By far, most of our time was either spent in or close-by to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is a massive 140,000 acres and is comprised of myriad trails with a great diversity of habitats. We began with the Scrub Ridge Trail around sunrise, Saturday morning. We hoped that we might come across some Florida Scrub Jays, but were satisfied to find Eastern Towhees, Carolina Wrens, Swamp Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, American White Pelicans, and a Blue-headed Vireo. This was also the start of our weekend's soundtrack, brought to us by the ever-present Yellow-rumped Warblers and the Gray Catbirds.
Although we had hoped for Florida Scrub-jays in the scrub habitat, we came up empty. We'd only seen them once before, which was last year at Space Coast Birding Festival. We had taken a guided tour onto restricted NASA land to find them, and we didn't have that option available to us this time around. As we drove from the scrub to the next trail, however, I caught a glimpse of pale blue out of the corner of my eye. I turned the car around right away, and we watched a group of three right from the side of the road. Scrub-jays use a sentinel system, and we were able to see the changing of the guard, as the on-duty jay was replaced by the next shift.
|A sentinel looking-out for trouble|
|A Florida Scrub-jay sentinel|
Early in the day we decided - either out of hubris or from the sheer variety of birds - that it wouldn't be unreasonable to try for 100 species that day. We stayed on track throughout the morning, too. Next, we stopped in at the Merritt Island visitor's center, and immediately picked up the Painted Buntings at the feeder out back, where they can generally be found this time of year. We also had a White-eyed Vireo, and some American Robins flying overhead. By the time we left the visitor's center, we had already amassed 35 species for the trip, and still had several major areas to survey.
|Painted Buntings at the feeder|
From the visitor's center, we went straight for the Oak Hammock Trails, still buzzing with activity, even though the morning was growing late. We picked up some great songbirds in quick succession: Black-and-white Warbler, Tufted Titmouse, House Wren, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Farther in, we found a warbler that baffled us for a minute. High up in the canopy, we could just make out white underparts and a yellow face. We tracked it for several minutes before we saw an object plummet straight to the ground. It fell so quickly that it didn't even occur to us right away that it was the warbler. Once it was staring us right in the face, we saw that it was a Black-throated Green, right at the northernmost edge of its wintering range. We don't really chase target birds often enough for me to consider any bird a "nemesis bird," but it had occurred to me that we should have seen one of these before now. We were elated to be able to add this to our day's count.
|Black-throated Green Warbler|
Several Pileated Woodpeckers were very active for the remainder of our time in the trails, and seemed to follow us through the woods.
|Great Black-backed Gull|
|Great Black-backed Gull looking like he's in charge|
|Bathing in mixed company (w/ Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls)|
|Dunlin, Sanderlings, and Ruddy Turnstones|
|Atlantic Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus)|
By 2:15, we had 60 species for the day, and still had Black Point Drive ahead of us. Check back soon to see whether we were able to make our goal of 100!