One of the more beautiful birds at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is the Florida Scrub Jay. They have gorgeaus sky blue heads, backs, wings and tails. Found only in Florida, the Florida Scrub Jay lives in a special habitat of open oak and sand pine scrub habitat. That type of habitat is easy to develop and little is left of it in Florida, so the jays population is declining. Luckily, Merritt Island NWR still has some protected habitat for these birds.
Scrub Jays are very territorial and live in a family groups throughout the year on a fixed territory. The young of the previous year stay and help with territorial defense and feeding of nestlings.
If you stop in the right habitat at the refuge, the jays may come out and are relatively tame. It was a thrill to be able to see and photograph these handsome birds up close. Look at the short wings! Possibly that way because they are permanent residents and don't need long wings to aid in long distance migration.
This one is color banded, see the red and blue and yellow bands on its legs. Scientists color band birds these birds so they can continue to study closely and monitor the Florida Scrub Jay populations because they are declining.
Along the Black Point Wildlife Drive the birding was great and it was easy to pull over and scan the marshes and water areas.
There were so many ducks! At one point we saw a distant pond full of hundreds of Northern Shovelers and Northern Pintails, out of camera range but nicely viewed through our Stokes Sandpiper birding scope. This male Shoveler was relatively closer to the road and within range of my Canon 500 mm IS lens with a 2 x teleconverter, which was needed at this refuge. What a huge bill and small head he has.
This elegant female Pintail was resting and obligingly stretched her wing, ballerina-like while I was photographing her. I love it when that happens!
Blue-winged Teal were plentiful. The male, with his half-moon marking next to the bill, is easy to ID,
Female Blue-winged Teal are a challenge to ID, as are many female ducks. Their subtle colors help camouflage them on the nest, but don't help birders tell them apart. Note the pale mark at the base of her bill and her relatively long bill.
Here's a pair of Green-winged Teal, the cinnamon-headed male on the left. The female on the right can be told from the female Blue-winged Teal by her relatively shorter bill, no light mark next to the bill. Also note the light beige patch at the side of the base of her tail. That is often visible from the side and a help in sorting out the Blue-winged vs. Green-winged Teal female challenge so many birders have trouble with.
Merritt Island was truly spectacular. Wish we were back there now instead of in New England record cold.
Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2007