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Roseate Spoonbill – Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Florida Photography Roseate SpoonbillIt was a beautiful fall morning with the temperature a cool 59 degrees and the wind blowing in from the southeast at about ten miles per hour.  There was some blue sky peaking through and the clouds were a fluffy white on top with a gray underside.  The perfect cold front weather for shooting ducks or shooting Florida Photography style for that matter.

I had hunted ducks in this location for the last two years.  You have to enter a lottery to have a limited chance to be drawn for a special permit.  If lucky enough to be drawn,  you and up to three guest are allowed to hunt one Saturday and Sunday morning only.    I believe there are more species of duck found on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge than in any other location in Florida.  In the past I have seen Hooded Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Coot, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Blue-Wing Teal, Green-Wing Teal, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, and Florida Mottled Duck here.  Other ducks, that I have heard sitings of, but have not seen them at this location myself, are the Canvas Back, Wood Duck, Mallard, American Black Duck, and Ring-necked duck.  Florida Photography - Wood Stork

Over the last couple of years with extremes in the weather, including record amounts of rainfall or even the opposite, some of the man made dikes and levy’s have been unable to unnaturally adjust the water conditions to the ducks liking.  Therefore the ducks have opted to find some other place to stay for the winter.  This year was no exception.
Florida Photography - Annual Precipitation
We were not hit with a hurricane or a heavy tropical storm this year.  So too much water flooding the impoundment and upsetting the vegetation growth should not have been an issue.  Year to Date Rainfall:  Florida Department of Aggriculture and Consumer Services – Division of Forestry There are many theories, including the construction work on the new bridge, as to what is affecting the population of the ducks on the refuge.  There may not have been enough cold weather yet to drive the ducks further south.  We may never know what really affects these environmentally sensitive creatures.

I scouted this area for ducks for the first time this year about a week ago.  I was truly disappointed.  With my trusty binoculars and camera, I circled the area by driving on the levy searching for ducks.  I only saw a few Coots, a couple of Hooded Merganser, and four Blue-wing Teal.  This was not what I was hoping for.  Last year I saw hundreds of Coots feeding in this area with many other species of ducks mixed in.  What happened to all of the ducks that were constantly in the air and on the water including the flocks of Pintails that were whistling as they circled the open water?

A cold front was going to be moving through later on in the week but I had not seen enough ducks to inspire me to get up at 3 A.M.  Even though it is only a short drive of 35 minutes to Titusville, you have to wait in the line until 4 am when all of the hunters are released into the refuge.  I would have loved to have bagged a duck or two for my bird dog, but I decided to sleep in getting up about 7am.

I grabbed my camera, the bird dog, my jacket and headed out the door to see how the hunters did this morning and speak with the biologist.  Florida Photography - Roseate SpoonbillAs I circled the area of the refuge that usually is home to lots of ducks, especially after a cold front, I noticed that there were not any hunters nor ducks in this location.   As I was finishing up my drive along the levy loop, I took a few pictures of some Wood Storks, White Ibis and then what to my wondering eyes should appear….a Roseate Spoonbill!

At first I only saw the single and was really happy to see that bird.  But then, in the corner, I hit the mother load!  It was a flock of Roseate Spoonbills and White Ibis feeding!  I slipped out of the truck and put the Florida Cracker sneak on them.  I was able to get within 10 yards, keeping the mangroves between us so as not to alarm the birds.  I took pictures of the birds feeding for about fifteen minutes, playing peek-a-boo with the morning sunlight, when all of a sudden it happened.  The birds erupted in flight!   Florida Photography - Roseate Spoonbill

My timing could not have been more perfect.  The morning glow lit up the birds perfectly against the gray clouds in the background.  My shutter speed was fast enough to freeze the action and my depth of field captured everything back to the telephone poles.  I could have photoshopped out the poles in the background but I decided to leave them in because without it the picture almost doesn’t look real.

Out of all of the bird pictures that I have taken over the years, I like this one the best.  I took this picture on December 19th, 2009.  I have blown up sections of the picture below to give the viewer a sense of what the picture will look like at full size.  I know this will make a beautiful picture hanging from my wall.

While I do not always bring my shotgun with me I always bring my camera.  You just never know when you are going to be presented with that picture opportunity of a life time.  This time everything worked out perfectly and I was extremely with the results even if the ducks did not want to cooperate.
Florida Photography - Roseate Spoonbill

Florida Photography - Roseate Spoonbill Ibis

Wayne Roth is a Native Floridian and a graduate of the University of Florida. He has a passion for outdoor activities including nature Florida photography, hunting, fishing, jogging and mountain biking. He strives to find simple, easy ways to implement little changes in his lifestyle that improve his health through exercise and proper nutrition. Then he shares his findings and adventures with the world. So get out there, keep that body in motion, feed it the right fuel, and don’t forget to bring along the camera so you can “Preserve Your Adventure”.

2 Responses to “Roseate Spoonbill – Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge”

  • Duck Buster:

    The last three years at the refuge have been bad, worse, and horrible. I do not believe that there is much effort being shown to “manage” the habitat for waterfowl anymore on the refuge. Some areas have been reconnected to the rivers and “left” that way for years without even attempting to restore the habitat for waterfowl. There has even been waterfowl fed on the sacturies to keep the waterfowl off the public areas. I went to high school on the island and can truly say that the habitat on the island is the worst I have ever seen it in 30 years of waterfowl hunting. They blame it on the lack of rainfall every year. Every year, same excuse. Masybe one day the Einsteins will wake up and realize that you do have to manage the land.

    • Wayne Roth Wayne Roth:

      Maybe with the early rain we are receiving this year there might be some duck friendly water on the island. There is always something magical about dropping in from the heavens above right to the decoys!

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