Coast Post

Header Image: American Coot Chaos

“Take a picture of THAT!”

Gini doesn’t often point out potential subjects for the camera since I’m usually already clicking away, but when she issues a command makes a request, I pay attention. (That applies to all things, not just photography.)

In this instance, a bit of dark clouds had just moved a bit to reveal the sun rising over the vast east coast salt marsh at Merritt Island National Wildlife Reserve. We had only been in the reserve five minutes and were already taking our first break. The rising sun, birds on the move in every direction, salt air – we just spent awhile taking it all in. This. This is why we got up extra early to be here.

Merritt Island NWR is about a two-hour drive from the house and is located at Titusville, Florida. Contained within a 35-mile long barrier island which includes the Kennedy Space Center launch complex, the refuge consists of 140,000 acres on the Atlantic Ocean. Over 1,500 species of wildlife and plants have been noted here, including over 330 species of birds. The vast tidal marshes attract large numbers of migrating waterfowl each year.

Timing is everything. Ours was a bit off as we were late in the year to find great numbers of ducks. The good news is that no matter what time of year one visits Merritt Island NWR, there will be plenty to enjoy!

After our sunrise reverie, we meandered along Black Point Wildlife Drive, a 7-mile one-way trip through fresh and saltwater marshes. We’re still in the dry season so the shallow water attracted a lot of wading birds. The main species of ducks we observed during the day were Blue-winged Teal but we also found Norther Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Canvasback, Green-winged Teal and Mottled Duck. Migratory songbirds were feeding in the shrubs and trees in preparation for their return to breeding grounds in the north. Resident gulls, terns, egrets, herons and raptors were all very active. A few flowers were blooming and several insect species went about nectar sipping and pollinating.

After the wildlife drive, we spent some time exploring Biolab Road where we found more wading birds, including the dancing Reddish Egret (who refused to pose for the camera), gulls, terns, Ospreys and blue skies and salt air, which we inhaled in copious amounts.

We thoroughly enjoyed egg salad sandwiches and fresh strawberries for lunch under a canopy of oak trees. Songs of Northern Parula warblers and Carolina Wrens added to the ambience. It had been a good morning.

There are enough images for six separate posts! (Relax, there shall only be two.)

The sun arose from the Atlantic Ocean and once a few clouds moved, the mangrove island-filled marsh reflected the warm glow and Nature’s day began to get busy.

Strong light from that rising sun turned a shallow water area into a large golden pond where all sorts of wading birds enjoyed a breakfast buffet.

We startled a Great Blue Heron perched among the mangrove branches. I suspect she was concentrating on the water below and didn’t see us approaching.

Our dry season will last a few more weeks. In the meantime, this normally filled canal resembles a mosaic of cracked clay.

Wading birds were very abundant throughout the refuge. Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs can be difficult to tell apart if they are not seen together. One helpful hint is their calls are different.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Greater Yellowlegs

Watching this Anhinga swim toward the shore with his breakfast had me wishing lunch time would hurry up!

Shallow fresh and saltwater marshes dotted with small mangrove islands harbor myriad life forms attractive to wading birds and other predators. Here, a pair of immature Roseate Spoonbills and a Tricolored Heron find plenty to eat.

Immature Roseate Spoonbills are paler pink than adults and have completely feathered heads. The unique structure of their bills allows them to sweep from side-to-side in shallow water and filter small invertebrates.

Wading birds such as the Tricolored Heron like to follow around behind the Spoonbills to scoop up larger prey such as big shrimp, crabs and fish which have been disturbed by the pink predators.

Flocks of Blue-winged Teal were common all day long as they moved around within the refuge.

We happened upon a lagoon filled with American Coots. Several hundred busy noisy birds!

Pied-billed Grebes were abundant this morning, many hanging about in groups of 5-10 birds. This one apparently preferred to be alone.

It wasn’t all waterfowl. Migratory Swamp Sparrows made several appearances.

Small patches of Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) added bits of glorious color around the marsh.

North America’s largest tern, the Caspian Tern, is a common winter visitor along Florida’s coasts. The first photograph shows a bird with grayish head feathers in transition to full breeding plumage of an all-black head as seen in the second image.

An immature White Ibis is mottled brown and white with pinker bills and legs than an adult.

Another early spring bloom, the Purple Thistle (Cirsium horridulum), was fairly abundant is some areas. Where thistles abound, so do pollinators, such as this Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera).

Our morning was relaxed, filled with the sights and sounds of a busy coastal marsh and time passed all too quickly. After lunch, we’ll show you a bit more of why we like it here.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

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37 Comments on “Coast Post

  1. Thank you for sharing your beautiful sunrise and morning hours with us. I also enjoyed those egg sandwiches for lunch and, so fortified, am ready for the afternoon.


  2. I was pleased to see the immature Roseate Spoonies with their subdued colors. Not that the mature ones are unattractive but these are the first shots I’ve seen of the young ones and subtle can be quite pleasing. All great shots, Wally. And more to come. Your shutter finger must have felt the burn. πŸ™‚


    • I agree, Steve, that the majority of images we see of Roseate Spoonbills are of adults. The fluffy white heads of the young ‘uns is appealing for me.

      I exercise that shutter finger by keeping it curled around a coffee cup handle most mornings. Good workout.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve always been interested to see how flower colors are sometimes repeated in other portions of the plant. That thistle, for example, shows faint lavender outlines along the leaf edges and stems. Very pretty!


  4. I definitely need to add this particular site for the next time we make it down there. Excellent shot of the Anhinga – stabbed itself a nice one. Those Yellowlegs can be a bit tricky unless you are lucky enough to see them together. We usually try to clue in to their bills as the Greater’s is slightly upturned vs the straight of the Lesser. Your shots happen to be great references for that. Great advice on the wife front, I’ve learned to Linda’s “requests” as well.


    • Merritt Island has a lot to offer. Canaveral National Seashore is adjacent to it and can be terrific for shorebirds as well as offshore types such as Gannets and Scoters.

      Definitely check eBird for specific species, locations and date history. Typically, December through February is best for diverse waterfowl and shorebirds.

      Thank you for your nice comments!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A cover of coots! You make me feel as if I am there with you. It’s been too long since I’ve visited MINWR. So many places, so little time…

    Can’t wait for part 2!


    • Poor coots need better PR! They are so cool.
      Every time we visit over there we promise next time to get a room for a couple of night so we can do justice to the place. “Next time.”


  6. This was exactly what I needed to start decompressing from my typically late approach to tax time. Now, the forms are filled in, and I’m more than ready to fill my eyes with your delights. I’m especially taken with the header photo. I adore Coots; for me, the only thing better than a Coot is a phalanx of Coots. The photos are great!

    Your purple thistle is interesting. For years, that species has bloomed yellow in our area; I never got to see the purple until I got farther down the coast. Then, in east Texas on Easter weekend, I found a purple one in the Solo tract. (Yes, I know. It’s time to let the bluebonnets go and show some of the treats I’ve found in the Big Thicket!) They do attract a wide variety of insects; the variety of our thistles is just as appealing.

    The sunrise photo evokes memories. I have a photo taken at sunrise on Matagorda Island, during my sailing days; it looks remarkably similar. I was surprised to see that dry and cracked earth. I didn’t realize that you have a ‘dry time’ there. I suppose many people who’ve not explored Florida think of it as I do: all Everglades, all the time.

    My favorite photo’s the Anhinga with its fish. Not everyone can entice a bird into posing so nicely — perhaps Gini can command the birds, too! Now, I’m off to make a mess of egg salad; it’s perfect food for exploring.


    • Yes, this time of year can be so – taxing. Happy to provide a virtual respite.

      The Atlas of Florida Plants (Institute for Systematic Botany), calls Cirsium horridulum) “Purple” or “Horrid” Thistle, The USDA calls it “Yellow Thistle”. In our central Florida locale, we have seen blooms of white, pink, light to very dark purple and, yes, even yellow! A “medium” purple seems to be more common. No matter the hue, bugs like ’em!

      We thought we would miss a “sunrise opportunity” as there was a bank of dark clouds hanging over the Atlantic coastline, so we were pleased to see the blinding light over the mangroves.

      The old joke is that Florida has two seasons: brown and green. All of our shallow water areas are dry but will begin filling very soon.

      Gini grew up breaking the necks of mullet as her brothers pulled in overloaded cast nets filled with the silvery fish. So, yes, she can entice pretty much any creature to do her bidding. I see an example each day as I gaze into the mirror.

      Liked by 1 person

      • As I was finishing that taxing process, the IRS provided me with a laugh out loud moment. On their “how to pay” instructions, they say, “The IRS can’t accept a single check of $100 million or more. If youare sending $100 million or more by check, you will need to spread the payments over two or more checks, with each check made out for an amount less than $100 million.”

        I’ll keep that in mind for the future!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Wally,

    I felt I was walking with the two of you in the bedazzling marshes. Such incredible images and storytelling.

    I was wondering, is the Lesser Yellow Leg also the same as a Godwit? I have images of the migratory Bar-Tailed Godwit, around August last year when I was learning to use the dotty’s Canon. Do take a look and tell me. Here you go:

    I wonder what was for lunch… The Egg salad sandwiches and strawberries sounded delectable. πŸ™‚

    I loved the Roseate Spoonbills, but I’d be partial if I don’t admit the rest were equally endearing. Including the bee on the Thistle. Have a similar shot of them on the pink wild rose creepers growing around home.

    Always a joy to visit your nook.
    Happy tidings and can’t wait for the post lunch stories.

    Here are my winged wonders and critters for the week.


    • We really appreciate you wonderful comments, Natasha!

      The Godwit it a bit larger than the Yellowlegs, the color is more brown/buffy and the bill is much longer and usually upturned just a bit. Terrific pictures you took and that whole trip looks like it was memorable!

      The Spoonbills are definitely hard to overlook but there is so much more to see once we slow down and really “look”!

      Thank you for visiting with us.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. A two hour drive? That would take me to the middle of England or to Glasgow in the other direction, two drives that I would instantly regret. Still, it was obviously worth it for you two stalwarts of birding and eating strawberries. That parched patch instantly makes me think of a British summer of long ago, before global warming changed the landscape to flooded fields and muddy tracks negotiable only with the finest wellies.

    Now if I didn’t know you better I’d swear the Anhinga photo had been doctored via Photoshop or a tube of glue to the bird to make that fish stick so well in that uncomfortable pose. Meanwhile, nightmares are made of several hundred coots and their combined lethal feet, far worse than an alligator bite.

    Sue is in the other room catching up with a soap while I am looking at a new book about fish – to ID, not to eat unfortunately. It’s very windy outside where Scoters have been blown inland and only the foolhardy birder treads. Enjoy your day my friends. Chilli and rice for me later.


    • We were quite fortunate not to have fallen off the edge of the earth. The good news is, we found a way around Mouse World to get there! Plenty of traffic still, but nothing like the swarms of vehicles traveling at two miles per hour on Goofy highway.

      Once the regularly scheduled wet season kicks in, we’ll post some photos of the same spot covered in water. And wading birds. And mosquitoes.

      Those coot feet really are some dangerous weapons! Breeding season and territorial disputes result in more than a little blood spilled!

      If you need to check fish identification, simply access the — “net”.

      Chili and rice, how nice!


  9. The American Coot header image, whilst not particularly atractive artistically, is amazing, Wally!

    Super photography, but I was particularly attracted to the Anhinga with its breakfast, the Roseate Spoonbills, the Pie-billed Grebe, the Indian Blanket, and that first Caspian Tern image. – OK, pretty-much everything!

    All continues to move in the right direction here – even the weather!

    Best wishes to you and Gini – – – Richard


    • Thank you, Richard!

      Most seem to feel the Coot is not very handsome, and they may be right. But they sure can be entertaining to watch! Several hundred in one spot was noisy and there was a lot of splish-splashing going on!

      It was an above average day. The temptation is to sit in one spot for awhile but then the tug of curiosity about what might be around the next bend took hold.

      We’re very happy to hear all things are headed in the right direction! The same may be said for us.


  10. I’ve been close…but never visited that amazing area! I love the Anhinga with the fish of course but the Roseate Spoonbills have my heart! The pink reflections in the water are perfection. Now I will put this place at the top of my wish list! Enjoy your day!


    • It’s a fun area to explore! Be sure to check the refuge map online and locate Black Point Wildlife Drive, Biolab Road and both East and West Gator Creek Roads. (East Gator Creek has been closed for construction, not sure when it will re-open.)

      The above areas are easy to access by vehicle. There are several trails to hike as well. November thru April are best for migrating birds and more comfortable temperatures but there are plenty of resident birds, wildlife and flowers the rest of the year, too.

      Check the NASA online launch schedule as well when you make plans to go. The refuge entrance may close during a launch, but the opportunity to see a launch is pretty neat.


    • I’ve got a beautiful feelin’
      Everything’s goin’ my way.

      Wish you’d been with us, EC! It wasn’t even hot and we had plenty of strawberries to share.


    • Thank you, Dina.

      The early birder gets the bird! Or the sunrise. And more importantly, misses a lot of the traffic!

      A few sprinkles yesterday but the wet season needs to get a move on!


  11. Those dark clouds above the sun were worthy of a command suggestion.

    I didn’t know Cirsium horridulum, that ‘little horrid one,’ makes it from the eastern third of Texas to Florida. A distribution map shows it skipping up the east coast all the way to Maine, so cold is apparently not a deterrent.

    Usually the tips of Indian blanket ray florets are yellow, but I’ve occasionally seen white ones like those in your photograph.


    • I love it when the thistles begin blooming as they attract such an interesting variety of insects.

      Just as you mention, we typically encounter Indian Blanket blooms with yellow tips and white occurring much less frequently.


      • I was tempted to photograph a few insect-laden thistles today but parking was difficult in that area. I need to do something soon, before the thistles fade.


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