birding to infinity – and beyond (I)
(Header Image: Egrets and Ibises head for their nightly roost.)
Traffic was relatively sparse as we left the interstate highway at the sign announcing “Disney World!”. We drove past that exit and continued toward Orlando International Airport. It was a Thursday. The glowing green digits of the car’s information panel displayed “4:45 a.m.”. My hand rested comfortably in Gini’s.
Escorted by a couple of huge trucks, we cruised by the turnoff for the airport and left the glow of the Orlando metroplex in our rearview mirror. Morning commuters were beginning to stack up on the other side of the freeway headed for jobs in the city. I sure miss those days. HA-HA-HA-HA!!
Ahead, darkness. We passed through the marshes of the St. Johns River where ground fog formed a patchwork quilt on either side of the road. The horizon began to lighten, not from the pending sunrise, but due to the need for humans to avoid the dark.
We drove by the roads which lead to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. Space – the final frontier. Our goal today was a bit closer.
Crossing the bridge at Titusville over the Indian River, a flashing sign informed us “Black Point Wildlife Drive Closed”. Rain the previous few days apparently caused portions of the road to be covered in water. This had been one of our primary destinations. No worries. Plenty of other spots to explore in the 140,000+ acres of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Our first stop was at the Biolab Road boat ramp. We watched as the sun broke above the far shoreline of Mosquito Lagoon. The lagoon is part of the Indian River and just beyond the shore to the east is the Atlantic Ocean. Before the sun appeared, birds of all sorts were awaking to a new day. Pelicans were already crashing into the water’s surface, gulls were trying to steal breakfast from the Pelicans, small flocks of shorebirds skittered just above the water, an Osprey circled overhead, a Red-bellied Woodpecker “churred” just behind us and a pair of porpoises chased a school of mullet a few yards away.
After enjoying a delightful dawn and since the wildlife drive was closed, we headed for East Gator Creek Road. Good choice. Hundreds of ducks, ibises, egrets, herons, shorebirds and even a pair of American Avocet were just waiting for our arrival. We gawked, we photographed, we oohed, we aahed, we sighed – a lot.
Gini and I are native Floridians. As such, we must have periodic infusions of salt air. I am pretty sure it’s a law.
We paused at a bend in the road with a view of a large section of marsh where plenty of birds were feeding. Time for some feeding of our own. Gini had prepared her favorite breakfast: peanut-butter and grape jelly sandwiches on cinnamon-swirl raisin bread. Along with a fresh orange, we were fortified for the day’s adventures.
One of the morning’s highlights was watching a Reddish Egret perform his own very special ballet. Incredible spectacle!
We’ll take a mid-morning break and share a few images with you.
The sun makes its appearance rising above the Atlantic Ocean and peeking at us over the Indian River’s Mosquito Lagoon.
Vast shallow-water areas sprinkled with mangrove trees provide a perfect habitat for birds of all descriptions. A Great Egret soaks up the early morning sun’s rays as he prepares to look for crabs and fish all day.
Merritt Island is a magnet for wintering waterfowl and attracts tens of thousands of them each winter. A pair of Northern Shoveler are thankful for a sheltered spot to forage. On the wing, they are sleek-looking and strong, fast fliers.
A Glossy Ibis appears to float as she prepares to make a landing. The sun highlights her mother-of-pearl iridescent feathers.
The most abundant ducks on the refuge this day were Blue-winged Teal. The first image solves the mystery of how they were named. The second image provides a glimpse of a small portion of the teal we encountered. Finally, a pair of male teal escort a female during some tight-formation aerobatics.
Not as numerous, but equally attractive, there were plenty of American Wigeon in the air and on the water.
A pair of American Avocet entertained us with their sweeping motion technique of feeding. As their slim bills move back and forth, they open the bill slightly and scoop up small invertebrates. Soon, their head and neck will turn a rusty brown during breeding season. Handsome birds in any season!
The Reddish Egret goes through quite a routine to obtain a meal. He raises his wings to diminish glare on the water’s surface. This move also provides shade which attracts fish. He will run forward quickly and then suddenly change directions. Finally, he’ll stop and stab at the water and be rewarded with a fishy prize! I got tired just watching it all.
Early birders may not get worms, but we certainly had a wonderful start to our day! Next up – gorging on crab eggs. Don’t miss it!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!