When most people think of Florida they think of theme parks and beaches. But sprinkled throughout the state are state and national parks and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is one of my favorites to visit!
In 1963 when the government started doing space launches from Cape Canaveral they knew a buffer zone would be the best way to ensure their privacy. So they created a 140,000-acre wildlife refuge, which just so happens to sit beneath the Atlantic flyway, which is a migratory route for birds.
The Wildlife Refuge is the perfect location for about 330 species (including bald eagles) that make their homes in Florida for at least part of the year. The area is also inhabited by manatees, sea turtles, bobcats, and alligators, complete with a manatee observation deck. It’s also a great spot for canoeing and kayaking.
Best of all is that in addition to a wonderful visitors center, which carries a wealth of reading material and features a short boardwalk that offers a glimpse of the surrounding environment, the Black Point Wildlife Drive is a seven-mile loop road where the environment completely surrounds you as you drive along viewing shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can wander off the trail using footpaths that lead deeper into the marshes. I stayed on the trail!
Of course these guys had nothing to do with the fact that I didn’t wander too far from my car.
The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge provides a wide variety of habitats. Coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals including 140+ species of fish, 68 amphibians and reptiles, 358 birds, and 31 mammal species (15 of which are federally listed as endangered species).
There are so many beautiful birds to see at the refuge and so many delicious photo ops!
There aren’t too many places where you can find such a diverse bird population and the Wildlife Refuge is a great way to see all these beautiful creatures co existing in nature.
The Roseate Spoonbill has become my favorite bird and they certainly are plentiful at the Merritt Island Refuge.
Not only are they unique looking with their spoon shaped bill, they are a joy to watch. Those powerful wings are functional as well as beautiful.
Make sure to bring a good lens and the longer the better. I shot these with my new 100-300mm lens that I bought specifically for wildlife shots.
The Common Gallinule is another of my favorites. Vocal and boldly marked with its orange bill, the species can be quite conspicuous, sometimes using its long toes to walk atop floating vegetation.
If you’re in the mood for a little beach time, the Playalinda Beach is part of the Canaveral National Seashore and is just about a 20 minute drive from the refuge.
The Kennedy Space Center is also a great way to spend the day. If you’re in the area, you can read more about the Space Center on my blog.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge-
Refuge roads, trails and boat ramps are open from sunrise to sunset daily. Bairs Cove boat ramp is the only boat ramp open for night launching.
To reach the Visitor Information Center, continue 4 miles past the Refuge entrance (remain to your right at the fork in the road) and the Visitor Center entrance sign will be on your right.
The Visitor Information Center is open 9 am to 4 pm daily November 1 through March 31. April 1 through October 31 the Visitor Center is open Monday through Saturday, 9 am to 4 pm. It is closed most federal holidays.