Beyond the BackyardMerritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Tiny Stilts and Willets at Merritt Island NWR

This morning I was off to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR) in search of baby Black-Necked Stilts.  I’d seen a very photographable nest there last weekend, and I was hoping to see chicks there today.  At first I was disappointed – the nest was deserted. But I drove around some more and found some little stilts.  Aren’t they cute?

Baby Black-Necked Stilt

Baby Black-Necked Stilt

I found these guys on East Gator Creek.  First I located their parents by listening – the stilts are very loud when they are in protective mode.  After I heard two adults fussing in a particular area, I watched for the chicks.  I found these three in a little pond by the mud flats.  They stood by calmly as their parents tried to chase off all other birds—and given then number of Roseate Spoonbill fly-bys, this was no easy task.  Those poor parents must be hoarse by the end of the day!

Black-Necked Stilts: Parent and chick

Black-Necked Stilts: Parent and chick

I was also lucky to find a Willet with her young chick.  I’d never seen a baby Willet before.  These guys were just running along one of the mud flats on East Gator Creek.  They ran so fast that I only had a few seconds to capture some shots.  Would you believe that the baby was out-running the mother?

Mom and Baby Willet

Mom and Baby Willet

The tiny Willet has such big feet, made bigger when the mud sticks to them.  He made me laugh as he hopped along the water’s edge.  Then he peered down into the water, giving me a beautiful reflection shot.  “Oooohh, is that me?  Gee, is my reflection in sharper focus than I am?”

Willet chick

Willet chick

I got to MINRW just after sunrise.  The sun cast an orange light on the water, giving me a few minutes’ worth of silhouette opportunities.  There were a couple of Reddish Egrets out on the still water, but they were too far away.  This Yellowlegs was happy to pose for me.

Yellowlegs Sunrise Silhouette

Yellowlegs Sunrise Silhouette

I drove around looking for more stilts, but I wasn’t having great luck with them today.  I was a little disappointed after seeing so many last weekend.  Then I came across this Willet eating a nice tasty crab treat.  That’s not a bad subject either! :)

Willet eating crab

Willet eating crab

A Tricolored Heron was fishing in the nice morning glow.  He squatted so low to the water as he stalked his prey.  Then when he pulled up his fish, he aimed his head in my direction!  How thoughtful of him.

Tricolored Heron with Fish

Tricolored Heron with Fish

I headed over to the Black Point Wildlife Drive.  Normally I don’t go there, because it seems like I never see much there.  I’d heard about some activity there recently on Birdbrains, so I figured I’d go before they start charging an entrance fee.  I was disappointed.  There were very few birds.  The water level is low throughout the refuge, but it’s especially low there.  Maybe Black Point Desert Drive would be a more appropriate name?  The dried-out beds look so sad.

When I came across the Turkey Vulture pouncing on a dead fish on the side of the road, I heard Herman’s voice in my head:  “I like the vultures the best.  They are so pretty in their own way.  And very clean, despite their bad reputation.”  This bird was literally right outside my window, and he was so interested in his fish that he almost forgot to be wary of me.  So I was able to get some head shots, and Herman is right.  These birds are rather pretty.  I think it’s cool how feathers don’t grow on their faces in order to minimize the number of germs passed from their decaying food onto their faces.  Nature’s pretty smart!

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

I was surprised by the number of Reddish Egrets that I saw this morning.  There were quite a few “drunken sailors” out looking for their breakfasts!  They made me appreciate the bright breeding colors of the Reddish Egrets that I saw at Fort DeSoto on my last visit there.  These guys were less brightly colored.   But I’ll always stop to watch their antics!

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

As I was leaving, the Roseate Spoonbill flocks had moved closer to the main roads.  I pulled over to get some panorama shots of a crowd.  It’s fun to see so many spoonies all together!  Now if only one of them had posed in good light very close to the road…<sigh>  You always have to have a reason to go back!

Roseate Spoonbill flock

Roseate Spoonbill flock

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