with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Address: P.O. Box 6504
Titusville, FL 32782

Office: (407) 861-0667

Visitor Center: (407) 861-0661

web sites:US Fish and Wildlife, Wildlife Refuges Search
University of Florida, Wading Birds of Merritt Island

EMail:r4rw_fl.mrt @mail.fws.gov

Hours: The refuge is only open during daylight hours.

Getting There: From I-95: take Exit 80 (SR 406) east through Titusville. Cross over the Indian River Lagoon. The refuge entrance sign is visible on the east side of the causeway. Continue east for 4 miles to reach the Visitor Information Center.

Best Time: Winter is the best for access, cooler temperatures, bird migration, and mating seasons. The Atlantic Hurricane Season is June-November bringing tropical storms or hurricanes which may affect your visit and the accessible areas. Excessive winter rains and occasional storms can bring flooding. Area is closed during rocket or shuttle launches.

Famous for: Spring and fall migration of songbirds and warblers; over 300 bird species; at least 15 endangered or threatened species including the southern bald eagle, Florida scrub jay, peregrine falcon, and other animals such as the West Indian manatee and loggerhead sea turtle; over 500 different types of wildlife are found on the refuge.

How to visit: The best way to explore the refuge is by car, though there are walking and hiking trails throughout the area. Begin at the visitor’s center to pick up a map and see the displays. A 6-mile self-guided auto loop called Black Point Wildlife Drive crosses the refuge and is excellent for birdwatching. The hiking trails range from.5 to 5 miles in length. From the Cruickshank Trail (stop 8 on Black Point Wildlife Drive) an observation tower and a blind are found near the parking lot. If you have boat access, you can explore the water side of the island by canoe or motor boat, though speeds are restricted for protection of the manatees.

Habitat: Of the refuge’s 140,000 acres, about 70,000 acres consist of brackish estuaries and marshes. The remaining lands consist of coastal dunes, scrub oaks, pine forests and flatwoods, and palm and oak hammocks. As a coastal area, it is in a position between subtropic and temperate zones.

Wildlife: A stop over for hundreds of migrating birds, it is also a refuge for rabbits, armadillos, and other small tropical animals. The marsh areas are home to a wide range of insects including mosquitos, dragonflies, damsel flies, and aquatic life such as frogs and fish.

Black Point Wildlife Drive is the 6 mile auto loup at Merritt Island, photo by Brent VanFosssenMerritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a unique protected area. Its establishment was to provide a buffer zone around the launch pads of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The reality is that modern technology lives side by side with some of the oldest and rarest creatures on the planet. Located on the east coast of Florida, it’s tropical climate and wide variety of habitats attract a diverse bird population making it popular for bird photographers.

Launch of the space shuttle, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo by Lorelle VanFossenIf you time your visit, you can not only enjoy the wonderful wintering birds, you can also catch a launch of a rocket or space shuttle. While the refuge maybe closed during a launch, there are many spots around Titusville and the waterfront to watch, including from the causeway bridge.

Thousands of shorebirds, waterfowl, and songbirds pause to feed and rest during their migration along the Atlantic Flyway. During the spring and fall, a spectacular migration of passerines invade the refuge. These include many different warblers and other songbirds. Brown pelicans, wood storks, mottled ducks, eight different species of herons and egrets, and many other waterfowl breed in the area, with huge populations during the winter months.

After you check out the interesting Visitors Center and explore the nearby trails, drive the 6-mile auto loop, Osprey sit up high so a long lens is a must. Photo by Brent VanFossenBlack Point Wildlife Drive, to check out the marsh areas and observation tower. With binoculars and/or a spotting scope you will be able to observe the wide range of species which winter here. Most of the birds will require the use of a long camera lens (400 – 600mm) and sturdy tripod, especially the hawks and Osprey which sit up high in the trees.

The marsh areas are excellent for birding, allowing the viewing of many waterfowl including Horned and Pied-billed Grebes, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Northern ShovelerThe King Rail is a hard bird to spot among the dark marsh undergrowth. Photo by Brent VanFossen, Lesser Scaup, and the Hooded and Red-breasted Mergansers. White and Brown Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, Turkey and Black Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey, Kestrel, and Northern Bobwhite are found throughout the shorelines and in the nearby trees. Among the wading and shorebirds you can find Killdeer, Black-bellied Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, Western Sandpiper, Sanderling, and a variety of gulls and terns.

Heron and egret are prevalent. The most common species are the Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Little Blue Heron, Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, and Tri-colored Heron. The Wood Stork, Glossy and WhiteEgrets take off from a small marsh pond, Merritt Island, photo by Brent VanFossenIbis are found here year round along with the Anhinga. Roseate Spoonbills and the Greater Flamingo are occasional visitors, found in the spring among the beach and mangrove tree shorelines, and the palm and hardwood hammocks, or in the p ine uplands. The cool weather winter months (October-April) are the best times of year for finding the birds. The best viewing is early morning and late afternoon.

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