I like the last week of December. The stress of the Christmas season is winding down. The resolutions of the new year have not yet begun. It’s a good time to slow down, reflect, and revisit memories.
One of my favorite December memories took place during a trip I made to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Located near the Kennedy Space Center, the refuge was established for the protection of migratory birds. Fifteen hundred different species of plants and animals inhabit this wilderness of 140,000 acres. The land features coastal dunes, marshes, scrub pines, and hardwood hammocks.
The best time to visit Merritt Island is in the winter. If you drive on the Black Point Wildlife Drive you can see waterfowl, wading birds, alligators, bobcats, snakes, and raptors. The drive is seven miles one way. Make sure you have gas in your tank, and plenty of time to explore. We got out of the car frequently to photograph the locals.
The refuge features several hiking trails. My favorite is the Pine Flatwoods Trail. It’s a mile round trip through a rare community of oak scrubs. This area is home to the threatened Florida Scrub-Jay. Their survival is threatened due to a loss of habitat. Fewer than eight thousand Scrub-Jays remain in the world.
Scrub-Jays can become hand-tame if they have contact with people. A fellow hiker shared that once we found a family of Scrub-Jays, we should stand still with our arms outstretched and see what happens. About half way through the hike, I came across a bunch of scrubby looking plants. Sitting on top of a branch was a pretty blue bird. That’s it, I thought, the Florida Scrub-Jay!
I signaled the rest of my family members to freeze. We looked at the grass around our feet and saw several peanut shells laying on the ground. Someone clearly had been feeding the birds, but we didn’t want to actually feed the wildlife. (It’s against the rules.) Still, we were very curious about the rumors we’d heard.
I whispered to my son, “Let’s stand with our arms outstretched to see what might happen.” As an extra enticement, we put an empty peanut shell in each palm. Wow! I was amazed. The Scrub-Jays didn’t hesitate to light on our palms. One even sat on my son’s head!
Each Scrub-Jay didn’t sit for long. It was clear to them that we didn’t really have any food. My husband shot this amazing photo of a Scrub-Jay leaving my hand. I laugh every time I look at it.
Fellow Floridians, we live in a unique state with more to explore than the space between Mickey’s ears. If you are interested, visit Merritt Island and see the real Florida.