Friday, January 28, 2011

Merritt Island NWR, pt. 2

As I noted in my previous post, we were well on the road to 100 species on our first day of our 3-day birding weekend in Titusville, FL. But we felt our Century Run slipping away from us as we headed into Black Point Wildlife Drive with only 60 birds under our belt. There seemed a glimmer of hope as we entered the drive, because when we've been down that way in the past we've found huge numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds. This time, however, the first thing we noticed was how dry it was, compared with our other visits.

Almost right off the bat, we saw large animals running together on the far side of some small trees. My gut wanted to say hippos (stupid gut, there are no hippos in Florida), but once we managed a better view, albeit a brief one, I cut myself some slack. It was a small group of feral pigs, one of which was massive! It all happened much too quickly for pictures, but fortunately, it was a memorable enough sight not to need them. Seeing them in person, it's easy to imagine the damage they can inflict, both on humans, and on their environment.

As we drove on, we did manage new trip birds, but they didn't come nearly as quickly as we'd hoped. Areas that we've seen jam-packed with ducks previously were devoid waterfowl, but did contain the occasional Pied-billed Grebe, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, White and Glossy Ibises, and an assortment of herons, including Reddish Egrets.

Greater Yellowlegs

When we came up to the first parking area, we joined a largish gathering of people to watch Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks feed. These two species feed similarly, but with obvious differences. As the videos below demonstrate, spoonbills are more active feeders, vigorously sweeping their bills from side to side. Wood Storks are more likely to open their bills and hope for the best, occasionally readjusting their position slightly. Doubling back toward the walking trail, Maureen found a Clapper Rail, which vanished before she could point it out. It did briefly reemerge, and I was able to see how much more dull the coloring was compared with it's Gulf Coast cousin, a Clapper Rail we recently saw in Galveston, TX. The good thing about the dull coloration is that it removes the trouble of trying to differentiate it from the nearly-identical King Rail.

Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibises, and Snowy Egrets

Eventually, we did see large flocks of Lesser Scaup overhead, which ended up being our only ducks for the day. As we watched them fly in, formations of American White Pelicans also passed nearby. After watching flock after flock of Scaup vanish behind the same set of trees we were able to locate where they were gathering. The water almost seemed to be boiling, with all the bathing and splashing they were doing.

American White Pelicans

Flock of Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

A rambunctious group of scaup

On the way out, we tried to locate a Bald Eagle, where her nest is known to be, but the nest was empty, and she was nowhere to be seen. As we met up with the main road again, we saw raptor perched on top of a telephone pole, and as we passed by, we were happy to see that it was her. Although we left Black Point significantly short of our goal, we were nevertheless glad for the great weather and for plenty of birds we don't find as easily at home, just a couple of hours south. With the sun fading, we returned to the shoreline where we ate lunch. A few minutes after we arrived, three Black Skimmers swept in and began skimming the shallow water along the shore. Even though we failed our ludicrous goal, we considered this a perfect end to a perfect day. 73 species is nothing to complain about, after all. Plus, we had two more days left of our weekend, and we had no intention of returning home without all 100.

Black Skimmers

Black Skimmers



  1. Love the stork and spoonie shots. True Floridian facemelters.

  2. Neat feeding shots. The feeding stork video is interesting, I didn't know they hunted / foraged like that.

  3. Hi, good photos, as usual. How come the top one is not a Greater Yellowlegs? Its bill looks to me notably longer than its head and very slightly upturned, while it's overall got a long, angular, sculpted form, except in the neck, all of which would've suggested Greater to me. Of course, I wasn't there for the bird!

  4. I meant "especially in that long, angular neck" ...

  5. Good catch, Chris - I think you're right! They were both around that day, and it looks like I was too hasty in labeling the photo. Thanks!

  6. Neat... feral pigs!! Love the pictures and the
    tales. The spoonbills are such a pretty
    color and the one of the 3 white pelicans, nice shot!

  7. Maureen, excellent photos, as always! Those black skimmers shots are great, and I too, learned a lot from watching those videos of foraging! Great post. Wish I could've seen some feral pigs, too!