Birding, Manatees and the Beach at Merritt Island NWR and Canaveral National Seashore in June

We were supposed to make a quick trip down to Biscayne National Park during our trip to Florida, but because of uncertainty about the weather due to the forecast (scattered thunderstorms in the forecast), we decided to spend the day at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore instead.

The weather ended up being perfect for the trip and we had an unforgettable day of photography, birding and the beach.

We woke up ridiculously early in the morning to make a dash for the Atlantic coast from the Orlando area (where we were staying) for the sunrise. We attempted to make it there last year when we drove down to Miami but we got up too late then and missed it by an hour or so. This year we had better luck. We made it to Sunrise Park about 15 minutes before the sun started peaking over the ocean.

We watched the pelicans, crabs and other wildlife (plus people) as the sky turned orange and the sun came up! Vacations always make time feel so much slower than ordinary life.

Once the sun was over the clouds on the horizon, we continued our way north on Route 1 toward Canaveral. Shortly thereafter, we discovered one of the highlights of the trip – the osprey. We stopped counting around thirty or so over the day – more than either one of us had had ever seen before. We usually saw them sitting on manmade nesting platforms on the poles/towers next to the road, although there was one with babies nested on top of a shopping plaza sign that we found hilarious.

After we accidentally made our way to a restricted entrance of the Kennedy Space Center and had to make a turn around, we made our way through Titusville and across the Indian River to the Merritt Island NWR.

Our first stop was at the Visitor Center, where we found out that we needed to go to the Canaveral National Seashore entrance to buy an annual national park pass with a credit card. There was a short nature trail at the Visitor Center which we enjoyed after watching an osprey on a nest through their spotting scope. The trail took us past their two small ponds / marsh as well as through a nearby wooded area.

Once we had completed our purchase of the annual pass at the Canaveral entrance, we backtracked a few miles to get to the start of the Black Point Wildlife Drive. This is a 7 mile, one way drive through the marshes of the area that allows for a variety of wading birds to be seen from your car. There are a few observation areas, although two of the ones that we went to were closed due to hurricane damage.

After we completed the drive, we made our way up to the Manatee Observation Deck. We had been told by someone that we would be lucky if we were able to see one due to the heat of the day. However, when we pulled up and parked, we found that there were dozens in the water right in front of us! They were so cool to watch but it was sad to see so many scarred by the motors of boats.

On our way back from watching the manatees, we decided to stop at the Scrub Jay Hiking Trail and try our luck (and test our eyes). The Florida Scrub Jay is one of only 15 birds endemic to the United States. It is unique to Florida and protected as a threatened species due to its loss of suitable habitat to survive – they require at least 750 acres of contiguous scrub for their long term survival. We got pictures of a promising bird immediately after exiting the vehicle, but due to poor lighting conditions we couldn’t be sure of the birds identification until we reviewed the camera pictures on the computer later. We spent most of the time listening for their call, and we eventually did capture a photo of one on the camera (it was too far away to really identify by the naked eye).

Our birding complete, we headed over to Canaveral National Seashore and its popular Playalinda Beach in order to enjoy some time on the sandy beach of the park and in the ocean. There are about a dozen parking lots with changing stations and entryways over the dunes. Since it was a weekday, there was plenty of available parking and space to spread out on the beach.

When the clock hit the late afternoon, we had to leave to head to a BBQ with our family. Our day at the Merritt Island National Widlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore was a memorable one as we were able to see dozens of different bird species as well as my first ever wild manatees.

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