Florida’s Space Coast

It turns out that the Titusville/Canaveral (i.e. Space Coast) area of Florida is going to be on my regular destination list now since I have some wonderful friends who live there and who are always ready to have me come visit.

I was there in late November on a trip that got cut really short by a rather large earthquake at home, but since my friends had the excellent timing to have a baby due in mid-January, I got to go back far more quickly than I’d anticipated.

There’s a late January Space Coast birding festival, which I missed by a couple of days, but I made it to a few of the sites that are on the festival list and the timing was nearly perfect. Mostly I was cooking and babysitting dogs and running to the hospital in Orlando, but I managed to eke out a few hours almost every morning to do some birding, mostly by car. I feel the same way about alligators in FL as I do about bears in AK: I want metal between me and them. My destinations included the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area just south of Christmas, FL (on route 50 between Titusville and Orlando), several drives through the Black Point Wildlife Drive at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands in Viera a little ways south of Titusville, and the Blue Heron Water Reclamation Facility and Chain of Lakes Park in Titusville.

Why I don’t live in Florida.

Let me say going in that I’ve been to Titusville a few times now and I’ve added a lot of life list birds there in past years. Merritt Island has one the small populations of Florida Scrub Jays and I’ve been lucky enough to see them, as well as some of the various heron species. But since my first visit and reading about the area, there have been three birds I have wanted to see and have had zero success. The roseate spoonbill, wood stork, and limpkin.

Well, zero success until now.  I got all three this trip AND got to see all of them multiple times. On my first day’s visit to Tosohatchee, I’d pulled off the side of the single lane road and was pausing to write down a few things when I realized that about 15 feet from my car, on the edge of some reeds, was a bird standing very still, but watching me. Limpkin! We watched each other for about 10 minutes (til another car approached and I had to move on). Had I not stopped to write, I never would have seen it. 10 minutes later,  I saw my first wood stork. So happy that it even got me through the torture of figuring out that the very very pale hawk I saw (I’m not very good at hawks) was the Florida subspecies of the red-shouldered hawk. Tosohatchee (after about a half hour with three different bird guides) also netted me a palm warbler or three.

Limpkin at Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area.

The next day, as I was driving Black Point Drive, I got caught in a bit of a traffic jam behind a convoy of birders and the first thing one of them said to me was “did you see the roseate spoonbills?” Well, I’d just seen a relatively large bird soaring off in the distance and thought I’d seen a pinkish hue, but I was sad to think that maybe that was the only sighting I was going to get. But not to worry: about 10 minutes later, I saw another roseate spoonbill wading in a pond alongside the road. And shortly after that, I stopped for yet another set of cars pulled to the side and found myself looking at a clapper rail (Atlantic subspecies) who was kind enough to stay in view for about 5 minutes so I could get my first good look at one (I’d heard one once, I think, in California.) That trip I also got to catch a glimpse of a swamp sparrow and good looks at four feral hogs (2 brunettes, a blonde, and a redhead as one of my co-viewers described them).

Feral pigs near Black Point Drive, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

At Chain of Lakes park later in the week I got some very up-close views of a wood stork as well as many roseate spoonbills on another day’s trip down Black Point Drive. The Blue Heron Water Reclamation Facility netted me a couple of purple gallinules, another life list bird for me, and the Viera Wetlands allowed me a second look at a limpkin too.

Such an amazing trip and I’m so grateful I ‘ll get to go back and explore the area even more. Next time I’ll leave a little more time for the Grissom/Viera Wetlands and maybe take in some of the other birding hotspots in the Viera area when I do. And all the other places I want to go! So much to see there.

If you’re thinking of heading that way, I suspect the cost of staying in Titusville is a little cheaper than its more southerly counterparts like Port Canaveral and Cocoa Beach and they’re all in fairly close proximity. Plus Titusville is right next to the Merritt Island NWR and it’s such a wonderful location to wander about (take your National Parks pass with you!)

Here’s the overall list and a slideshow of some of the birds I managed to capture in images.

Anhinga, Northern cardinal, Eurasian collared-dove, American coot, double-crested cormorant, sandhill crane, fish crow, mourning dove, mottled duck, dunlin, bald eagle, cattle egret, great egret, snowy egret, common gallinule, purple gallinule, blue-gray gnatcatacher, boat-tailed grackle, common grackle, pied-billed grebe, herring gull, northern harrier, red-shouldered hawk (Florida subspecies), great blue heron, green heron, little blue heron, tri-colored heron, glossy ibis, white ibis, blue jay, American kestrel, western kingbird, belted kingfisher, ruby-crowned kinglet, limpkin, hooded merganser, merlin, northern mockingbird, black-crowned night-heron, osprey, brown pelican, white pelican, rock pigeon, northern pintail, clapper rail (Atlantic subspecies), American robin, northern shoveler, least sandpiper, western sandpiper, loggerhead shrike, swamp sparrow, roseate spoonbill, wood stork, blue-winged teal, Forster’s tern, black vulture, turkey vulture, prairie warbler, palm warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, greater yellowlegs, common yellowthroat.

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Maybe I can actually time my visit for the Space Coast Birding Festival next year. Have you been to the Space Coast? What are your favorite birding places there?


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