Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge…on the road…again

Jodi:  You may already know that David and I set out one morning to go to some of our favorite drive-around sites. 

These days I’m not the only shutterbug in the truck.  While I have been studying David has developed a hobby of his own!  His talent and equipment have definitely surpassed mine…but I will keep on practicing, and we will both bring our knowledge and skills to the table.

David:  I’m definitely a work in progress regarding photography skills.  As I get closer to retirement, I wanted to think ahead to the next chapter.  That chapter will include a continuation of projects such as this blog and, maybe, a few others.

We started this day at Canaveral National Seashore.  The relatively early hour meant that the crowds hadn’t arrived yet on this perfect beach day.  We walked the beach and observed more high energy wave action than usual due to a far-off tropical disturbance.  Hunger pangs soon set in and we decided to head to an early lunch.

J:  After lunch we headed south to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge [MINWR] for some additional sightseeing.

At most places in Florida, it doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s morning, evening or somewhere in between…we always seem to see the beauty.

D:  We’re also, hopefully, not too far away from the cooler temperatures and lower humidity of fall in Florida.  I know this trip took place in late September, but the weather had yet to take on those fall weather characteristics.  We’ll soon start to see the effects of annual migrations on the species we can observe.  It will also be nice not to sweat through our clothes from walking around!

Little blue heron

J:  From our experience, MINWR is a great place for birds of all kinds.  Not long after the front gate this one was sneaking up on a snick snack as we watched.

In one of the canals off to the right, we found this little family.

Common gallinule with chicks

One of the kids was as curious about me snapping pics as I was about it.

In the way that it’s shedding, this plant somewhat reminded me of the ‘cat tails’ that I remember as a kid ‘up north.’

David taught me the way to tell the difference between and Egret and a White Heron is the color of their legs…an Egret has black legs…right David?

D:  Easiest way for me.

J:  Now to my last pic of the day:  this little gator was about two feet long from nose to tail and his head was quite tiny.  Maybe an inch separated his eyes and it had a short little snout.  It appeared all alone, but rest assured where there are little gators… there are big Momma Gators lurking somewhere close.  Cute as it was, I stayed in the truck to get this pic.

D: We ventured down Bio Lab Road where I hoped to be able to observe some horseshoe crabs as I had a few weeks before.  Unfortunately, this was a bust and, as it was getting late, we decided to end this adventure and, as always, look forward to the next one.

Stay Tuned for our next adventure.

Remember to: Take only photos and leave only footprints.

Now get out there and Hike Central FL and Beyond.

Home – Merritt Island – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (

The trip of many stops…

Canaveral National Seashore 

Jodi:  We started out bright and early, 5am to be exact to travel to the east coast.  Our first stop was a favorite, Canaveral National Seashore accessible from A-1-A just south of New Smyrna Beach.

David:  I know, we’ve been here before, but sometimes you return to an old favorite and try to see what you might have missed on previous trips.  Besides, what a great place to catch the sunrise and the early risers!


Brown pelicans against a broody sky


A closer flyby

Jodi:  A flock of pelicans was on patrol as soon as the sun came up.  I truly enjoy how they majestically glide across the sky in search of their next meal then dive into the ocean with a splash worthy of a 9.9 in a competition.


Approaching rain

Jodi:  We were about to take a walk when we noticed this storm moving into the area.  Not ones to melt, we took a short walk just to see who else we might encounter.


Juvenile sanderlings

Jodi:  Apparently these little guys (gals?) didn’t like the windy, rainy day any more than we did.  Check out how they are standing on one leg with their beaks buried in their feathers.

It started to rain harder and we still had a lot of time left on our schedules, so we decided to just take a drive south to see what was happening at the south section of the Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Haulover Canal


Dolphin in Haulover Canal

Jodi:  At Haulover Canal, we found a few manatees, and a couple dolphins.

David:  The manatee observation area on the canal has been worth a stop on most visits to the Refuge.  Patience is usually rewarded with a marine mammal sighting!

I asked Jodi if she was interested in exploring a “new” road I had found.  She was game and we were off to the Bio Lab boat ramp a short distance away.

Bio Lab Road

David:  A sign off the main road directs you to the Bio Lab boat ramp.  Before reaching the actual ramp area, Bio Lab Road intersects with the access road and travels for about six miles south through salt and freshwater marshes and along stretches of open water.  The narrowness of this road makes for some interesting cooperative moves when you encounter a vehicle coming from the opposite direction!


Tree swallows

David:  We had traveled a relatively short distance down the road when we noticed a flock of birds…a big flock!

Jodi:  For a while, we felt like we were in an Alfred Hitchcock film.  We watched these birds ‘swarm’ for quite some time.  They moved so fast that we couldn’t even see what color they were! We never did figure out what had them all in a tizzy (technical term for birds swarming…just kidding.)

David:  I was at a loss to identify the birds, but remarked that they might be swifts or swallows after seeing a couple fairly close up.  (I later saw a reference to tree swallows feeding on crepe myrtle berries and displaying this type of behavior and it clicked.)


Gratuitous gator shot

Jodi:  The weather cleared up considerably down in this area, so we found several alligators out sunning themselves, and looking for tasty photographers.  This guy was only about 10 feet away.


Tropical buckeyes

Jodi:  David, what do we have here? Butterfly nooky?

David:  Umm…OK


Great blue heron in search of lunch

Jodi:  For the record, I never drive on these trips.  I drove once I think… David said everything was a blur. I think that’s his way of saying I drive too fast.  Guilty as charged! I do drive too fast.  So, early on we established that he would drive.  It’s a good deal for me, I get to sit back and ride and look around.  He gets to just go where the mood strikes him.  It works for us.

Why am I telling you this?

This is why I’m telling you this…a blue bird.  Yep.  On the way toward the Visitor’s Center   this the little guy (or gal) caused David to stand on the brakes, screech to a halt, slam the car in reverse and back up without regard for life or limb. (Just kidding David…you had a little regard for life and limb, but not much!)


Florida scrub jay sentinel

David:  It wasn’t that bad.  Well, OK, yes, it was that bad.  Even though I’ve professed to not being a “birder”,  I’m a sucker for scrub jays.  We had left Bio Lab Road behind and I suggested a visit to the Visitor’s Center.  We were traveling on the main road through the coastal scrub area designated as scrub jay habitat.  I saw a jay in the vegetation along side of the road and, well, you know the rest of the story.


A bit lower in the vegetation

Jodi:  This patient, brave, little bird is David’s favorite.  So we are on the hunt every time we’re out.

David:  What’s not to like?  Endemic, social, keystone species…an admirable member of our fauna.

Visitor’s Center


Jodi:  After my brush with death over a blue bird (Scrub Jay) we did a short walk on this beautiful raised walkway at the Visitor’s Center and gift shop.  I was thankful to be on solid ground again.

David:  An easy and “clean” walk through some hydric or wet habitats.  There is a floating platform on one of the ponds here that provides a sunning opportunity for the turtle population.  Throw in the butterfly habitat and there’s a lot going on along this short walk.


Jodi:  Now this last image is one that every hiker or outside enthusiast should recognize on sight.  Poison Ivy.  If you’ve ever suffered its wrath, you know of the itching, scratching and red skin.  If you haven’t always remember the rhyme, ‘Leaves of 3 let it be!’

Until next time, get out there  and Hike Central Florida and Beyond!







Orlando Wetlands Park

Not long ago, David, Jeff and I got up early on a foggy Sunday morning and set off for Orlando Wetlands Park.

Fog-shrouded marsh

Jodi:  Not long ago, David, Jeff and I got up early on a foggy Sunday morning and set off for Orlando Wetlands Park.

David:  This land near the community of Christmas in east Orange County was purchased by the City of Orlando in 1986. The various wetland ecosystems on site – forested and non-forested – remove excess nutrients from reclaimed wastewater treated at the Iron Bridge Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant near Oviedo.  I had wanted to visit the park for a long time and was glad to finally get the chance.


Sandhill Cranes with chick

J:  I was so excited to see the ‘Cranes and their baby!  We kept a close but respectful distance as we watched them disappear deep into the tall grass.

D:  Sandhill cranes are impressive even to a “non birder-type” like me.

We kept a close but respectable distance as we watched them disappear deep into the tall grass.

Closer view!

D:  A number of bird species can be observed at the park.  Judging by comments we overheard from the few other visitors we came close to this day,  bird watching seems to be a very popular activity here.

Caspian terns

...and to their right

…and to their right…Roseate spoonbills!

J:  Ibis rookery??

Roseate spoonbills

D:  Ummm…think pink with a more unusual bill.

J:  Late night or bad hair day? You be the judge.

Great blue heron looking a little disheveled

D:  If you’re like me and scales and scutes trump feathers you won’t be disappointed.  This place boasts a “robust” population of alligators.

As the sun rose higher into the sky, we realized we too were being watched!

American alligator

J:  As the sun rose higher into the sky, we realized we too were being watched!

D:  It was a little intimidating to be watched by so many pairs of crocodilian eyes…just sayin’

I see you lookin'!

I see you…

J:  So I’m on this path and I see a pretty flower with a dragonfly…photo op!

Pickerel weed blossom and dragonfly

J: Camera in hand, I’m backing up, and backing up, and Jeff says, “STOP, stay right there, don’t move”.  Why? I’m not done.

Uhhh you guessed it... I almost stepped on an aligator. Oops!

J:  Uhhh, you guessed it… I almost stepped on an alligator.  Imagine you’re an alligator laying on the bank.  You’re watching this crazy lady as she keeps backing up and about to step on your tail. Do you wonder how fast she can run? Or how fast you can swim to get away from her?!?  Oops!

On a serious note, this park is a great place to bring the relatives from up North who just want to see an alligator.  We lost count of how many we saw in our short hike.

D:  Robust  population

Alligator bulldozing through the filamentous algae

D:  Can’t forget about the plants



Star rush

D:  A nice feature at the park is the Oyler Overlook.  It is an earthen mound with a gradual incline that takes one to an elevation about 30′ above the surrounding landscape.  It’s a great spot to take some pictures, survey the landscape or just take a moment or two break from the hike.

One view from the top of Oyler Overlook

One view from the top of Oyler Overlook

...and another direction

…and another

J:  We spent 2-3 hours leisurely walking the approximately 6 mile trail. Next time we plan to bring our bicycles to check out a different trail. If you would like to see the property for yourself, we recommend that you check their website before making the trip out as they are closed at some times during the year.

D:  Right…the Park is closed from November 15th through January 31st of each year.  There are opportunities for bike riding and there is also a tram operated by volunteers – “Friends of the Orlando Wetlands” ( for more info on the tram and events).  I thought the tram and offer of a ride were mighty tempting when we were about 2 miles from the end of our little adventure.  We “toughed it out”, but all bets are off for next time.

Now it’s your turn to get out and Hike Central Florida and beyond but remember to always, ALWAYS watch your step!

Until next time…

Beyond Central Florida — South Rim of the Grand Canyon and Much More!

I know you were expecting a post about Orlando Wetlands Park… But I just couldn’t wait to share this one with you first.

Once again many apologies for not posting more often.  I truly had no idea how much of my time it would take to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree this late in life.  Thank you for hanging in there with David and I as we take on new chapters in our lives.

So speaking of my new found love of all things UCF, I have finished yet another semester.  My how time flies! After closure of Cost Accounting and a few other things, I found the time to convince Hubby that a much needed vacation was in order. So off to Sin City we went!

Most people don’t really think of Las Vegas as a place to share on a nature blog.  But I think some of you might be a little surprised at what you might find if you look around a little.

Located about 30 minutes (17 miles) from the Las Vegas strip you will find Red Rock National Conservation Area.  It boasts a 13 mile scenic drive.

Just outside the scenic drive at Red Rock Conservation Area in Nevada

Just outside the scenic drive at Red Rock Conservation Area in Nevada

Hubby and I didn’t even have to get out of our car to see some beautiful mountains. While there are plenty of opportunities for hiking Red Rock, I am currently a little out of commission with a fractured foot.  So instead, we saw burro crossing the road in front of us, Gopher Tortoises just like home, and some really cool storm clouds.


Another 30 miles South East of the Vegas strip you’ll find this dandy of an engineering feat!

The Hoover Dam image taken from the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

The Hoover Dam image taken from the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Believe it or not, I was able to take all the dam pictures I wanted!  Who knew??

Last but certainly not least, Jeff and I are the adventurous types.  So don’t take this recommendation lightly.  On the same morning that we woke up and drove to the Hoover Dam, we decided on a whim to drive to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.


Yes, we did… four and a half hours to the South Rim viewing area…AND 4 1/2 HOURS BACK in the same day!  To say that it was worth every minute of that long drive through the desert would be an understatement.  Jeff and I agree that we would do again in a heartbeat.  As a matter of fact we are already planning another trip to do nothing but hike and wander aimlessly through the Grand Canyon.

On this trip we weren’t able to stay long, but we did encounter antelope, elk, and a coyote as we drove and one fantastic sunset at the rim!

South Rim of the Grand Canyon from Grand Canyon National Park

South Rim of the Grand Canyon from Grand Canyon National Park

So if you’re ever in the neighborhood, I highly recommend that you take the time to get out and visit some of these sites.

Our next post will be back in Central Florida.

Until Next time,


Quest for Success at UCF

Almost a year ago David and I started this blog to share our adventures as we Hike Central FL and Beyond.  To some of you (especially Dave) I have been noticeably absent for the last couple months.  So I feel compelled to give you an explanation.

In addition to starting the blog in January, 2014, I also embarked upon a personal adventure of my own.  In an effort to cross off a bucket list item, I registered at the University of Central Florida (UCF). I became a ‘Knight’ and I am attempting to finish my bachelor’s degree in accounting.  (I know…a far stretch from nature.)  At this point I’m three semesters in and I can consistently find my car (that was a concern for me on day one). My grades have been fairly good.

My latest semester ended last month and it was the worst of my entire academic career.  So as I struggled and struggled, I became less and less available to work with David.  Being the trooper that he is, he carried on without me.  Thank you for understanding Dave!

Now being the photographer that I am, I would like to share with you a little gallery of my last 12 months at the second largest university in the nation.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

UCF has been one of the most challenging and rewarding adventures of my life.  So from time to time I will update you on my progress.  Our next post will be back to hiking and showing off the beauty of Central Florida and Beyond.

Until then…Charge on!

Early Voting

I voted today.  There was no wait and it took me all of 20 minutes, tops, to sign in, cast ballot and get my “I voted” sticker.  Early voting is the bomb!

Cross Seminole Trail – A Relaxing Ride

David:  Whereas some like my brother and his mountain biking friends prefer to be out bashing and thrashing through the mud and trees of a mountain bike course, my taste runs to a nice smooth trail pedaling at a sane pace and soaking in the sights.  The section of the Cross-Seminole Trail from downtown Oviedo to Layer Elementary in Winter Springs is a favorite of mine with bridges, creeks, parks, wildflowers, wildlife and easy access.

Read More…

New Feature!! – Updated 10/9/2014

Just updated a new feature – Flora and Fauna Gallery – Interactive. It’s kind of a “have you seen this” critter, wildflower, etc.   Hope you can check it out and let us know what you’ve seen and what you think!

New Theme for the Blog

Just wanted to let you know that your eyes are not deceiving you.  Jodi and I are trying out a new format or theme for the blog.  Let us know what you think!



Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – Birds, et al

Jodi:  On our second trip to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge we couldn’t believe all of the activity we saw!  At least four different types of birds in one shot and this is only the first turn along the drive.


Wading birds

Wading birds

David:  Great and snowy egrets, white ibis and a couple of wood storks for good measure.  This place was living up to its reputation as a birders’ paradise and we were just getting started!

Read More…

Leaf And Twig

Where observation and imagination meet nature in poetry.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Editor at Longreads. Automattician since 2012. Californian since 1979. Junglist for life.


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