Merritt Island

What a great November to celebrate!  From a nature photography perspective I was able to photograph some of the most beautiful wading birds God has put on this earth.  From a family perspective, it was nice to spend Thanksgiving with my family and eat until I couldn't move (as is my tradition).  I am also pleased to announce the release of The Matt Cuda Nature and Wildlife Photography Podcast. Find out more about it at the end of the newsletter.

In this newsletter I want to primarily focus on my trip to Merritt Island, Florida and in particular a place called Blackpoint Widllife Drive located on the island.
Merritt Island: a Birders Paradise
If you are an active birder or wildlife photographer then you have probably been to Florida once, or most likely, many times in your pursuit of finding the birds on your life list. And I can bet, that on your bucket list is a place called Merritt Island, Florida. If it isn't on your list then by the end of this blog post, I think it will be.
Merritt Island is a fairly large island just off the east coast of Florida which was originally purchased by NASA in 1962 as part of the Kennedy Space Center. Because much of the land could not be developed by NASA for anything useful, it was contracted to the US Fish and Wildlife department to become a wildlife refuge in 1963.
There are many opportunities on Merrit for excellent birding, but many of us in western society are always being sucked into time constraints we can seemingly do nothing about.  Whether we are in Florida on business or there on a trip with the family, often, we do not have time to see all a park has to offer.  The national park service recognized this and carved out a section of the island called Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.  Blackpoint is a 7 mile, one way road, which snakes through large areas of salt marsh and open black water. During the drive you will see many species of birds as well as other animals such as the american alligator and rarely, otters and bobcats.
Upon entering the drive, you will see a gate, and just beyond the gate is an area where you will need to pull off, put your five dollars in an envelope, and drop it into the envelope container. Once you do this, you can drive the route all day long if you wish.  Additional seasonal passes can be purchased from the visitors center.
As I began my drive through the park, I was stunned by the shear volume of birds present during the beginning of the winter migration.  The American white ibis was prevalent in the park and I noticed them shifting their hunting locations from an area at the beginning of the drive to an area near the end of the drive and back again.  Below is an image of a white ibis hunting the marsh.

Not surprisingly, the various species of herons were also present on the drive.  Below, a tri-colored heron is showing his dislike of another tri-colored heron who has intruded on his hunting ground. 

Continuing along the road, there was a sharp 90 degree bend which takes you along a very large open water area and up in the corner of this area I found a large group of various species gathered one morning.  During this time, it seemed that the birds were very energetic and a bit on edge.  Here I captured a shot of two egrets fighting, another in flight , and one roseate spoonbill in flight.

In this area and really throughout the drive, you can also see anhinga perched and drying out there wings after a hunt. Anhingas are also referred to as snake birds because when they swim, only their heads are seen above water.  This is due to them not having oil in their feathers to keep their bodies afloat. Because of this, they must dry their wings every time they get done swimming.

Below are shots I took of the anhingas.

About half way through the park is an area you can pull off and walk a trail/water control dyke which you can walk and view waterfowl and ospreys.  During December, I am told this is a prime location for wintering ducks, but during mid November it was quite unproductive.  There were a few grebes here and an egret or two, but nothing to really get excited over.
As I was nearing the end of the drive, I did see a hawk and plenty of kingfishers, but both species were quite wild and fearful of me and my vehicle.
The bottom line is that if you have very little time to visit the Merritt Island area, then make the Blackpoint Wildlife Drive a priority.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Here is a list of birds I saw on the drive:
Kingfisher, great egret, snowy egret, little egret, tri-colored heron, great blue heron, roseate spoonbill, pied bill grebe, reddish egret, northern harrier, osprey, american coot, common gallinule, anhinga, double crested cormorant, red-tailed hawk, American white pelican, wood stork, turkey vulture, hooded merganser


Matt Cuda Nature and Wildlife Photography Podcast

I also wanted to make you aware of a new podcast I have launched which specifically addresses wildlife photography.  It is pretty rough right now as I fine tune technical aspects of the productions.  I am starting out with a series on how to get into this genre of photography.

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