Beyond the BackyardMerritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Beautiful Morning at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

After hearing  time after time about how great the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is, Dyeyo decided that he wanted to go with me and see it.  It was a pretty foggy morning, but the sun burned off the fog just as we arrived at the refuge around 8:30.  The Birdbrains have been saying that the Peacocks Pocket drive has been fairly active, so we headed there first.  We found Black-Necked Stilts and a small variety of shorebirds.  Then we went over to the Scrub Jay trail and found a Scrub Jay!  Finally we ended up at the Visitor’s Center, where they have a little boardwalk.  We found a pair of White-Eyed Vireos building a nest, and we stood and watched and photographed for probably over half an hour.

Dyeyo and I are used to walking the trails at the Circle B Bar Reserve, so it was strange for us to drive Peacock’s Pocket.  The car works as a bird blind, but the birds at Merritt Island are also more skittish than our birds at Circle B.

Our first bird of the day was this White Ibis, who probably had no idea that he was casting such a great reflection in the water in front of him.  Look at the color in that beak!  My blog must sound like a broken record….”the breeding colors are awesome”… :)

White Ibis

White Ibis

I spotted a small sandpiper out my window, and we both got out to photograph it.  (Unfortunately the good light was on the passenger side of the car—great for me, not so great for Dyeyo.  Besides, it felt good to stretch our legs!!)  It turned out we had a couple of Least Sandpipers, along with what I believe is a Dunlin.  (If you happen to notice a misidentification, please e-mail me or post a comment with a correction.  I’m still learning to identify shorebirds, and they all seem a lot alike!!)

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Dunlin

Dunlin

We spotted several Belted Kingfishers fishing, but they didn’t let us photograph them.  Then we pulled up right next to a Loggerhead Shrike, just sitting out on a branch practically within arm’s reach.  I had to scoot down in the seat and maneuver The Beast to try to photograph him.  The light wasn’t great, and I didn’t use quite enough exposure compensation, but I’m getting better at improving the lighting in Photoshop…

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

We spotted a Great Egret with a pretty green lore.  He went fishing and came up with a tasty morsel!

Great Egret

Great Egret

Dyeyo teased me that this Great Egret wasn’t as good as the birds at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Rookery.  Maybe not, but as I was photographing him, a pair of Black-Necked Stilts flew up and posed right in front of us!!  As the stilts tend to be somewhat skittish at Circle B, I was thrilled to be this close to them.  I snagged a flight shot as they flew in, and then I stood and photographed them for a while.  They are quite pretty birds, and you can understand why they are called “stilts.”  Look at those big awkward legs!  It’s a good thing I wasn’t born a stilt…probably not a good combination with my klutz gene…

Black-Necked Stilt

Black-Necked Stilt

Black-Necked Stilt

Black-Necked Stilt

As I photographed the stilts, a pair of Yellowlegs flew in – one Lesser, one Greater.  The birds look a lot alike, with the main difference being their size.  Their calls are also slightly different.  Again, I’m not sure I’ve had the opportunity to be this close to these birds at Circle B, and certainly not in their emerging breeding colors in sweet morning light.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Dyeyo probably wondered if I was going to stand there all morning, taking pictures of these five birds.  He finally dragged me away and we continued along Peacock’s Pocket, where we found two Roseate Spoonbills!  They were in horrible light.  I dialed in exposure compensation to avoid burning the whites, but I didn’t have my flash and I really needed it.  I thought the “Spoonie with Fish” shot was fun, so I lighted it considerably in Photoshop.  Too bad the bird wasn’t looking towards the camera… :-p

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

We saw some more stilts, and a Red-Breasted Merganser, and then we left Peacock’s Pocket to head to the Scrub Jay trail.  As we started to hike the loop, we ran into a couple who had walked the whole way without seeing a single Scrub Jay.  We were being eaten alive by mosquitos, so I suggested to Dyeyo that we double back to the place where Rich and I had seen the jays before.  We did, and I called them with my iBird app on my phone.  A Scrub Jay appeared!  (Note that I do not normally call birds.)

Scrub Jay

Scrub Jay

We left the mosquitos and went to the Vistor’s Center, where a couple had reported several warblers and maybe a Bobolink in the trees around the center.  When we arrived, all we heard were Red-Winged Blackbirds.  There were many of them, and they fussed.  A lot.  We decided to walk along the little boardwalk behind the center.  We came across two White-Eyed Vireos, and after observing them for a few minutes, we realized that they were building a nest!  I had to check iBird before I would believe it, because I thought they were winter residents only.  But no, they are year-rounders, and they do nest in Florida!  The nest reminded me a little of Phoebe Allen‘s hummingbird nest, tiny!  It’s attached precariously to a few leaves and branches that swa in the wind.  You could stare at it for hours and never see it, if the birds weren’t around.  By this point the harsh mid-day light had set in, but we watched and waited as the birds flew about, bringing in nesting material.  We moved around, trying to find little “windows” in the vegetation with clear line-of-sight to the nest.  As you can tell from the following pictures, those “windows” were not exactly perfect.  But how cool to discover a little nest in progress!  Good luck with your family, little guys…

White-Eyed Vireo nest

White-Eyed Vireo nest

White-Eyed Vireo nest

White-Eyed Vireo nest