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Birdwatching in the Cape Canaveral Florida Area

Author: Carl from Pahrump
Date of Trip: March 2010

In 2009 and 2010 we spent 6 months (Feb, March, & Dec 2009 and Jan, Feb, & March 2010) birding in various locations along the Atlantic Coast of Florida from Daytona Beach to Vero Beach. These Winter months were good for water and shore birds, but not so good for songbirds.

We saw 178 bird species at 39 locations during the Winters of 2009 & 2010:

City Birding Location Latitude Longitude Orchid Archie Carr NWR 27.783 -80.407 Port Orange Bird Park 29.144 -80.977 Fellsmere Blue Cypress Lake Park 27.727 -80.776 Titusville Blue Heron Wetland (#80) 28.539 -80.86 Titusville Canaveral NSS – Biolab Rd & Beach 28.67 -80.683 Oak Hill Canaveral NSS – Semiole Rest 28.871 -80.837 New Smyrna Beach Canaveral NSS – Playa Linda 28.858 -80.776 Titusville Chain of Lakes Rec Area 28.637 -80.822 Coco Beach Cruickshank Sanctuary 28.294 -80.707 Titusville Enchanted Forest Sanctuary 28.533 -80.802 Cocoa Fay Lake Wilderness Park 28.462 -80.834 Fellsmere Fellsmere Grade Rec Area 27.823 -80.66 Grant Fisherman’s Landing Park 27.956 -80.537 Fellsmere Fort Drum Marsh 27.633 -80.766 Titusville Fox Lake Park 28.588 -80.873 Melbourne Geiger Point 28.082 -80.595 Cocoa Kiwanis Is 28.358 -80.678 DeLeon Lake Woodruff NWR 29.107 -81.388 Coco Beach Lori Wilson Park 28.336 -80.609 Titusville Merritt Island NWR – Black Pt Loop 28.673 -80.772 Titusville Merritt Island NWR – Hunter’s Loop 28.605 -80.741 Oak Hill Merritt Island NWR – Scottsmoor Landing 28.771 -80.844 Titusville Merritt Island NWR – Shilo Rd 28.801 -80.847 Roseland N Sebastian Cons Area 27.819 -80.477 New Smyrna Beach New Smyrna Beach 29.033 -80.89 Christmas Orlando Wetlands #60 28.576 -80.999 Titusville Parrish Park (#69) 28.626 -80.791 Orchid Pelican Island NWR 27.81 -80.44 Merritt Island Pine Lake Conservation Area #82 28.49 -80.721 Ponce de Leon Ponce de Leon County Park 29.078 -80.921 Viera Rich Grissom Wetland 28.229 -80.771 Oak Hill Riverbreeze Park 28.897 -80.852 Orchid Sebastian Inlet SP 27.857 -80.451 Vero Beach South Beach Park 27.633 -80.351 New Smyrna Beach Spruce Creek 29.079 -80.968 Kenansville Three Lakes WMA FBT #103 27.911 -81.15 Ormond Beach Tomokie SP 29.349 -81.089 Fellsmere Upper St John’s River Marsh (Blue Cypress) 27.663 -80.664 Vero Beach Vero Beach Sanitary Wetlands 27.617 -80.504

If you put these coordinates into Google Earth, you can see the locations I am discussing. Typically, there will be lots of pictures as well.

We never saw more than 64-bird species on any day. The top days were at Merritt island and Canaveral National Seashore. We averaged 32 bird species a day over the 6 months

The birds seen per day was mostly influenced by where we went birding, not by the month when we went birding; i.e. Dec thru March had about the same number of bird species present. By the end of March the Ducks had left (except for a few stragglers) but the Shore Birds were still present. The Song Bird migration does not start till April.

72 bird species were very easy to find and see — in fact, it is hard to miss Ospreys anywhere near water in Brevard County. 50 bird species require some effort to see, but can usually be found at the top birding locations like Merritt Island NWR. We rarely saw 56 of the bird species — some were out of their normal range like the Ross’ Goose, some were early or late migrants, some we heard about from other birders like the Mask Duck, and sometimes you just get lucky like with the Snail Kite and Swallow-tailed Kite.

The Florida Scrub Jay is the only U.S. endemic bird in Florida. It can be easily seen before and after the entrance station to the Canaveral National Seashore (28.645 -80.683), and at the Cruickshank Sanctuary (where one landed on my head).

Lodging

We stayed in rental houses we found on www.vrbo.com. We stayed 3 months in the Sebastian area, 2 months in Titusville, and 1 month in New Smyrna Beach. Titusville is centrally located to the best birding locations.

If I was planning a short trip to this area, the high priority birding locations would be:

Merritt Island NWR – Black Pt Loop Merritt Island NWR — Hunter’s Loop Playa Linda Beach from the Titusville side Rich Grissom Wetland (Viera Wetland) Sebastian Inlet SP Ponce de Leon County Park Orlando Wetlands

You would need 3 days to minimally visit each of these locations — a week would be better. These are the kind of birding spots you can go to over-and-over again and still see something new.

For Current Information on Birds Being Seen

Go to www.ebird.org

Click on the View and Explore Data

Click on Arrivals and Departures (essentially, first seen this year & last seen this year)

You may need to Register (but its free)

Select Florida, then click Counties, and Select Brevard from the drop-down list

Select Arrivals or Departures, and the Year

Special Comments on Birding Locations:

1. Merritt Island

Birding Location Bird Count Merritt Island NWR – Black Pt Loop 102 Merritt Island NWR — Hunter’s Loop 85 Pine Lake Conservation Area #82 57 Merritt Island NWR – Scottsmoor Landing 51 Parrish Park (#69) 43 Merritt Island NWR – Shilo Rd 39

For me, Merritt Island is what I always thought the Everglades would be. I have never been disappointed birding anywhere on Merritt Island, but I have always been disappointed birding any part of the Everglades NP.

The paved Black Point Drive is the best-known part of the Merritt Island NWR and is very productive in the Winter months (Dec thru March). Many thousands of Ducks and Shore Birds winter here, especially Wigeons, Pintails, Coots, and Dunlins. A Eurasian Wigeon was regularly seen mixed in with about 2000 American Wigeons during the Winters of 2009 and 2010 (look for a Wigeon with a reddish head).

By the end of March the ducks are mostly gone, and the shore birds have mostly moved to the Hunter’s Loop.

The Hunter’s Loop can be accessed at 4 locations off the Max Brewer Parkway (SR-402). The Hunter’s Loop is not paved, but usually accessible by car. This can be a great location for shore birds and Scaups, but once we saw 146 Roseate Spoonbills here.

The Hunter’s Loop can be defined by the following grid points:

Point Lat Long Comment A 28.643 -80.729 Entrance – just past VC B 28.608 -80.728 C 28.627 -80.773 D 28.631 -80.773 E 28.633 -80.771 F 28.643 -80.767 Entrance – East Gator Road G 28.635 -80.776 H 28.637 -80.778 Entrance I 28.628 -80.787 Entrance – first right turn after crossing Indian River

In addition to the 5 mile loop from A to B to G to I; 2 short sub-loops can be very productive for Shore Birds; i.e., I to G to H, and H to G to E to F.

Parrish Park is a sand bar on the east side of the Indian River that you can’t miss on the way to Merritt Island from Titusville. It is a good place to see Black Skimmers and Lesser Scaups. A Great Black-back Gull and Common Loon are usually present along with mobs of Ring-bill Gulls.

A large flock of White Pelicans winter in the Indian River near Scottsmoor Landing. You might see them flying and feeding anywhere on Merritt Island.

Note: Merritt Island and Canaveral NSS are closed for 3 days before Shuttle launches, and during some rocket launches. Night Shuttle and Rocket launches are the most spectacular!

2. Canaveral National Seashore

Birding Location Bird Count Canaveral National Seashore – Biolab Rd & Beach (Titusville side) 100 Riverbreeze Park 46 Canaveral NSS – Playa Linda (New Smyrna side) 42 Canaveral National Seashore – Semiole Rest 22

The NSS is on Merritt island and has similar eco-systems and birds, except the NSS does not have large concentrations of Ducks.
The main birding location is Biolab Road, which runs from (28.652 -80.662) to (28.706 -80.727). I usually take the half-mile spur road that starts at (28.661 -80.671) to check for shore birds along Mosquito Lagoon. Large numbers of Snowy & Great Egrets nest in the brush along side the spur road in March. Sometime large rafts of White Pelicans can be seen on the Mosquito Lagoon.

The Playa Linda Beach, which runs from New Smyrna to Cape Canaveral, is used extensively by fishermen and nude bathers (the NPS doesn’t enforce the posted sign that says nude bathing is not allowed by Brevard County ordinance). This is a good area for Northern Gannets and common shore birds, but we did see some Wilson’s Plovers here once.

Playa Linda Beach is also a good area for finding Sea Glass and bottles that drift in from Cuba and the Caribbean. You can also find “Cheeseburgers”, “Sea Hearts” and other hard nuts that drift up from the Amazon River.

Part of the Playa Linda Beach is a wilderness area and you have to buy a $2 pass to walk there. The scenery and Sea Glass are better, but the birding is the same.

There is a Flee Market in Oak Hills on Saturday and Sunday in the Winter. Riverbreeze Park and Semiole Rest are close by.

You have to pay to enter the parts of the NSS where Playa Linda Beach is located. However, you can drive Biolab Rd free if you start at (28.706 -80.727) and go SE. Riverbreeze Park and Semiole Rest are free admission.

3. Sanitary Wetlands

Birding Location Bird Count Rich Grissom Wetland (Viera Wetland) 76 Vero Beach Sanitary Wetlands 59 Blue Heron Wetland (Titusville Ponds) #80 56 Orlando Wetlands #60 52

The Viera Wetlands attracts lots of birds along with some rare birds. A Masked Duck took up residence in Dec 2009 and stayed till Feb 2010. A pair of Crested Caracaras nest (28.228 -80.76) on the property and fledged a juvenile in March 2010. Limpkins and Least Bitterns can sometimes be seen here. We always stop at Crispers (28.231 -80.697) for Lunch when we come here (we love the Black Bean Soup and Asian Chicken Flatbread sandwich).

The Orlando Wetlands attracted Purple Gallinules in 2010 (otherwise, you had to drive to Boynton Beach in South Florida at the Green Cay Nature Center or Loxahatchee NWR to see them). A spectacular Swallow-tailed Kite is resident in the Fort Christmas area, but was also seen in May 2010 flying over residential areas in Titusville.

The Blue Heron Wetland, a.k.a. Titusville Ponds, is good for Coots, Moorhens, Red-shouldered Hawks, Anhingas, and other fairly common Florida Winter birds.

The Vero Beach Sanitary Wetlands attracts a lot of duck and shorebird species.

You can drive around the Viera Wetland (3 miles) and Titusville Ponds (3 miles). The Vero Beach Wetlands and Orlando Wetlands have extensive walking tracks.

4. Sebastian Inlet to Ft Pierce on A1A

There are a dozen beach parks on this stretch on the A1A Highway. The Sebastian Inlet SP has the most birds, and has a fishing pier into the ocean that attracts lots of Northern Gannets, gulls and terns. Once I counted 284 Northern Gannets in this area.

Birding Location Bird Count Sebastian Inlet SP 53 Archie Carr NWR 35 South Beach Park 25 Pelican Island NWR 21

5. New Smyrna Area

Birding Location Bird Count Ponce de Leon County Park 43 Bird Park 31 New Smyrna Beach 28 Spruce Creek 24

The Ponce de Leon County Park and Bird Park attract huge numbers of shore birds, gulls and terns. We once saw 54 Great Black-backed Gulls resting at Bird Park and 700 Bonaparte’s Gulls at the fishing pier at Ponce de Leon County Park. Adjacent to Ponce de Leon County Park is a beautiful red lighthouse. The Lighthouse is free, but the county park cost $5 per car for admission.

6. Titusville

Birding Location Bird Count Chain of Lakes Rec Area 45 Enchanted Forest Sanctuary 16 Fox Lake 16 Fay Lake Wilderness Park 8

Ospreys and Red-shouldered Hawks are common around Titusville. The Chain of Lakes Rec Area has a nice trail system around lakes and thru woods.

7. Indian River County Marshes

Birding Location Bird Count Upper St John’s River Marsh (Blue Cypress) 50 Blue Cypress Lake Park 41 Fellsmere Grade Rec Area 23 Fort Drum Marsh 12

These in-land areas are good for Limpkins and Snail Kites.

The Fellsmere Grade Rec Area is a gravel road. You need a boat to see much here.

8. Indian River Locations

Birding Location Bird Count N Sebastian Cons Area 49 Fisherman’s Landing Park 43 Geiger Point 20

The drive from Sebastian to Malabar on US-1 gives a great view of the west side of the Indian River. The Fisherman’s Landing Park is one of the few places you can park off the road to observe the ducks and shore birds. We once counted 9 Ospreys in this area.

9. Cocoa Area

Birding Location Bird Count Lori Wilson Park 22 Kiwanis Is 21 Cruickshank Sanctuary 11

The Lori Wilson Park is a full time dog park, but in the Spring and Fall migrating birds stop here. Ovenbirds and Painted Buntings can be found here in the Winter.

People feed the Scrub Jays at the Cruickshank Sanctuary, so they are abundant.

10. Other Locations

Birding Location Bird Count Three Lakes WMA FBT #103 58 Tomokie SP 29 Lake Woodruff NWR 35

These locations are all pretty far from Titusville. If you were staying in Kissimmee, the Three Lakes WMA FBT (site #103 on the Florida Birding Trail) would only be 36 miles South. Lake Woodruff NWR would be 67 miles North.

E-mail if you would like a file with the specific birds we saw each day.

Carl & Wilma Ball carlball@yahoo.com

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