon starting coming down pretty good, so since I was shot I decided to call it a day, but not before spotting a young Bald Eagle harassing an Osprey!  Birding buddy Judy Pike had talked me into stopping in Arizona on the way home, so I would have one more trip report before the final tally! 

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