December 16, 2012


Bill and I recently did a road trip to Florida, exploring sites on the Gulf coast, the Everglades and the Atlantic coast. What a fantastic trip! It was mainly a birding trip but we really enjoyed the botany too, and of course we took way too many pictures. I could write lots of blog posts about it, but will try to limit myself to 4 or 5. Or maybe not. The area is a photographer's dream, since so many of the birds are large and stay relatively still!

One of our favorite areas that we visited was Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, adjacent to Canaveral National Seashore and the Kennedy Space Center. Its Black Point Wildlife Drive was beyond amazing. This was the scene at the entrance to the drive:

Here is a quick guide to the cast of characters in that photo, and remember that you can click on any photo to see a higher resolution image. First, of course, are the Roseate Spoonbills, perhaps the most glamorous of the birds that can be seen in Florida. 

The biggest bird in the first picture is a White Pelican. These birds are found most often in fresh or brackish water, while their cousin, the Brown Pelican, tends to stay near the ocean.

Next is the Great Egret, which is actually pretty common in Ohio in the summer. 

Its cousin, the Snowy Egret, is just as elegant, and perhaps more so with its bright yellow feet:

Next is the White Ibis, with its brilliant red bill and pink legs:

And of course the Wood Storks, looking like gossipy old men:

Put all these birds together in a small pond, and you have quite a mix of sight and sound! Early in the morning the birds fly in, sometimes singly and sometimes in groups. All seem to be very hungry, and it was hard to believe there was enough food in this pool to satisfy all of them. But each species feeds just a little differently, partially in terms of their behavior and partially because of their bill shape. In this video, watch the spoonbills swish their bills back and forth through the water and sediment, while the wood storks use their beaks almost like chopsticks, the ibises poke in the sediment, and the Great Egrets seem to visually locate food and capture it:

Most of the time when I've seen Snowy Egrets feed they stand still and wait till they spot something and then they lunge to catch it. Here, the snowies were behaving quite differently, flying over the pool, dragging their feet in the water, and occasionally catching a minnow. A guide who was there at the same time we were even said that he had never before seen this behavior.

It was hard to drag ourselves and our cameras away from this spot, but on we went. The drive has several parking areas with trail access, and convenient viewing platforms:

Various ponds and impoundments are surrounded by vigorous stands of mangroves, which looked ethereal in the light, early morning fog:

Did you ever wonder where ducks go in winter? Well, just like people, a lot of them go to Florida!

This is probably my favorite duck, the Hooded Merganser, many of which breed in Ohio in summer:

We spotted a large group with a couple of males and lots of females and juveniles. They feed by diving for fish, and are remarkably successful. I love how the males in this video "deflate" their crest before taking a dive!

Probably the most unusual bird at the refuge this winter is the duck with the reddish head in this picture, the Eurasian Wigeon.  As its name implies, it is not a native North American bird, although a few appear each year, even sometimes in Ohio. The birds next to it are American Wigeons, which are quite common in Ohio in summer.

Although this is not the prime wildflower time in Florida, there were a few in bloom that added color and interest to the drive. Because of its preference for wet areas and its starchy root, this plant is called Duck Potato (Sagittaria lancifolia).

Another species of wet areas, this plant is known as Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata)

In addition to the mangroves, Dahoon Holly (Ilex cassine) lined some of the lagoons and added bright color to the landscape:

No trip through these impoundments and marshes would be complete without spotting an alligator or two!

Needless to say, a winter visit to Merritt Island is well worth the time, for birders and non-birders alike. And here is one final image of that gorgeous wader, the Roseate Spoonbill, coming in for a landing:

More from Florida in future posts!


  1. It sounds like you had a great trip. I enjoyed looking through your bird photos and videos. The Roseate Spoonbills are so flashy. And I loved the snowy egret's yellow feet. Great photo of it balancing on a shrub over the water.

    A week ago I was surprised to see hooded mergansers in a pond at Hoff Woods park in Westerville. So I decided to swing by Boyer Nature Preserve in Westerville, and it turns out that American Wigeon were there.


  2. Loved the videos!! This blog post made me a little nostalgic :) I bet you didn't miss my tantrums though!

  3. Liz--this was the site of the fire ant debacle!

  4. Deb--thanks for your comment! A few ducks usually hang around central Ohio if there is open water, which there is plenty of so far this year.

    Today I increased the size of the videos so they are easier to see--I can't seem to stop tweaking things on the blog format...

    1. Is the content column wider, too, or is that my imagination? At any rate, I'm liking your blog's layout.

    2. Thanks--yes, I had to increase the width in order to make the larger pictures fit. Blogger give you a choice of small, medium, large and extra large pictures and the extra large extended beyond the print area in the original template. Widening the column was an easy fix. So far the only way I've found to enlarge the videos is by going into the HTML code and changing some dimensions--kind of scary but it worked!

    3. Yikes--I just realized that the blog looks very different when I access it on Internet Explorer than it does on Google Chrome. Everything is much bigger on IE for some reason. There is more to this whole thing than I thought!

  5. It all looks beautiful on Safari.