Merritt Island NWR

I stopped by Merritt Island NWR (National Wildlife Refuge) this weekend for the first time in well over a year. Activity has been sparse at the refuge over the last year, so I didn’t renew my pass and spent my days shooting at other areas. But I’m glad that I spent the morning there as there was just enough activity to make the visit interesting. It’s nice to have a such a high quality refuge so close to home.

Any trip to Merritt Island NWR has to include a stop at Parrish Park for sunrise. I have photographed some great sunrises from under the Max Brewer bridge and this morning was no different. Click the images to view larger.

Sunrise - Merritt Island NWR
Sunrise – Merritt Island NWR

I setup my iPhone to do a time-lapse of the sunrise. I also had my GoPro setup to do a time-lapse. Both videos came out pretty good, but I think the iPhone video came out a little nicer than the GoPro did.

Sunrise Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge from Michael Libbe on Vimeo.

While at Parrish Park, I joined a bunch of other birders and photographers who were out looking for the Long-tailed Duck. We found him, but he was a long way away and on the wrong side of the bridge for photos. Well, at least for any decent photos.

Long-tailed Duck - Merritt Island NWR
Long-tailed Duck – Merritt Island NWR

A Coopers Hawk swooped in under the bridge and posed for a few photos. Certainly not the kind of environment that I would really want, but it was nice to get a couple of images in.

Cooper's Hawk - Merritt Island NWR
Cooper’s Hawk – Merritt Island NWR

The next stop was a trip through the BlackPoint Wildlife Drive in the refuge itself. The first opportunity was a pair of American Avocets that were somewhat cooperative.

American Avocets - Merritt Island NWR
American Avocets – Merritt Island NWR

While shooting the avocets, a Tricolored Heron came in. He was so close I could only get a head shot.

Tri-colored Heron - Merritt Island NWR
Tri-colored Heron – Merritt Island NWR

A hundred yards later we came upon a small flock of Forster’s Terns diving into a very small puddle and catching some fish that were trapped in the pond. They had a very high success rate with each dive. I guess it was like shooting fish in a barrel. This tern’s catch is still flopping around in his beak.

Forster's Tern - Merritt Island NWR
Forster’s Tern – Merritt Island NWR

Along the back side of the wildlife drive a flock of Dunlin came through. I ran out of fingers and toes to count them.

Dunlin Flock - Merritt Island NWR
Dunlin Flock – Merritt Island NWR

There were plenty of ducks on the back side of the wildlife drive, but the light is better for photography back there in the afternoon. So we motored along until we got to the Cruikshank trail. There we found a small group of American Widgeons that were quite cooperative.

American Widgeon - Merritt Island NWR
American Widgeon – Merritt Island NWR

After completing the wildlife drive, we headed back to Parrish Park hoping to find the Long-tailed Duck in better light. By then the winds had picked up and the water was quite choppy. We didn’t find the duck, but we did see some Common Loons and a pair of Horned Grebes that were close by. Getting a good photo of these two was quite challenging as they were diving for their lunch, then bobbing up and down on the choppy waves when they surfaced again. It was tough to find them in-between the waves, but a little patience paid off. I love their red eyes.

Horned Grebe - Merritt Island NWR
Horned Grebe – Merritt Island NWR

When the card in my camera was full, it was time to pack it in and head back home for some lunch. It was a fun morning and I think I’ll be back over to Merritt Island NWR again in the next couple of weeks.


  • Ed Rosack

    January 22, 2015 at 8:52 am

    You had a great trip, Michael – wonderful photos!

    • Michael

      January 22, 2015 at 11:48 am

      Thanks, Ed!

  • Jess Yarnell

    January 22, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    That was a fun morning! I love your sunrise time lapse.

  • CarlaReed

    January 24, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    Wish you were here- We have another? or the same pair of Cooper hawks that have been visiting for a couple or three winters—Of course I feed the little birds so guess I lose one or two occationaly but the hawks are BEAUTIFUL and VERY fast!