A Trip to Viera Wetlands

It seems like every other day I hear someone talking about all the great birds they see at Viera, so today we finally went. Though we missed the Crested Caracara and the Black-bellied Whistling Duck, we did see some other pretty cool birds, including four Limpkin (a life bird for me!)

Here’s my list for the day:

Great Egret
Pied-billed Grebe
  1. Blue-winged Teal
  2. Green-winged Teal
  3. Ring-necked Duck
  4. Hooded Merganser
  5. Pied-billed Grebe
  6. Double-crested Cormorant
  7. Anhinga
  8. Great Blue Heron
  9. Great Egret
  10. Snowy Egret
  11. Little Blue Heron
  12. Tricolored Heron
  13. Cattle Egret
  14. White Ibis
  15. Glossy Ibis
  16. Wood Stork
  17. Turkey Vulture
  18. Osprey
  19. Bald Eagle
  20. Northern Harrier
  21. Common Moorhen
  22. American Coot
  23. Limpkin
  24. Sandhill Crane
  25. Foster’s Tern
  26. Belted Kingfisher
  27. Loggerhead Shrike
  28. Tree Swallow
  29. Palm Warbler
  30. Common Yellowthroat
  31. Savannah Sparrow
  32. Red-winged Blackbird
  33. Boat-tailed Grackle

Not too shabby for starting at noon and getting rained on multiple times, not to mention putting up with some pretty gusty winds. I also put together a short video with some of my pictures/videos I took today:

In case you’re interested, here’s the link to the Viera Wetlands website:
Viera Wetlands- Home

On the way home we passed this sign. Unfortunately, we were too late to discover what the PMS problem is, but it must be pretty good since this is the second part. I can’t imagine what two sermons on this topic would entail, but I’m sure it’d be enlightening. Or something like that.

A Day At the Beach

Damp sand.
Watch waves roll.
Wind pulls the ear.
Listen, it says, feel me.
Sun at my back, warm, bright.
Shorebirds scurry, fast fast probe, take flight.
Beyond the waves dolphins flash, light gray blurs.
A pelican dives, comes up empty, and tries again.
The sand is soothingly cool between my toes, firmly soft.
Why am I here, I wonder, how is my being me? 
Why this spot, this desolate stretch of shore, with seaweed and shells?
A sanderling quickly trots by, and it suddenly all doesn’t matter.
In this moment all is well, the air is clear.
I can see for miles all around except behind.
Forward changes every time I turn my head.
As the sandpiper flies, I’m already there.
Sun shows the way, reveals wonder.
Wind whispers comforts, gentle mantras.
I stand, ready now.
Direction steels conviction.
First step.
I wrote this today while I was sitting on the beach at Canaveral National Seashore, playing with words. It took me much longer than it should have because I was slightly distracted about halfway through, and it was very difficult to resume my original train of thought.
If you ever go to Canaveral National Seashore, I would not recommend visiting parking lot 5, the last parking lot from the northern entrance (Apollo Beach). Not knowing any better, I parked there. I meandered down the beach a ways, then sat down to write in my journal.
Not where I sat. I have no idea how this got out here, or what it’s from.
As I was writing, an older man walks by. I glance up and wish I hadn’t. I see his feet first, sneakers, white tube socks, and then… let’s just say there was a distinct lack of material around his nether regions. It was cold out, the breeze was pretty chilly, so he also had on a windbreaker. To keep warm.
I also happened to see said gentleman again when he came off the beach (fully clothed, thank goodness; and this was completely unintentional on my part, I was trying to avoid him) and I must say he would have been sent home from Highland Middle School—his shorts were not fingertip length.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Stop 5 is where the nudists go, because it’s out on the end. The beach stretching south is undeveloped for miles, until you get to Playalinda Beach, the part of Canaveral National Seashore nearest Merritt Island NWR. There, it’s Stop 12, the furthest parking lot north, that’s the nudist part.
I’ve been told that the beach here was traditionally a nudist beach, but when the NPS took it over there was some confrontation between nudists, NPS, and the local police. Now there is an unofficial agreement that the nudists will go to the furthest stops, and no one will bother them. However, they don’t exactly have this up on a sign, so how are we innocent tourists supposed to know this?
Nude willet: acceptable. Nude old men: not so much.
Reminds me of when I was in Oregon, and we went to a hot springs alongside a stream near the field station. The pool was slightly larger than a hot tub, barely enough room for the four of us (and, actually, not all that hot). We are all in bathing suits, I should point out. A man walks up and, in front of us, proceeds to strip and then get in with us. We were sitting in the deeper, warmer parts, so he was in the ankle-deep section. Quite suddenly we all realized we were ready to head out, and quickly did so.
My eyeballs are still burning.

You learn something new every day…

“Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn and you always will.” 
— Vernon Howard
They say you learn something new every day. Well, on Sunday my something new was learning how to shoot a handgun. It was an interesting experience. Wayne, one of the USFWS guys who works over at Headquarters took us interns (Patrick, Meghan and myself) to the shooting range, where he is a range officer, to fire off some rounds. 
Patrick, one of my fellow interns, showing off and shooting one-handed. He’s had some experience.
Prior to Sunday afternoon, my only experience with guns was of the squirt and glue variety, and that blow gun in Ecuador. Not that I would know, but it seemed to me that none of those are quite like a Beretta, though at least the blow gun had the potential to be lethal (if your dart was tipped in poison, which ours weren’t. Or so they told us…).
Meghan taking her turn. She, like me, had never fired a gun before.
Needless to say, I was slightly apprehensive about holding a real-life actual gun, let alone pulling the trigger. Burning yourself and gluing your fingers together with hot melted glue is one thing, shooting a hole in your foot quite another. However, once I figured out how to aim the thing properly, I wasn’t such a bad shot. We were shooting at metal plates, and in my final rounds I managed to hit about six in a row before my eyes would get too out-of-focus and I’d miss. And I’ll admit it, my arms got tired. It’s hard to hold your arms straight out in front of you like that for extended periods of time. 
Picture proof I actually did it!
 Though I’m probably not going to be rushing out and purchasing a gun for myself, I did enjoy the experience more than I thought I would. And, I think knowing how to handle a gun safely is an important thing to know. Knowing how to fire one safely could potentially come in handy someday, if I ever have the chance to use a tranquilizer gun perhaps. I’m sure they’re exactly like either handguns or glue guns. 
On Monday (my weekends are Sunday and Mondays) I went kayaking with some of the volunteers from the refuge: Trish, Betty, Roz, and Trish’s friend, Mary. We launched from the boat ramp near Trish’s house in Cocoa Beach and spent a morning paddling around in the mangroves and canals. It was fantastic.
Trish heading into the mangroves
Mary and Betty
 Betty loves the mangroves, and she loves to tell people about them, so the morning was not only fun but educational. She had us all lick black mangrove leaves, to taste the salt secreted on them. Surprisingly, I managed to teach her a few things too, about preen glands and how not every species of bird has them (during my research on parrot coloration I learned that some parrots and a few other birds, ostrich being one, don’t have them). We also discussed feather lice, ticks on birds (and people) and feather-degrading bacteria and fungi. You know, normal things to talk about with friends while kayaking. And, I will have you know, I did not bring up any of those subjects, I just added to the conversation. It started when we saw an anhinga preening and went from there. 
Hanging out with the volunteers is always a hoot, they’re all so interesting and such characters. I’ve long ago realized that being old is a state of mind; you’re never too old to do what you love and what gives you joy. 
Someone had anchored this plastic chair in the middle of the mangroves, probably to sit in while they fished. The water is only a few feet deep, and the chair is sunk into the muck.
And, in other non-related exciting news (but since when does anything exciting ever have to be related?) my little brother Eric was named Employee of the Month at the Enclave!!! 
I heard the news yesterday, when I called home and was told he had some news he needed to share with me. We had the usual game of 10,000 questions:
Me: “What’s your news Eric?”
Eric: [silence] 
Me: “It’s something at work?”
Eric: “Yes.”  [silence] 
Me: “Do you get to clean the toilets now?”
Eric: “No.”
Me: “Well that’s good, you don’t want to do that anyway.”
Eric: [silence] 
Me: “Come on Eric, just tell me, I want to know your news!”
Eric: [silence]
Mom: “Just tell her what it is.”
Dad: “Finish what’s in your mouth and then tell her.” (They were eating dinner when I called, and put me on speaker phone). “Stop cramming more in there and finish chewing.”
 After a few more minutes in this vein I was given the clues “I got a certificate,” “They spelled employee wrong, they forgot an l” and “But they spelled the month right.” We eventually put everything together to determine the good news. YAY Eric! I’m so proud of you!!
AND, I found his picture on the website! Here he is hard at work landscaping (I think it must have been staged, because he looks way too clean to be actually working. I’ve seen his clothes when he gets home from work). Eric is the one in the brown Brown’s hoodie, in the picture under the words “Supportive Employment.”

Greetings from Sunny Florida!

Currently, I am residing in Florida, on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I live in the bunkhouse on the refuge, sharing space with four other people. It is a great building, only a few years old, and very comfortable. As far as free housing goes, this is just about as good as it gets. My only gripe is the toilet paper dispenser. I fail to understand why putting the dispenser below the level of the toilet seat is handy. I have to bend over completely, chest touching my legs, and then reach down, hitting my hand (and the tp) on the floor, in order to get some toilet paper. As I’ve been here a month now I’ve perfected my tp grabbing skills and can usually manage to avoid it hitting the floor.
Stupid toilet-paper holder.
 I should probably now also mention that any views expressed here on my blog are my own, and in no way reflect the views of the Student Conservation Association (who placed me in this internship), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (who my internship is with), or NASA. I shall now refrain from making a comment regarding the government and the toilet paper holder placement.
The Vehicle Assembly Building. It’s so tall that when they first built it clouds formed at the ceiling, they had to install fans. I think they used to assemble space shuttles and rockets in there.
Some weird golf-ball thingie, there might be some kind of radar or satellite in there, I’m not sure.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a unique place, and one that I am finding myself to enjoy more than I thought I would (I mean, it’s Florida and flat, no mountains, but the awesome birds here make up for it). Originally the 140,000 acres of the refuge were bought up by NASA for the Kennedy Space Center, the majority of the land as a buffer zone around the NASA buildings and launch pads. Eventually U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Park Service got involved and turned the rest of the land into Merritt Island NWR and Canaveral National Seashore, which encompasses seven different habitat types: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes and estuaries (that’s two), freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks, all of which contain copious mosquitoes (to which I can personally attest). Canaveral National Seashore is part of the longest stretch of undeveloped beach in Florida, stretching 24 miles down the eastern coast. These areas are home for over 1,500 species of plants and animals, including 15 Threatened or Endangered species. “With an excellent long-term working relationship among NASA, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, this unique area is a shining example of how nature and technology can peacefully co-exist.” (from the Merritt Island NWR website, which I recommend for further details on the history of MINWR).
And they mean it too. The guard at the pass booth has a gun, I hear. I wouldn’t know, I’m not authorized to go on NASA property yet.
Sunset from one of the impoundment roads
I am a Public Use Intern, which means I work at the Visitor Center, sometimes helping with school groups, sometimes manning the front desk and showing people where to go to see roseate spoonbills, and sometimes doing fun intern stuff like organizing filing cabinets. Whenever I get too over-stimulated by the filing I go play with Buddy, my supervisor’s pet red rat snake. I’m currently working on a presentation about red rat snakes, so I’m sure pictures and more information will be coming soon. I also get to help with the Eagle Watch, where we set up spotting scopes on a bald eagle nest and show visitors the eaglets jumping around. Pictures of that are also forthcoming.
Two great egrets
One of the roughly 5,000 gators on the refuge. This guy (or gal) is probably about 10ft long.
A northern mockingbird reading one of the signs along Black Point Wildlife Drive. The birds here are smart!
Merritt Island is a wonderful place, especially for birds. The birding is fantastic—I’ve been here a month now and still haven’t seen everything I’d like to or gotten bored. Just today at the feeders behind the Visitor Center we had painted buntings and a white-winged dove. You know you work somewhere cool when you can casually glance out the window and see painted buntings all day.
Painted buntings, male (on left) and female (on right). There are three pairs that frequent our feeders.
I am very much looking forward to my next two months here, getting to experience and know this amazing place!