Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In The Shadow

If you've spent any time perusing this blog, you know that rockets aren't the only flying things that catch my interest. And on my recent Florida trip I was able to enjoy more than just rockets.

Kennedy Space Center is surrounded by and is part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

And I spent I very nice day wandering about the refuge, both with and without company.

I arrived in the morning and while at the visitor center I learned that there was a guided tour that had just started. They trip started with a walk around the visitor center's lop trail, so I hurried off to find the group.

I headed down the boardwalk trail, enjoying the Spanish moss hanging from the trees.

I was sidetracked as I stopped to photograph what, once I joined the group, would learn are banana spiders.

There were quite a few of them hanging in large webs above and beside the trail. Note the size disparity between large female and the rather small male.

There were other spiders, like this one which had a very large web.

I caught up with the group as they were spying on a Florida cooter sunning itself.

We also saw the Florida soft-shelled turtle. the reptiles were finished out with a nicely patterned lizard that I wasn't able to get a good image of. Our guide had hoped to find a rattle snake, but came up empty. Bummer.

The boardwalk part of the trip ended with ...

... damsels and ...

... dragons flying about (much easier to photograph when stationary).

We then loaded up into our cars, each car with a radio, and we headed out to explore.

We got good but distant looks at mottled ducks and reddish egrets, both life birds for me, as well at these feathered friends ...

We ended the tour searching for manatees.

During which time we saw a variety of fish swimming about.

Our fist two spots for manatees resulted in fish and lots of folks in boats.

But at our last stop of the trip ...

... success! With a pair of the large mammals swimming by.

Back at he visitors center I mentioned to the guide that I wanted to find a Florida scrub jay, and he told me that he knew exactly where they would be and that he would guide me there. So we hopped into my rental car and headed off.

And sure enough ...

... they were there. A family group feeding, with one bird always at the top of the tree as a sentinel. Another life bird for me.

I ended the day driving a ten mile loop around some impoundments. The road wasn't in the greatest of shape, but I was able to navigate around the ruts (had I my Ford Escape hybrid, I would have had no problems).  I did get lost at the end, but it turns out any way I picked would have led me out to the main road.

I got very nice looks at a variety of shorebirds and waders, including this nice godwit.

The refuge is in the shadow of the space center, and I wonder how many people are like me and visit both. Given my admittedly small sample, it would seem not many. I had the refuge pretty much to myself as I drove around all afternoon.

In a way that was nice, it was a vey pretty place and crowds would have spoiled my enjoyment. I know, rather selfish of me.

The National Wildlife Refuge system is a true treasure. And it is one that pays back more than it costs. For every tax dollar spent on the refuges close to five are generated for the local economies. A five hundred precent return. Naturally, the tea party assholes want to defund it.

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