Friday, September 11, 2015

Hunting for Manatees and Alligators

While taking the bus tour at the Kennedy Space Center, our guide mentioned that the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge had a great viewing place for seeing manatee and alligators.  I so enjoy watching wildlife in their natural habitats, so we headed out to the refuge to see what we could see.

When the Kennedy Space Center was build, most of the 140,000 acres of land it acquired were not needed.  In 1963 the refuge was established by the Fish and Wildlife Service and today is managed by the Department of Interior.  It has largely been left in its natural state to provide a habitat for multitudes of  birds and wildlife, although the water levels are managed to provide an optimal environment for perpetuation of the species that call the refuge home.

The visitor center includes a raised, meandering walkway, allowing the visitor to walk through what would otherwise be almost impenetrable growth.  Different palms, trees and flowers were labeled, putting names to many species I'd seen but couldn't identify as well as things I'd never seen before.

The nature walk

Views from the walkway
It was so dense and there were so many creepy, crawly things about that I would never have gotten up close like this without the raised walkway.

Cabbage Palm

Giant Leather Fern

American Beautyberry
Since it said animals foraged on this berry, I had to try it.  Pretty, but no taste and I'm not dead yet!

After taking the walk - as hot and humid as it was, it was surprisingly cool in the "jungle" - we went to find the manatee.  We found them in a little cove that had a boat dock.  The boats coming in and out would cause them to move around, but they seemed used to the activity. My photography skills weren't good enough to capture one coming out of the water, but they were there and we spent a good half hour or so watching them.

Lots of different boats came in and out of the dock.

If you look closely, you can see the nose of a manatee.

Next came the search for the alligators.  The refuge has a 5 or 6 mile drive, called Black Point Drive, that wanders through the wetlands and grasslands and, driven slowly with plenty of stop and go, has plenty of opportunity to see wildlife.

We saw many different types of birds and ducks

But, try as we might, no alligators!  I was disappointed, but we have a few more weeks of being in Florida, so I'm still hopeful!

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a place to which a person could return many, many times and see something different each time.  A short walk and a bit longer drive gave us a taste of the place, though, and it was time well spent.

Until next time...

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