Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge,
(Black Point Wildlife Drive & Bio Lab Road)
Titusville, Florida

(posted March, 2019)

Black Point Wildlife Drive (and Bio Lab Road)
in Merritt Island NWR, Titusville, Florida

     Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is only a quick 5-mile drive outside Titusville, Florida, adjacent to the Cape Canaveral area. I went there in March, 2019 as part of a 9-day photography trip across Florida. In my reading and research of web postings by other photographers before the trip, there were two spots in the refuge that I chose to investigate - Bio Lab Road, and Black Point Wildlife Drive.

Bio Lab Road -
     Bio Lab Road is a 5-mile long one-way gravel/dirt drive that tightly follows the western edge of Mosquito Lagoon. I tell you that because you mostly cannot see the lagoon from the drive due to so much vegetation, which actually blocks both sides of the drive for almost the entire 5 miles. The drive entrance is at these GPS coordinates ( N 28.705995°    W 80.721798 ). As I said, it is a one-way drive and you can only enter from the north end, and it's a long 7-mile drive back to the entrance if you want another go at it. There is a small fee, on the honor system, to enter the drive, as with most National Wildlife Refuges. (No fee to enter the refuge itself, just certain areas like Bio Lab Road and Black Point Wildlife Drive.) The drive condition was not as good as Black Point Wildlife Drive, but was not too badly rutted or washboarded - better than many such drives in other refuges I've been to. The only issue was that I saw mostly vegetation, growing right up to the edge of the road, blocking view of everything. There were about a dozen total common variety egrets and herons in the whole 5 miles, and none of them were in a situation suitable for a decent photo. There was nothing of interest like Reddish Egrets or Spoonbills. Pretty much a disappointing experience. I cannot recommend Bio Lab Drive if your time is limited. It's better spent on Black Point Wildlife Drive.

Black Point Wildlife Drive -
Sample view of Black Point
     Black Point Wildlife Drive was a much more rewarding experience than Bio Lab Road. Like Bio Lab Road there is a fee to enter the drive. The entrance to Black Point is at these GPS coordinates ( N 28.657565°    W 80.754543 ). As you exit the drive at the end, turn right onto the highway and it's only a quick 1.3 mile trip back to the entrance again for another round. Black Point is a one-way gravel/dirt drive, and was in good condition - very few small pot holes and very little light washboarding - much better than most wildlife refuge drives I've been on. It winds back and forth among open water views and canals running right along side the drive, permitting a good view of the birds. The changing directions give opportunities for shots at one spot or another along the drive no matter the time of day or light direction. A spot that's not with the light in the morning will be better in the afternoon, and vice versa, so both morning and afternoon sessions are practical.

     These views at right and below will give you a good idea what to expect. The drive alternates between wide open-water views and canals immediately next to the drive. There were spots the birds seemed to like, and areas where I saw no activity at all. The Glossy Ibis seemed to favor the very shallow/muddy area for the first 1/3 mile on the left immediately as you enter the drive from the highway. I also found Glossy Ibis in a similar habitat next to the drive on the west side about two-thirds of the way along the drive (at about   N 28.672572    W 80.773030). Behind that spot to the west was a marsh where the Spoonbills were hanging out with Little Blue Herons and White Ibis. At that same location on the opposite side (east) of the drive were the same species, but they were more likely to be blocked by vegetation on that side.

Sample views of Black Point

Little Blue Heron with Roseate Spoonbill
at Black Point Wildlife Drive
     The most plentiful species on my visit were the Blue-winged Teal and Coots. Among the other species I photographed were adult and juvenile Little Blue Herons, Tri-colored Herons, Glossy Ibis, White Ibis, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Heron, White Pelicans, Black-necked Stilts, Coots, Roseate Spoonbills, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Common Moorhen, Anhinga, one pair of Black Ducks and even one Sora (quite the surprise). There were also random small waders/shorebirds, Cormorants, Boat-tailed Grackles and such that I didn't bother with.

Spoonbill, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis and Snowy Egret
at Black Point Wildlife Drive
     Except for the Blue-winged Teal and Coots, mosts of these species were one here, two there, and three or four in another spot. No great masses, but continual encounters as you drove along. At one point I was snapping shots of Blue-winged Teal in a canal next to the drive when a pair of bright red-billed Common Moorhen wandered into view. A rare find for me, I was happily snapping shots of them when, lo and behold, a Sora strolled out of the reeds right in front of me. That was a super rare surprise indeed.

     The last 1/3 of the wildlife drive either had nothing, or nothing of interest, so I would drive on out to the end and head back to the entrance for another go-round. As mentioned earlier, the fact that the drive winds along through the marsh means it alternates between both north-south and east-west facing vistas as you drive along, so no matter the time of day, you can manage shots with a favorable lighting direction.

     I was shooting with two 1D Mark IV's (1.3 crop factor sensor). One had a Canon 100-400mm vII zoom, and one had the Canon 500mm f/4 with 1.4xTC.

More info and photos from Black Point Wildlife Drive on my Carolina Wild Photo Blog posting.