In January, the weather can be bit chilly even by Northern standards. But if you want to enjoy 2014 by doing something a little different, then take a trip to Merritt Island for some bird and wildlife watching. The Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival is set for January 22-27 with several viewing opportunities and events taking place in Merritt Island. (SpaceCoastBirdingAndWildlifeFestival.org)
Merritt Island is home to more than 330 recorded species of birds. The world-renowned seven-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive gives you an opportunity to see wading birds and shorebirds while driving in your car – slowly, of course. If you want to get out and stretch your legs a bit, there are seven different hiking trails with great observation platforms to give you even better views of Florida Scrub-Jays, Dickcissels, Townsend’s Warblers and more.
January is also a great time to say hello to our state marine mammal the manatee.
Haulover Canal is a good place to see these friendly floating “sea cows.” Able to eat up to 200 pounds of sea vegetation a day, manatees gather around warm water areas throughout Florida in spring months. Park officials at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge say manatees have been spotted here in the winter too.
Bald Eagles are also known to nest here, laying eggs in December and January. With nests up to six-feet across – the largest in the whole bird kingdom – viewing a pair tending to their clutch is quite a treat. Bring the kids, bring binoculars and wear warm clothing to enjoy this part of the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail.
After you’re done outdoors, make your way to Barking Gecko Grill on Courtenay Parkway in the heart of Merritt Island. There you’ll find family dining, including breakfast all day, and a homey atmosphere. The menu is full of things like burgers, salads, wraps, and even scrapple (a traditional Mid-Atlantic pork and cornmeal loaf.) It’s a perfect way to end a day enjoying the great outdoors.