What a pleasant surprise to find such a rich and interesting wildlife refuge just an hour north of Cape Canaveral — Blackpoint Drive, a 7 mile road along dikes in a salt marsh that is part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
A typical scene along the dike roads of mangroves and pools in the salt marsh.
Here’s how the Fish and Wildlife Service describe this unique area.
“Imagine a broad, flat expanse of salt marsh stretching from where your car is parked to the Indian River, a distance of about 1 mile. The only obstruction is an occasional hammock of palms or a mangrove-rimmed pond, and behind you, on higher ground, slash pines. Marsh streams gracefully wind through the marsh and provide a thoroughfare for microscopic plants and animals, shellfish and fish. Egrets and herons are poised along the stream edge, like spearfishermen patiently awaiting a meal. Secretively, sparrows search for insects in the chest-high grass. Occasionally, tides aided by a strong wind flood the marsh, and on the ebb, nutrient-laden waters are exported to the river. The marsh and river are one.”
An island of palmetto on higher ground stands behind the sea of grass in the salt marsh.
Although we were visiting before the big influx of winter migrants arrived, there was still plenty to see, which is why a 7 mile drive took us more than 3 hours. Butterflies, lizards, lots of birds, alligators, and even a errant manatee that wasn’t supposed to be in this area of the salt marsh crossed our path.
Tri-colored Herons were common in the shallow pools lined by mangroves.
This one was pretty tame, and walked right up to us.
Greater Yellowlegs foraged in the shallow mudflats.
A few flocks of small dabbling ducks floated in the deeper pools, but quickly took cover in the mangroves when they spotted us.
Floating in some of those same deep pools were alligators of various sizes, from small like this one to very large.
A solitary Little Blue Heron stalked its prey.
Mangroves make useful perching spots for both Great Blue Herons and Great (White) Egrets.
Yellowthroat and Yellow-rumpled Warblers were frequently seen foraging in the low bushes and mangroves along the water’s edge.
Common Moorhens must have raised their brood in these pools lined by mangroves. This juvenile bird is flanked by two adults in the background.
The manatee was swimming along the edge of a small stream, squeezing itself through culverts that connected waterways. Apparently they are restricted from this area because they get stuck and have to be rescued and removed by wildlife biologists.
We found Black Vultures resting in the shade on the lawn of the visitor center 2 miles up the road from the wildlife refuge. It was close to 90 degrees and very humid, so no wonder they took refuge here.
What an amazing area, the last remnant of the natural salt marshes that probably lined the eastern coast of Florida before it was extensively developed. Not only is it a haven for wildlife, but it’s a natural barrier to storm surge and salt water intrusion inland.