Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida is a well known photography destination for birds during winter. However, only a few photographers put it on their list of stops during summer months.  So I began to wonder just how good bird photography is at Merritt Island during the summer? Is is worth making a trip to the Refuge?

My question was answered when I visited Merritt Island’s Black Point Drive on a June day. You see, I had received scouting reports that flocks of roseate spoonbills were still at the refuge so off I went to photograph them.  

Upon arrival at the refuge, I immediately encountered numerous wading birds. Of course, I kept stopping to photograph them. Within the first 1.5 mile of the 7 mile drive, I encountered green herons, snowy egrets, and reddish egrets. So yes, if you are in the area, definitely consider a trip of Merritt Island NWF in the summer months.

Let me share with you what I found along the drive after we take a quick look at where the refuge is located. 

 Where is Merritt Island?

Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge (Merritt) is located about 20 minutes east of I 95 in Central Florida and adjacent to the Canaveral National Seashore. 


Where is Black Point Drive?

Black Point Drive is a 7 mile one way scenic drive to the left of the main parkway to the coast. It has a number of impoundments and wetlands perfect for birds.  The drive is passable in all types of vehicles and offers many pullouts for wildlife viewing and even has restrooms at one stop.  As with most wildlife viewing, it is best to plan your visit for either early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Bird Sightings Along Black Point Drive

Overall I am happy to report that the summer opportunities to photography birds along Black Point Drive exceeded my wildest expectations. In fact, in the 15 plus years of visiting Merritt Island I had never seen that many reddish egrets in one day.  I am still asking myself how was this possible in June?  

Encounters of the Reddish Kind:  (Reddish Egrets not Spoonbills)

Immediately after entering Black Point Drive, a reddish egret welcomed me to the Refuge. Unaware of how many reddish egret encounters I was about the have, I began photographing this pretty egret. After about 15 minutes, I decided it was time to drive on and locate the spoonbills.

Before I could drive 300 feet, I encountered three more reddish egrets and was out photographing egrets again. In some areas the sky was overcast with areas of very dark clouds that created perfect framing for the birds.  Yet, just around a bend, the sky was peek through creating the illusion of a bright sunny day.  It was such crazy light I could not pull myself away for over 45 minutes.

The thought of spending all day here with these reddish egrets was very appealing yet spoonbills were calling to me.  Begrudgingly I drove on only to encounter two more reddish egrets and and numerous snowy egrets.  I kept asking myself “was I not suppose to photograph roseate spoonbills today?”

Roseate Spoonbill Encounters:

At the rate I was going, I wondered if I would ever make it to the prime spots for the spoonbills.  After several more stops, I finally arrived at the roseate spoonbill pond. For those who have never been to Merritt Island, the spoonbills frequent a very large pond after the first right bend on the drive.

There they were, three flocks of beautiful roseate spoonbills, many with stunning vibrant deep rose color plumage. It was no longer mating season and still they were beautiful. In fact, the early morning light, the green of the mangroves and the blue in the water just enhanced the spoonbill colors. What more could I ask for in June?

Roseate Spoonbills:

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Up Close with Rosy

Now it was time to check out the rest of Black Point Drive.

Other Bird Encounters:

Tricolored Herons were also feeding in ponds close to the road along with a large number of snowy egrets.

Tricolored Heron

By now the light had become to harsh for photography so I headed home.

Other Drives in Merritt Island

Biolab Road

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge’s Biolab Road is a fee road since it is part of the entrance to the Canaveral Seashores. However, this is a great place to photography birds as well as scenics and wildlife. In fact, it should be part of any photo trip to Merritt Island.  Although I was too busy photographing birds along Black Point Drive this trip, previous stops along the road have resulted in the following images.

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Final Thoughts:

Factors that influence birding populations at any given location definitely include the time of year. However, the following factors also play a big role in birding presence:

  • Availability of food source
  • Depth of water
  • Quality of the water
  • Predator presence

My future decisions to explore Merritt Island and other birding locations, will not be solely decided on the season.  Even if it is late in the season or beyond prime time, when all other conditions are good, birding in June at Merritt Island can be great. So good in fact that one of my images from this trip won a national award. Be sure to check out my portfolio of BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY.

If you happen to find yourself in Florida during the hot summer months, don’t just visit the beaches, take time to explore on of Florida’s wonderful wetlands or wildlife refuges.  Just be sure to visit in the early morning or evening hours! Happy birding to you.

 

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