|The River Trail at the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge|
The Lower Suwannee NWR is in northwest Levy County and it presents an odd paradox for me. The habitat is just gorgeous. The River Trail starts in a mixed hardwood forest that gets swampy in the rainy season. The trail leads to a boardwalk along the watery edge of the river where tall cedars stand like soldiers guarding the banks. Eventually, it leads through an area of dense underbrush and younger growth. It should be full of birds. I've walked it three times over the years. Once I was swarmed by birds on the first part and saw a few more on the second and third sections. Twice I've walked it and found very little anywhere. Then there is the Nature Drive. It too covers varying habitats from tall pines with a sparse understory made up chiefly of palmetto bushes to dense, deciduous forest. There are also about a half dozen ponds along the way. My guess is that the Nature Drive is used primarily by hunters. There are few if any hiking trails that branch off of the drive and no view of the river at all. One of the ponds is usually good for a few ducks and waders, the rest are typically devoid of life. Stopping along the road to spish can be productive at times, but normally it produces only the expected local resident birds. Bachman's Sparrows can be found near the southern end of the Drive, but otherwise, it has never been terribly productive. But it should be! I'll keep trying.
|Curiously, there were no cattle to be seen. Just Cattle Egrets.|
|A Green Heron in a tree in the woods. Go figure.|
Unfortunately, the tide was really high and no shorebirds were hanging out in the area, so we headed into town and stopped at Kona Joe's for lunch. There on the dock behind the restaurant was a Lesser Yellowlegs, a bird I still needed for my Levy year list. After lunch we decided to make a sweep of the docks on the road to the airport to see if anything interested was perched up or feeding on the shore. We saw the usual Royal, Forster's and Sandwich Terns, Ruddy Turnstones, Willets, and Semipalmated Plovers. And there amid the plovers was a single peep - a Western Sandpiper.
Two days later we made the long drive to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge where birds thrive in the shadows of NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building and a variety of launch pads; all places that evoke strong memories of my youth and America's space race with Russia. Even on a birdless day, this would be a great place to visit, but our hopes were high after recent reports of double-digit warbler species. If you've been reading any of my blogs at all, you'll know that I've been focusing on learning more about shorebirds. Unfortunately, the shorebird magnet know as Biolab Road was closed for repairs -- in shorebird migration season -- come on, people! That's not right! Anyway, we started by taking Blackpoint Drive where there were a lot of Tricolored Herons. Most of the other waders were present as well as Caspian, Royal and Forster's Terns, some Black-bellied Plovers and a few Dunlin. A Northern Flicker surprised us as it flew in front of us, and a Belted Kingfisher appeared to take umbrage at our disturbing its morning.
We made a quick stop at the headquarters shop and walked the nearby boardwalk but found nothing new for our day lists. Our final stop was characterized by a long, bouncy drive along Peacock's Pocket - no doubt named after the many potholes that are more numerous than the eyes in a peacock's tail. Here we added Yellow Warbler, Glossy and White Ibis, Barn Swallow, Mottled Duck and Blue-winged Teal to our day's haul. For the day, we scored about 45 species and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had added eight birds to my Brevard County life list, getting me up to 153. Then I realized that aside from some pelagic species, nearly all of those birds were seen at Merritt Island, truly one of the nation's best birding hotspots!
|A Black Racer at the Merritt Island HQ|
|A Common Gallinule family|
|Red-eyed Vireo from Cedar Key|
|I came so close to walking face first into this!|