N103. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
SiteID: E103 (E62 old)
Nearest City: Titusville
Phone Number: 321-861-0667
Features/Amenities: Restrooms, Good for beginners, Seasonal hunting, Birding by car, Birding by foot/hiking, Best time of day: All day, Recommended length of visit: all day br>
Habitats: Freshwater Swamp, Freshwater Marsh/Wetlands, Mangrove Swamp, Pines, River/Stream/Spring/Canal, Lake/Pond/Impoundment, Scrub, Hardwoods/Mixed Forest, Marine/Bay, Salt Marsh, Beach/Dune, Mudflats
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is one of Florida’s premier birding sites with more than 330 recorded species. World-renowned for its 7-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive (an auto tour loop), its shorebird and wading bird opportunities can’t be beat. Fall and winter are best for these species, but even in summer, specialties such as Roseate Spoonbill aren’t hard to find. Drive the Black Point route slowly, scanning the impoundments for rails, a diversity of ducks like Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler and Green-winged Teal, and a multitude of shorebirds loafing on the flats. Alligators are common in the impoundments; rare visitors include Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose, Ruff, Eurasian Wigeon and Cinnamon Teal. Reddish Egrets occasionally “dance” in the shallows as they hunt for prey, and Northern Harriers flush shorebirds in winter, revealing those hidden birds at the back of the flock. Lucky viewers may spy a Bald Eagle stoop on a raft of American Coots and fly off with one in its razor-sharp talons. Other productive shorebird sites for car-based birding are the impoundment dike roads like Peacocks Pocket Rd., Catfish Loop, and Gator Creek Rd. Bio Lab Rd. along the lagoon is also a good bet for ducks, shorebirds, gulls and terns. Seven hiking trails (some with observation platforms) and canoeing/kayaking opportunities provide plenty of birding excitement. The hammock and scrub trails are popular, and during migrations have been known to turn up surprises like Dickcissel and Townsend’s Warbler. Look for Florida Scrub-Jay on the Scrub Ridge Trail year-round, and also on telephone wires and posts on SR 3/Kennedy Parkway. The manatee observation deck at Haulover Canal is worth checking most any time; dozens of manatees may be present in spring. The refuge butterfly checklist, produced in conjunction with the Florida Butterfly Monitoring Network, includes Great Purple Hairstreak, American Snout, Gemmed Satyr, Mangrove Skipper and Obscure Skipper. Guided birding trips for beginners and experts alike occur weekly, November through March. Stop by the visitor center for information on all of the refuge’s opportunities, and check the log for recent bird sightings. Seasonal hunting occurs at this site; please see page 127 for dates, regulations and more information.
Directions: From I-95 in Titusville, take exit 220 for SR 406. Go east on SR 406/Garden St. for 4 mi. and cross the Max Brewer Memorial Pkwy. bridge. The refuge begins on the east side of the causeway. To reach the visitor center, turn right (east) on SR 402. The center is 2 mi. ahead on the right (south) side of the road.
Starting September 1, 2011, a fee is charged to access Black Point Wildlife Drive and three improved boat ramps. To use these areas, purchase a daily pass, annual pass or federal duck stamp. Refuge roads, trails and boat ramps open year round, sunrise to sunset. Refuge closed during NASA launches. Visitor center open 8 AM to 4:30 PM, Monday to Friday; 9 AM to 5 PM, Saturday and Sunday. Closed Sundays, April to October.
Location: 28.628406, -80.78772