Saturday, February 23, 2013

Merritt Island National Wildlife Preserve

This one's been on my list for some time now.  I occasionally find myself in the area, but never quite had the time to make it there.  Finally, the opportunity presented itself.  I had President's day off, the wife had to work and the weather was favorable.  Bingo!  I was also excited about giving my new lens, a 400/f2.8 prime, a workout.   So, up at 4:45AM to make it to Titusville by sun-up... required an extra cup of coffee... made it to the entrance of Black Point Drive just after the sun peeked above the horizon... perfect!  Or so I thought.

My first pass through Black Point Drive was not terribly productive.  There just weren't a lot of birds around.  I attribute that to the 38 degree night (coldest of the year).  If I was a bird, I'd stay in bed a little later too!  I took a few pics, but nothing outstanding.  I bagged Black Point Drive and headed up the Kennedy Parkway to a dirt road north of the Haulover Canal.  Unfortunately, the road was closed.  I parked to the side of the gate, gathered my gear and walked in.  I saw some interesting birds, but most of them spooked before I could get reasonably close to them (that's pretty spooky with 800mm worth of glass).  I was getting pretty frustrated when I saw this:

Well, that explained why I was humping fifteen pounds of camera gear through the marsh.  Is this the best plan that the brightest minds at the Department of the Interior can come up with to control a small group of problem people on one acre out of 207,000+ acres of National Preserve land?  Please!  Another example of typical government wisdom... punish everyone by stooping to the lowest common denominator.

Enough whining... let me crawl down from my soapbox.  I did got a couple of pics on my walk, including this Tricolor Heron with interestingly constricted pupils looking into the low sun.

Back on the road again, I headed south and stopped off at the Haulover Canal access road where I ran into Larry, Mo and Curly...

... the Black Vulture version of them anyway.  Also saw a Baldy, but he was not in a photogenic pose, so I passed him by.

Next, I headed for Peacock's Pocket Drive.  This is probably my favorite drive in the reserve, much better than the more popular and heavily advertised Black Pointe Drive.  It's a longer drive, is oriented better for the southern angle of the sun, and includes more habitat than Black Pointe.  It's also less travelled... always a big plus in my eyes.

Along the southern portion of Peacock's Pocket, it seemed like there was a Tricolor Heron every fifty feet!  And... a Great Blue Heron every hundred feet.  Nobody was fishing much though... just standing around looking pretty.  I think they were all warming up from the cold night before sticking their head under water.  I know I would have.

The herons weren't nearly as skittish as most that I've encountered.  Again, maybe the cold... "I would fly away and tick this guy off, but I just don't feel like moving at the moment."  Later in the day, as it warmed up, everyone became more active and less reticent to get wet for a meal....

By the way, he came up empty.  Sad for such a valiant effort.

After a run through Peacock's Pocket and Catfish Loop, I headed back over to Black Point to see if anything had warmed up there.  I saw some wild boars and piglets rooting in the marsh.  Evidently there's a large population of them in the reserve.  The piglets were almost cute.  On this run through, the birds had started fishing.  This fellow got the all-you-can-eat shrimp special.

And this gorgeous Reddish Egret was checking under the hood before she started running all over the bay tracking down a meal.  Those Reddish Egrets are interesting to watch fish... so very active.

After a second run through Black Point, I headed over to Bio Lab Drive.  Interesting name for a road.  I assume it went to a Bio Lab at some point.  I guess I need to look up the history on that.  It's an excellent drive along the water, and hard to find so not crowded at all.  The best photo opportunities are in the early morning due to its north/south orientation and marsh on the west side of the road.  It was too late in the day for that, but I did get some good pics on the big water (east) side of the road... like this Osprey chowing down on lunch.

I also saw a nice juvenile Baldy, but he took off before I could get a good shot of him.  On a second run through Peacock's Pocket, there were boatloads of White Pelicans.  My favorite was this group swimming along feeding.  White Pelicans don't dive for their food like Brown Pelicans... they just swim along dipping their head in the water and filtering out small fish and such.  Check out the dragon-fly on the lead pelican's nose.

I also ran into a few Roseate Spoonbills on Catfish Loop.  Beautiful birds!

Later in the afternoon, it clouded up.  I almost considered bagging the day and going home, but I stuck around for the sunset.  I was rewarded by the sun falling down in the clear underneath the clouds.  That is always the best light, when the sun is low and direct, but also reflecting off the golden clouds.  Trouble was, there weren't any birds around!  I was racing around the Peacock's Pocket roads (glad the Man didn't see me), desperately looking for a subject to fill my frame with the perfect light.  Finally, I saw some Black Skimmers doing their thing in a calm marsh pocket.  I leapt out of the car with my 800mm Canon (literally and figuratively).  I didn't even bother setting it on a tripod... I just hand-held it and staring blasting away.  After about a hundred frames, I looked down at my settings and noticed that I was shooting at a shutter speed of 1/200.  Argh!  That was probably a hundred wasted cycles of the shutter.  When I got back home, I found that somehow, someway, just one of the frames actually came out clearly.  Here's the lucky picture...

Not bad for 800mm hand-held at only 1/200th of a second!  For reference, I usually try to shot action at 1/1200th of a second or faster.

If you want to see more, Merritt Island NWR photos are included in several different galleries here:

Florida Water Birds
Blue Herons

See much more at

It's all about the pics!

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