Day Trip to Middle Florida

Wow…2 weeks since my last post but first I was waiting on our second day trip and then I had to wait on Neil and Connie to finish selecting the images (out of 1200 or so) to process and then Neil to process them.

I know that if you listen to the news you think that the COVID is killing everybody and I’m in no way trivializing the 500,000 or whatever the number is up to deaths…but they’re still pretty few and far between on a national scale. We received word this week that Tom Hanneke…a fellow naval officer that Neil served with at his last duty station at the Naval Security Group and who Neil organized the retirement ceremony for has passed away. Tom and his wife Pam retired to Missouri and they visited us over in Seminole Campground back in the mid 20teens while they were down here for baseball spring training games…and we had plans to visit them on our trip across US-50 the first time but by the time we got to actually making the trip we started in the middle instead of the east coast and thus didn’t pass near their home so we didn’t get to see them. Both Tom and Pam came down with the COVID late last year and while she recovered he passed away on Jan 2. He was actually 6 years older than Connie and Neil are and had been having some health issues the past few years but it just goes to show you that you never know how sick you will get with this disease. His photography friend Steve…who is 10-15 years or so younger, doesn’t smoke/drink/have health issues and hikes a lot as he is a wildlife photographer also came down with it and ended up in the ICU  this week with pneumonia as a result of the COVID but at this point he appears to be improving and out of the woods. So…keep masking up and social distancing as well as you can and get vaccinated when you can.

As I previously stated…we had a trip planned late last week up to middle/northern Florida to visit a couple of wildlife sanctuaries and go on their wildlife drives…it’s the mating season and that means the waterfowl have all their breeding plumage to attract the ladies…and the men for the female birds…so this is the prime time to see them in all their glory. In addition…our first stop is a prime rookery for the Reddish Egrets and we wanted to see them.

In light of the social distancing recommendations…we kept masked up whenever we were inside or around other people and ate dinner one night on the dock near Merritt Island and the second night picked up a pizza and ate in the hotel room. Hotels are pretty well sanitized daily and we stayed well away from people. After packing up Sporty Red with camera gear, a suitcase with a couple changes of clothes, and some snacks and beer we headed out mid morning last Wednesday for the 230 mile trip up through Arcadia then over to Fort Pierce then north on I-95. We got to the hotel, checked in, and headed out to the Pier 220 Seafood and Grill arriving there a bit before 1700 to beat the rush. We picked a table out on the dock and ordered a couple brews then had smoked mackerel dip followed by a bowl of clam chowder for Connie and cocoanut shrimp for Neil. All was great and we headed home stuffed then watched TV until bedtime…which came early as we had a mission.

The view from our table.

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We hauled Kara and Li’l Gunther along with us and took their picture alongside the remains of the smoked mackerel dip.

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One interesting note was that we heard this lady behind us who both looked like and sounded like Elizabeth from the show Swamp People. She’s a gator hunting lady down there and this woman really looked/sounded just like she does…we asked and she turned out to be from Tennessee.

We needed to arrive at the Merritt Island NWR for their Black Point Wildlife Drive by 0700 when the sun came up…and had some pastry we bought the night before along with coffee for breakfast before heading out.

We got to the NWR on time, rigged up our cameras for the morning’s activities, and set out on the drive which was mostly along a packed shell road through the marsh on the northern end of Merritt Island…the southern end is occupied by the Kennedy Space Center and the NWR is closed on launch days. We could see the huge Vehicle Assembly Building on the drive across the causeway to the island but no rockets were out on any of the pads that we could see.

On to the pictures…I’ll just label each species the first time they’re shown and leave it to ya to figger out the later ones.

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Tricolor Heron…white chest is the key…although this one is bluer than most and we thought it was a Little Blue Heron at first.

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Little Blue Heron.

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Moorhen also known as Purple Gallinule.

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Tricolor Heron again…this one is more typical in coloration.

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Little Blue Heron in mating plumage…although for him it’s just more red neck feathers than anything really spectacular.

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Snowy Egrets…black bill and legs and golden feet. We’ve never seen them flying in a group before…and they were far and away the most common heron species act this NWR after the small floating birds.

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Glossy Ibis…beak that turns down and brown coloration with the iridescent wings.

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Blue Winged Teals.

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Reddish Egret…mostly grayish with red neck and breast and the pinkish bill during mating season. This and the following photo of another pair were the closest we saw though…they’re relatively uncommon and a close up just wasn’t in our day.

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Male Anhinga.

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We had a hard time with this one…beak and leg colors say it’s a Great Egret but It was pretty small and the beak is too short…and all of the other white herons (immature Little Blue and Cattle Egret) didn’t match the coloration either.

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Greater Yellowlegs for the obvious reason.

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White Pelican.

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Close up Snowy Egret. The breast, back of the neck, and tail fluffy feathers are the breeding plumage and were the reason this species got pretty rare for awhile back in the “women always wear fancy hats” days.

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Great Blue Heron…sleeping on one leg.

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More Blue Winged Teals…female in the front and male behind.

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Snowy Egrets again.

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Female Anhinga…they have the brown neck.

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Red Winged Blackbird.

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Little Green Heron.

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Connie got a close up with her Z50…we continue to be amazed by the improvements in the autofocus algorithm as compared to our older bodies and she’s really happy to have a long enough lens to actually get bird closeups.

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After the drive at Merritt Island we headed west for our second hotel stop near Lake Apopka northwest of Orlando and stopped by the Orlando Wetlands Park on the way for lunch and a walk around the wetlands.

Mated pair of Sandhill Cranes.

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Great Egret out in the marsh.

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Moorhens and American Coot (white beak).

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We got to the hotel mid afternoon and after a nap Neil went out and picked up a pizza for dinner then we did the TV/early bedtime thing again as we had another date with the dawn. Our second drive was along the north shore of Lake Apopka…again on a crushed shell road along the top of the dikes that control the water level in the marshes.

Great Egret with mating plumage…yellow beak, long neck, and black legs are the key…same but with yellow/greenish legs would be the Great White Heron.

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Black Crowned Night Heron…images like this is why you pay $3,500 for a prime lens Nikon telephoto…almost all of these that Neil took were using that (his new bird lens) and it’s a joy to use compared to the old bird lens as it’s hand holdable where his old Tamron zoom just wasn’t. This fella was across the canal sitting there and couldn’t be bothered with people.

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Connie also got a shot with her Z50.

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Snowy with breeding plumage again.

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We didn’t have a rooster to crow but this Great Blue Heron took care of it anyway.

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They both got a shot of this Snowy Egret in Flight…but his didn’t turn out. He had the wrong autofocus mode selected (single point instead of group so the bird wasn’t in focus but he did get an excellently focused shot of the water drops coming off the feet as it took flight) and also too slow a shutter speed so the Bir was blurry.

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It almost looks like this Great Blue Heron is sneaking up on the Moorhen for breakfast but they don’t eat birds as far as we know.

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Blue Winged Teal again…key is the white strip in front of the eye and (usually) the blue wing tip at the rear although the latter isn’t visible on this one.

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White Ibis.

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Little Blue Heron in flight…again Connie got the shot but she took it out the passenger window and Neil was blocked.

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Little Blue Heron on the nest.

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Great Blue Heron…relatively small amount of breeding plumage compared to some other species.

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Ibis flock.

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Double Crested Cormorant. Hooked beak and green eyes.

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Belted Kingfisher…this is a female since it doesn’t have the orange tinted belt across it’s waist. Also one of the hardest birds to get a decent photo of as (a) they are small and (b) they usually don’t stay still very long as it’s a very skittish species. This one stayed still for about 10 seconds after we stopped but Neil was able to get a dozen or so shots as it perched then flew off.

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Really big gator…probably 11 or 12 feet.

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After the gator…we were mostly in farmland areas the last 4 miles or so of the drive then on back country roads for an hour as we made our way back to I-75 for the trip home.

We didn’t do much last weekend as Connie was feeling poorly but did go down this week for her to get her nails done…Neil took advantage of the eagle nest across the street from the nail place to get a few pictures from our local eagle nest where both both eaglets are doing well and growing.

Harriet (mom) on guard duty at the nest while M15 (dad) is out hunting. The eaglets aren’t big enough yet to not be owl breakfast so one of the adults will remain on/near the nest until they get closer to fledging size.

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Great Egret that flew overhead…not a super great photo but Neil liked the way the afternoon sun is coming though the wings.

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Dad arriving with some chow for the kids…unfortunately with the way the wind was blowing and the fact that most birds land and take off upwind brought him in from the worst possible direction so no real clear shot of him today.

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After a brief conversation Harriet headed off for her hunting turn.

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While M15 hopped up on the branch for guard duty. His tail feathers are more rounded as you can see in this photo as compared to Harriet’s in the ones above.

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All of that action happened in the last 10 minutes or so of the 90 he spent there. After he got these shots he noticed the time and figured it was about time to pack up and go pick up Connie…she called as he was crossing the street and after picking her up they stopped at Winn Dixie to get a few things.

Our friends Bill and Linda will be here next Wednesday for 2 nights…they’ve both been vaccinated and Neil and Connie have both had COVID and will get their second shot early next week so we’ll have a nice visit with them before they head back to NC.

Interesting things found on the net…just a couple since this is already pretty image intensive.

You can’t actually see the Andromeda Galaxy (our closest neighbor galaxy) with the naked eye because it’s too dim…but if you could this is how big it would appear.


Excellent instructions…it’s either lawyerspeak or the pizza is pretty bad.


Safety Violation.



About Gunther

The full time RV travels and experiences of Gunther the Bear and Kara the Dog…along with their human staff neil and Connie.
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