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Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuge ...

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Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge - Florida

Joe Kegley | E-Mail | Updated 02-05-09


Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill, Merritt Island
- Joe Kegley

The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a 140,000-acre coastal refuge containing brackish estuaries and marshes. The John F. Kennedy Space Center is located in the middle of the refuge boundaries. Because the land was purchased as a buffer zone for NASA, it has been protected from development. Note that during Shuttle launches various areas of the refuge are closed to entry.

Activities at the refuge include wildlife observation, hiking, boating, canoe/kayaking, fishing, and hunting. The refuge is a short 8 mile drive from I-95 in Titusville Fl.

Popular routes for wildlife observation are Black Point Wildlife Drive, Gator Creek Rd, Bio Lab Rd, and Peacock Pocket Rd. The one way, 7 mile Black Point Wildlife Drive is by far the most popular.

Nature Perspective

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird, Merritt Island
- Joe Kegley

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a mecca for birding during the winter. And winter is the time to go to avoid the mosquitoes.

Commonly observed long legged waders include Great Blue Heron, Tri-colored Herons, Green-backed Herons, Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, and Snowy Egrets. My recent two trips in 2008 and 2009 both included opportunities to view and photograph Reddish Egrets in their somewhat bizarre spastic hunting ritual.

Waterfowl normally abound during the winter, though 2009 was somewhat lacking due to the low level of the water impoundments. My 2008 trip included good opportunities for viewingthe following: Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Hooded Mergansers, Northern Pintail, and large groupings of American Coots. I am sure there were numerous other species, but those listed above were readily obvious from the road. Birding was awesome in 2008.

In addition to the waterfowl and long legged waders, other frequently observed birds on Black Point Wildlife Drive included Double-breasted Cormorants, Anhinga, and Pied-billed Grebes. The American White Pelican was observed both on the wildlife drive and Bio Lab Road.

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret, Merritt Island
- Joe Kegley

Many shorebirds also inhabit the refuge, my favorites were the American Avocets frequently seen wading in an impoundment not too far from the start of the wildlife drive.

Raptors are common place in the refuge boundary, if you spend any length of time there you will have the opportunity to see Osprey, Bald Eagles, and Northern Harriers. Osprey appear to nest are all over the place. You can't miss them.

Red-winged Blackbirds are common throughout the refuge. Florida Scrub Jays inhabit the section of the refuge near the Canaveral National Seashore. My only sighting of a pair of Scrub Jays was from a pull-off right before the pay station into the Canaveral National Seashore. I also observed a Loggerhead Shrike in the area. A pair of Painted Buntings were observed on the feeder at the refuge visitor center.

From a mammal standpoint I have personally observed, white-tailed deer, armadillos, and raccoons on Merritt Island. Though disappointing, I did not have the luck to observe a Bobcat.

A few alligators were spotted, but being wintertime, most were out of sight.

More information about wildlife species in the area can be found at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge web site link on the bottom of this page. The above is what I personally observed.

Wilderness Experience Perspective

Black Point Wildlife Drive is very busy on winter weekends to say the least. Weekdays are better, but you will not be alone. Expect to see other folks birding. If you are in need of a respite from other humans, then Peacocks Pocket Road is your best bet from an auto tour standpoint. Realize there are many berms and gated roads that would offer the hiker some alone time. Another avenue toward solitude would be to get in the water with a canoe or kayak.

One thing to note is there's a lot of through traffic by fisherman to Canaveral National Seashore through the refuge.

Camping is not permitted on the refuge.

American White Pelicans

American White Pelicans, Merritt Island
- Joe Kegley

Photography Perspective

From what I saw, the photography potential was excellent for this area. Lots of wintering ducks and some spoonbills, at least in 2008. Unfortunately my time in 2008 was mired by poor weather. Regardless, the wildlife (specifically waterfowl and long legged waders) was easily accessible from auto-touring Black Point Wildlife Drive.

The next year brought a different perspective. Arriving in February 2009, I found the many of the impoundments dry. What waterfowl existed on the refuge was farther away in deeper water, the same for the waders and the shorebirds.

I definitely recommend a visit to Merritt Island, but I would call the refuge a day or two before you head that way and ask what the viewing opportunities are. Specifically inquire about the water level in the impoundments.

Gear/equipment Suggestions

  • Canoe/kayak - If you want to go canoeing or kayaking in the Banana River No Motor Zone. This 10,600 acre area of the refuge is restricted to non-motorized vessels only.

  • Insect Repellent - Not needed in the winter, though I bet for a summer trip it would be well advised.

Location and Points of Interest

From I-95, get off on Hwy 406 at Titusville FL, and head east, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is about 8 miles from the interstate.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge Map (Google interactive map)

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Additional Information

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