Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Florida Trip - Merritt Island NWR

     Tim and I took a nice few days off to visit his family in Florida. Nothing, like a good Kepler get-together, they say!
     On our first day, I saw a loggerhead shrike out our door (no photo), and from there we were treated to a drive on the Beach (something you can do in this area of New Smyrna Beach), a visit to a farmers market (where I was nearly brought to tears in snuggling a 4-day old goat kid), and a safari drive at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
     A lot of pictures for this day-- so let's just get to it:
First Manatee of the trip! In Flroida, the West-Indian Manatee is the species of sirenian you'd find here- this is an animal most closely related to elephants.
These animals are 100% aquatic, feeding on aquatic vegetation. As far as marine mammals go, these guys are relatively slow-going, and really all you see of them are their nostrils when they come up for a breath of air.
If the loggerhead shrike wasn't one life bird, why not two! A reddish egret flies by, more life birds to come this day...
I will later learn that red-shouldered hawks are like pigeons- they are everywhere. And nope, I am not upset by that!
Glossy ibis- one of the two species of ibis we saw. Glossies come up to New York in the summer, but spend winter down south.
The more abundant, and common, white ibis.
So many white ibises....
So. Many.
 

A large flock was flying in the distance, like arrows through the air with necks and legs stretched in opposite directions... what the heck are they??
Once landed, I got a better look, another life-bird, American Avocets!

And white ibis were hanging out among them...
The avocets were stunning, that delicately upward curved bill seems so unreal.
If I was an avocet, I'd surely break that thing, it's unreal and beautiful.
More ibis.
Many species of heron here, like this little blue heron, as well as great blue heron, tricolored heron - and oddly, not seen, the green heron.
And everything seems so comfy, perching, feeding, and preening just beyond reach of the road-- as if they know the wetlands are not accessible and that crocodilian friends will keep you away from their home.
Just when you think the day couldn't get better-- life bird 4 makes a grand entrance, swooping over your head, a roseate spoonbill. (Life bird 5 were common gallinule- that I somehow only took crappy photos of)
I am generally not a fan of pink things, but I will make a giant exception here- holy cow, this bird is gorgeous and unreal how pink they truly are firsthand in nature.
I walked down a trail labeled "bird trail" and GB heron went by in the opposite direction...
Upon returning from my walk down the bird trail I found a "snake bird," an Anhinga.

Anhinga do not have waterproof feathers- so they slick up and get pretty wet - allowing them to dive and swim well below the surface. They are peculiar things, but also a deadly killer with that speak-like bill.
This is a typical way to see this bird in the water. I surprisingly learned that despite their other name- "water turkey," they are accomplished fliers. Gliding on thermals, much like vultures and attaining great altitudes.
Oh, did I mention that beak? This is how it ends for most fish- pierced and dangled as the bird has to un-fish its beak and flip the fish around for properly tossing it down the gullet.
Not fun for the fish- it took this guy a while to get the fish to where he/she needed it- and it looks clumsy, but that fish was never lost, nor did it ever touch the water again.
 


Another nice bird to see, an American Pelican wayyyyy out on the flats.
Glossy ibis feeding.
Boat-tailed grackles are everywhere in every place we visited.
Also everywhere, anoles. Again, I am very okay with that.
First gator sighting of the day-- credit goes to Joanne for this guy. A little guy, and with the permanent grin, from here it looks like this one is up to no good-- but really, it's just basking and thermoregulating.
 

A Florida soft shell turtle, I love their little pig-snorkel nose!
A second small gator.
I love gators, I think they are super cute!
We found one feral pig, these wild hogs were introduced by Europeans a very long time ago. They are invasive and cause a lot of problems ecologically- from consuming eggs of native birds, to uprooting native plants, actually, they eat anything they can get their mouth on-- and that's a problem. 
In Titusville, just outside Merritt Island NWR, a red-shouldered hawk fares us adieu as we head home for the evening.