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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.)
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.
Jodi: David, what do we have here? Butterfly nooky?
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!)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
J: Ibis rookery??
D: Ummm…think pink with a more unusual bill.
J: Late night or bad hair day? You be the judge.
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.
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’
J: So I’m on this path and I see a pretty flower with a dragonfly…photo op!
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.
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
D: Can’t forget about the plants
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.
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” (www.orlandowetlands.org 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…
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.
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!
Jodi: Anyone who knows me is very aware that I would rather be at a beach than anywhere else on the planet. I can honestly say that the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge [MINWR] is currently ranking second. I think I could take the 7-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive every day and see something new. It’s the type of place where anyone can go regardless of age and see the beauty that Florida has to offer.
David: A very interesting place which owes, at least, some of its biological diversity to efforts to combat the salt marsh mosquito. The various impoundments and water control practices have created areas where fresh and salt/brackish waters and wetlands are in close proximity. This “best of both worlds” scenario allows for a host of species to exist in roughly the same place as we will see.