Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is well-known for wildlife photography. Black Point Wildlife Drive allows you to stay in the air-conditioning and see lots of birds. Canaveral National Seashore is beautiful. My favorite time of year to go is during the winter, when the refuge is covered in migrant ducks, pelicans, and other birds.

Photography Advice

Take your longest lens. Windy days tend to be less birdy. Be aware that hunting is allowed on parts of the refuge.


Trail Map


Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge Blog Archives

  • Sunrise at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

    Sunrise at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

    Sunrise and bird photography at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, where the skies were full of Roseate Spoonbills and American White Pelicans
  • Black-necked Stilts Nesting at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

    Black-necked Stilts Nesting at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

    The Black-necked Stilt nursery is active at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I saw lots of egg-turning and a spectacular sunset
  • Lifer Clapper Rail at Merritt Island NWR

    Lifer Clapper Rail at Merritt Island NWR

    I photographed my lifer Clapper Rail at Merritt Island NWR last weekend, along with Sora and Long-tailed Duck, and an awesome sunset!
  • Good Birds, Bad Light at Merritt Island NWR

    Good Birds, Bad Light at Merritt Island NWR

    The light was bad but the birds were good this weekend at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Wigeons and loons were close!
  • Bright and Yellow

    Bright and Yellow

    My favorite wintertime bird is the goldfinch. They spend lots of time at our backyard feeder, and our cats spend a lot of time watching them! When I go outside to refill the feeder, I think they have a watchbird monitoring my activity. As soon as I step away, I hear a chorus of sweet “potato chip!” calls as the watchbird calls in the rest of the flock. I photographed this guy at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge the day that Michael and I went searching for the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher. It was fun to find one in natural habitat – a nice break from all my feeder shots!
  • Enjoying the Sunshine

    Enjoying the Sunshine

    On the day that Michael and I hiked out Shiloh Marsh Road to photograph the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, we came across this Turkey Vulture sunning himself. He seemed to be enjoying the sun very much. He didn’t want to move! We had to pass him on the trail, and he would watch us dubiously, then move just a little way up the trail. Silly bird. Why are the pretty birds so skittish and the ugly birds all lazy? :)
  • The MINWR Snow Bunting

    The MINWR Snow Bunting

    On Black Friday I had the opportunity to photograph two rare birds in Florida: the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and the Snow Bunting.  The Snow Bunting lives in the Arctic, breeding in the northernmost parts of Canada.  In the wintertime its range extends down to northern Pennsylvania or Maryland.  But not normally to Florida!  So when this little beauty showed up at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, it attracted lots of photographers.  When I drove up to Parking Lot #8 at Canaveral National Seashore, I knew I wouldn’t have to look hard to find the bird.  It was out on the side of the road, surrounded by photographers, who were actually sitting in the road to take its picture!  The cool part was that pretty much everybody at the parking lot was there to see the bunting.  He was really tolerant of people, and he foraged in the grass right in front of our willing lenses.  Donna started yelling “too close!” instead of “card full!”  Then he flew away, only to reappear a few minutes later in the parking lot.  Although I’d seen the Palm Coast Snow Bunting a few years ago, it was still fun to see and photograph this rare–and …
  • A Scissor-Tailed Misadventure

    A Scissor-Tailed Misadventure

    On Black Friday morning I was up early like the rest of the world.  Except most people were waiting in long lines in crowded stores.  I was out in the middle of the swamp with a camera in my hand, photographing the sunrise!  I had a great morning at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge with friends Michael Libbe, Donna Faylo, and Mike Fitzgerald. We started the morning on Shiloh Road with a hunt for the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that has been seen there recently.  This flycatcher is common in the mid-west (think Texas) but is a rare bird in Florida.  We hiked well beyond the 15mph sign where it has been reported, and finally Michael spotted it flying overhead.  Thank goodness for the bird’s distinctive tail, or we might not have seen him at all!  He spent a little while fly-catching in front of us, hopping back and forth between the trail and the grasses across the water.  He never came close enough for our liking, but that’s what 2x teleconverters are for.  He humored us by catching and eating a bug in nice light. To give you an idea of why he is called a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, take a look …
  • Betcha Can’t Go Just Once!

    Betcha Can’t Go Just Once!

    On December 31 I made yet another trip to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, this time with Dyeyo. He had never been on Blackpoint Wildlife Drive. We carefully planned to go on a day when it would be sunny with little wind. Then we got there and it was a little windy, and there were not as many birds as my last visits. Go figure. Our goal was for Dyeyo to see the Horned Grebe and a Reddish Egret (Big Red doesn’t make it inland to Circle B Bar Reserve, so Dyeyo hadn’t ever seen the Drunken Sailor Dance!) Dyeyo got to see both his birds. :) The Horned Grebe has been hanging out by the culverts at the bathrooms for the past few weeks. Dyeyo and I set up by the culverts, watching and waiting. It didn’t take long for the grebe to appear–and then disappear back into the culverts! We must have sat there for about half an hour to get glimpses of this silly little bird as he darted out and then went back in again. I guess it was less windy inside the pipes. Then as soon as we left, the bird came out and posed …
  • Silly Bird, Turn Your Head This Way!!

    Silly Bird, Turn Your Head This Way!!

    After spending a cloudy morning cooped up in the house yesterday, the sun came out and I decided to head to Merritt Island to experiment with afternoon light at the Blackpoint Wildlife Drive. It was less windy than the previous day, and the birds were closer to the trail. The afternoon light was incredible! I had to work hard to get good head angles, though — the silly birds kept looking away! There were at least fifty Roseate Spoonbills along the trail. Most of them were on the wrong side of the road, and badly backlit. A few flew over my head, but my flight shots were bird-butt. Then I came across this beautiful bird in full breeding colors, almost right next to the trail! He spooned back and forth for me in the wonderful afternoon light. I liked how the mangrove was in the background, and how the whites of the spoonie contrast with the shadows. I tried and tried to catch him tossing a fish into his mouth, but I didn’t get the shot. Maybe next time! My friend Donna had said that the afternoon light was best for trying to photograph the Northern Pintails, a duck that …
  • Finally!


    Finally! I got to use The Beast for the first time in almost a month! After hearing friends talk about the great birds at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, I went there yesterday. Blackpoint Wildlife Drive was busier than I’ve ever seen it (both with birds and photographers :)). The birding wasn’t spectacular, due to the winds, but I did get to see my first Horned Grebe. He was hanging out by the culvert near the bathrooms on Blackpoint. I was amazed at his bright red eye. After I got home and saw his pictures, I saw that he’s missing part of the top of his beak. Poor little guy. A flock of several hundred American White Pelicans was hanging out fairly near the road. It was fun to see them. They certainly haven’t settled at Circle B this year. I had fun trying to photograph them – there were always lots of birdie butts! I tried to wait until they were all facing the same way. I think this one should be called “the eyes have it!” The terns and gulls flew over the pelicans, trying to steal fish whenever possible. They kept flying away from me, though! I …
  • Happy Halloween!

    Happy Halloween!

    I was photographing the sunrise at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge back in September when I noticed this spider.  His web was suspended between branches, and the background was the bright orange reflections of the sunrise in the water.  I deliberately underexposed to bring out the colors in the background and to render the spider as a silhouette.  Then I bracketed for HDR.  Then I kept it waiting for Halloween!  Happy Halloween!
  • Quiet Morning at MINWR

    Quiet Morning at MINWR

    All week long, I’ve been seeing these amazing sunrises in the east.  The colors have been extraordinary.  Each morning, I’ve wanted to drive to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and photograph the sunrise over the water.  But instead I had to go to work.  :-p  Funny how work gets in the way of birding and photography! So on my off-Friday, I drove over to MINWR in the pre-dawn hours.  I made sure I was there half an hour before sunrise, when the colors are the best.  I knew of a place on Gator Creek where I’d have a nice reflection in the water.  I had my 40D body all ready with my wide(r)-angle lens.  But the sunrise didn’t cooperate.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the spectacular sunrise that I’d been drooling over.  There were too many dense clouds.  So I was a little disappointed, but then as the sun rose higher in the sky, it peeked out from behind the clouds and gave me something to photograph after all: Note that this picture was an HDR combination of three shots, taken at +/-2 EV.  I used Photomatix Pro to combine the shots.  I’m liking Photomatix more and more, as …
  • Tiny Stilts and Willets at Merritt Island NWR

    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? 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! 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 …
  • Life on Stilts at MINWR

    Life on Stilts at MINWR

    Can you imagine going through life with ridiculously long red legs? It’s not often that I devote a Beyond The Backyard blog post exclusively to one bird.  But after spending the morning at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, I had a ton of great images of Black-Necked Stilts.  They are all over! I found a nest that was very close to the trail.  When I first arrived, one bird was sitting on the nest, and the other was close by.  I was so excited to find such a photographable nest that I stayed there for a long time, before realizing that if I drove the car up just a little more, around a bend, then I could get the best sun angle.  Oh well.  Live and learn. I sorta liked this pose from the less-than-optimal light angle, but the colors in the original shot were fairly poor.  Then I realized that it was a good silhouette image and a candidate for Fractalius.  So I experimented some and came up with this image (the pattern in the background is because I’m using the free download version): I liked this pose of the bird stretching his wings, and I like the …
  • Beautiful Morning at the Merritt 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 …
  • Finally!  We saw our first scrub jay at Merritt Island Wildlife Reserve.

    Finally! We saw our first scrub jay at Merritt Island Wildlife Reserve.

    Rich and I braved the cold winds this morning to go to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge.  It’s supposed to be very good for birding, but it also made us realize how spoiled we were with the Circle B Bar Reserve. We hiked the Scrub Jay trail.  The winds were very strong and at first we wondered if we’d been crazy to leave our warm beds at the crack of dawn…clearly the birds were not dumb enough to leave theirs!  But just as we looped back around to the start of the trail, there was this single jay sitting up on top of some bushes.  He posed there for a while and let me take lots of pictures. After our hike, we went on the Black Point Wildlife Drive.  We were told that the marshes are usually covered in birds like coots, but apparently this year the water is extremely salty, so the birds have gone elsewhere to roost.  I wondered if that’s why we’re seeing so many coots at the Circle B Bar Reserve. Everybody was stopped at one point on the drive to admire a couple of roseate spoonbills.  They were fishing and I’ve never seen one with …