Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Merrit Island- Space Coast

Merritt Island- Titusville, Florida's offering to the sea.

The island, part of a series of barrier islands which separate land from sea, is easily accessible by a causeway and bridges. There are several offering of note, and it could easily be my favorite destination during the Space Coast Festival. You don't need an official trip to visit, and we birders flock to the island to self-guide tours of beach front, retention ponds on the interior of the island, and a excellent nature center- full of art work, a well-stocked gift shop and a birding trail winding around open water and native habitat

The first delights of the day, Painted Bunting- both male (shown above) and female in her subdued all green plumage, were enjoying the offering at the nature center's bird feeders.

The official greeting sign tells much of the story: Bald Eagles and rockets. This island is in immediate proximity to the Cape Canaveral launch pad and is completely "shut down" during space launches. The Feds maintain this wild wetlands and beachfront as a buffer to the workings of NASA. But, oh how the wildlife benefits. Were it not for this National Wildlife Refuge, the island would most likely have been turned into subdivisions and mini-malls by now.
Cruising this causeway offers many visual opportunities, from the rare Florida Scrub Jay and Armadillos, to the gatherings of these Black Vultures. Alligators are known to sun along this highway and the over look at Haulover Canal usually offers views of Manatees, but early January's record cold weather has played a death-blow to those gentle giants. I hope to dedicate an entire blog later to that topic. The beach views and gulling on this island, spectacular.

Looking over the shoulders of those vultures, and you'll see the space shuttle's fuel tanks standing upright in the launch position. This will the last flight for this shuttle, as this system which has been in use since the '80s, is being phased out.

This shuttle has entered the endless bounds of space and returned to tell the story of man's desire to understand the universe. And- some would say our folly- as we do not even yet understand the delicate balance of ecosystems on our own earth.

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