Merritt Island and Space Coast Area
|During our visit to the Space Coast area we stayed at an Econo Lodge Motel situated at the junction of the Beeline Expressway and the US 1 highway. The motel was adequate but not spectacular costing around $50 per night. The motel was within easy travelling distance of all the local birding sites, most of which are covered in Prantys guide. For any that are not mentioned I will give give details on reaching the sites.|
On the route from Orlando to the motel at Cocoa Turkey and Black Vultures were a common site with a single Coopers Hawk being seen from the car. On reaching the motel a pair of Fish Crows were seen and heard calling from some power lines.
After unpacking and killing a couple of cockroaches we headed off towrds the Kennedy Space Center for a drive around the roads in the area. The roadside verges were neatly mown grass surrounding water filled dykes. On the verges we had excellent views of nine banded armadillos, the dykes contained alligators and Florida Soft-shelled Turtles and a good variety of wading birds including Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egret, a rare White-faced Ibis (a lucky find of a clear bright adult bird on the central reservation of the road), White Ibis, Glossy Ibis and Moorhen.|
Brown Pelicans, Ospreys and Double-crested Cormorants were observed fishing around the Indian River and along the many dykes, whilst a handful of landbirds were seen. These were Mourning Dove, Collared dove, Feral Pigeon, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, American Crow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle and House Sparrow.
Later that evening a Chuck-Wills Widow was heard calling around the motel.|
On our second day the 25th April we headed north along US 1 to enter Merritt Island from the most northerly point as the previous night we noticed that the bridge over to the refuge was closed for repairs. American road works do not give advanced warning and you may end up doing enforced detours due to lack of warning signs for road closures etc. Anyway gripe over, our first port of call was the Manatee watch point on Merritt Island. On route were spotted four juvenile Bald Eagles along with the usual Vultures. Other Raptors noted were Red-shouldered Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk. Just before we reached the Manatee watch point a pair of Yellow-throated Vireos were seen along the roadside with a pair of Common Ground Doves a little further along.
We were pleasantly surprised at the watch point as at least twenty Manatees were present including a cow with calf and we were even treated to a spot of Manatee romance whilst there. Two rangers were on hand with plenty of Manatee facts.
After visiting the watch point we headed for Scrub Ridge Trail. On the track up to the parking area we encountered a pair of Killdeer, feigning injury to lead us away from their batch of downy youngsters on the road. |
Apart from the scrub land their were several shallow pools along the trail containing Herons, Black-necked Stilts and Lesser Yellowlegs.
The trail was good for woodpeckers including Red-headed, Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, Pileated and Northern Flicker. Other birds seen along the trail were Northern Bobwhite (male and female crossing the path), Great-crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Pine Warbler, Eastern Towhee and Eastern Meadowlark, most of which could be seen close to the car park area.
The main attraction of the car park area was a family party of Florida Scrub Jays which, were very tame giving excellent views.
After visiting Scrub Ridge Trail we headed for Oak Hammock Trail. This was in the most part pretty quiet for birds but we had close views of a noisy Red-shouldered Hawk in the wood along with Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Carolina Wrens were heard and seen singing in the undergrowth and Northern Parulas were heard and seen high above in the trees. Brown Anoles were common in the Hammock and a Pine Woods Snake was seen lounging under the trees.
|Our last point of call before heading off for tea was the Blackpoint Wildlife Drive. This was by far the best birding spot on Merritt Island. The driving loop passes several shallow lakes and dykes surrounded by scrub and marshland. Although the area was pretty dry during our visit we saw a good variety of birds including White Pelican, Anhinga, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Reddish Egret, Tri-coloured Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Mottled Duck, Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Sora, Black-bellied Plover (Grey Plover), Semi-palmated Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Willet, Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Stilt sandpiper, Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers, American Herring Gull, Laughing Gull, Belted Kingfisher, Red-winged Blackbird and Boat-tailed Grackle.|
Before breakfast on 26 April several Chimney Swifts chattered in the sky above the motel car park. After breakfast we headed for a tour of the Kennedy Space Centre. This was well worth a visit, we only paid for the basic tour and didn't even bother with any of the Imax cinemas. Amongst the commoner species were a couple of adult Bald Eagles. Along the roads near the space center we saw American Kestrel, Least Tern, Acadian Flycatcher and Brown-crested Flycatcher. Unfortunately the roads around the Space Center are mainly restricted access, although this is not clearly marked. I found out with a visit from a local six foot plus law enforcement officer when I strayed onto a rectricted road for a short walk. He was however, very pleasant after radioing in my driving licence and passport details (I was now a marked man). He drew a map of an area where we could park and go for a walk.|
The afternoonn was spent at Turkey Creek Sanctuary not listed in Pranty's Guide. To reach the sanctuary go south on US 1 from SR 192 about 4 miles and turn right (west) onto Port Malabar Boulevard (not the same as Malabar Road), drive 1.6 miles to the sanctuary entrance located in the southeast corner of Palm Bay Community Center.
From the I 95 take exit 70A and head east on Palm Bay Road, turn right at Babcoack Street (CR507) and head south, turn left onto Port Malabar Boulevard and continue east for 1 mile to the Palm Bay Community Center and turn right into the sanctuary.|
Turkey Creek is supposed to be good for migrants, it offered a very pleasant afternoon stroll but with very little in the way of birds with the only new species being Blue Jay, Purple Martin, Wood Thrush and Gray Catbird. Good views were had of a particularly speedy Gopher Tortoise and a male Cardinal.
Throughout most of Florida we saw virtually no migrants with the exception of the Dry Tortugas. This was due to the weather conditions which were great for sun worshipers but not for bringing down migrants which were bypassing the state of Florida this particular year.
The 27 April saw a trip to Hatbill Park which is part of a Seminole Reservation with a visit to close by Buck Lake not mentioned in Pranty, followed by an evening drive around the Blackpoint Wildlife Loop.
Hatbill Park consists of a rough dirt track (driveable, just) road through a woodland with walkable tracks, past some scrub areas terminating at a park with mud fringed lakes used for fishing and boating. A second lake can be found along a road off to the left leading to a trailer park. Common Herons and other wading birds were to be found in both areas of lakes, with good views of an adult Bald Eagle perched up at the trailer park. A couple of walkable trails entered the woods but birding appeared to be easier and more fruitfull from the road. We encountered our first Racoon as it crossed the road close to our car and scampered into a dry ditch looking for food. It took no notice as we stood watching it.|
New species seen in the woods were White-eyed Vireo, Tufted Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Cape May Warbler. In the scrub we found Indigo Bunting and around the lakes were Loggerhead Shrike, Bobolink and Brown-headed Cowbird.
On the way back to the Space Center we noticed by chance signs to Buck Lake and as it had started to rain quite heavily we decided to see if we could park up by the lake and bird from the car. As it happened it wasn't possible to park by the lake but a short walk proved interesting. We picked up Fish Crow, Chipping Sparrow, Sedge Wren, Brown Thrasher and Common Yellowthroat, plus a Wild Hog with four piglets which ran away from us grunting its displeasure and a White-tailed Deer.
The lake was obviously a major hunting area so it is probably not the best place to visit during the hunting season. Out of the season it provided a good walk with a viewing platform over the lake.
To reach Hatbill Park go west on SR46, turn left 4.1 miles west of the I95 intersection (exit 81) and follow signs to Loughman Lake Lodge and Seminole Ranch Conservation Area. Buck Lake can be found north of SR46 before reaching Hatbill Park. There are two parking areas for Buck Lake. We used the furthest west but either looked good for a walk in the area.
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