It was a windy, cloudy Saturday when my wife Lisa and I decided to visit the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, but we had a goal in mind: Try to see a Painted Bunting.
Lisa has wanted to see one of these colorful little birds ever since she saw a photo it. I saw my first one back in early February at the Orlando Wetlands Park.
The lighting was bad, my camera settings were a mess and the bird was obscured by a tree, but I did get some photos of it. Still, I wanted another shot to photograph this gorgeous little bird.
The wildlife refuge’s Visitor Center has a bird feeder where Painted Buntings sometimes visit. This would be our second attempt to spot one there — our first being thwarted when we didn’t realize the visitor center was closed on Sundays and Mondays.
When we arrived at the visitor center on Saturday we quickly made our way to the feeder area, and guess what was there waiting for us? If you guessed a Painted Bunting … you would be wrong.
It was a squirrel. Yes, the bane of our backyard birdfeeders apparently is also a problem at the wildlife refuge.
After the squirrel finally left, we decided to wait to see if a Bunting would show up. We gave up after about 10 minutes.
But as we started to walk away, Lisa spied something in the nearby brush.
I thought it was reddish leaf, but no. There it was – she had spotted her first Painted Bunting. It was only around for a few seconds before flying away, but I was able to take a few photos. Again, it was obscured by a branch, but it’s still a pretty bird.
After that success, we went on to visit the nearby Black Point Wildlife Drive. My goal here was to to see a Reddish Egret, a funny looking bird with a black and pink bill.
We got to check that goal off the list too as we quickly spotted one. It was pretty far away, but we got to watch this Reddish Egret dance across the marsh while grabbing little fish along the way.
I also got to see another first-time bird for me – a Double-crested Cormorant (without displaying its crests, unfortunately). We also saw lots of Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, some American Avocets, some Osprey nesting and a cool little butterfly called a Dainty Sulphur.
As we were leaving, we came across what I think is a young Little Blue Heron, looking very regal in white-marbled coloring while he fished along a dark-water canal.
The weather may not have been great, but the bird watching was pretty good.
Here’s a gallery of what we saw. Double-click on the image to start the gallery and use the buttons at the top to move from photo to photo.