.All Trips / North America / Southeastern USA

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

02 Merritt Island NWR Little Blue Heron (46)

During our last visit to Florida, my father and I drove from our base in Orlando to explore some of Florida’s east coast.  Our destination for the day was the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, not far from Titusville.  

This is a massive preserve, some 140,000 acres (57,000 ha), situated on the same island as the Kennedy Space Center.  Because of its close proximity to the Space Center, there are rare times when NASA restricts access to this National Wildlife Refuge (e.g. when the space shuttle was landing in Florida).

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

The topography of the refuge is flat, but still there are a mixture of habitats including saltwater and freshwater marshes, dunes, forests and scrub.  Here are some facts about the biodiversity of Merritt Island NWR:  It contains over 1000 species of plants, 117 species of fish, 68 types of amphibians and reptiles, 330 birds, and 31 mammal species.  Of all these, 21 species are considered endangered.  The refuge has a variety of roads and hiking trail and while a wilderness, offers reasonable access to humans.

I am not an avid birder, but do enjoy seeing birds.  If you’re a bird-watcher, this place is a treasure waiting for you to explore it.  Our first bird-sighting was of a bald eagle sitting on a tree near the road before we had even turned off the main highway into Merritt Island NWR.  It was a good omen.   We saw thousands of birds, many  of types that we do not normally see in most parts of North America (see photos below).

Manatee Deck at Haulover Bridge

Very near the Wildlife Refugee road we explored is the Haulover Canal Bridge, with a deck for viewing the gentle Manatee.  We stopped here for about a half hour and were rewarded with the sight of several manatee slowly swimming by.  You won’t see the entirety of these mammals — just a ripple in the water or tail.  But I’d never seen them this close before so appreciated this excellent opportunity to observe them.

There’s so much nature to see and experience on Merritt Island that a single blog post can’t possibly do it justice.  If you love watching wildlife — especially birds — then take an extra day after you’ve seen the sites at the Space Center and do spend some time here.

(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)


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