Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore, located on Florida’s Atlantic coast just east of Orlando and Titusville, are separate sites that share a common boundary (Route 402) and a common bond. Though each is distinct -- the former is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the latter by the National Park Service -- it is difficult to visit either without visiting both. Both are birding hot spots, especially during winter and spring migrations. At least 310 bird species have been identified in the area, including 27 kinds of wintering shorebirds, and concentrations of winter waterfowl sometimes exceed 100,000 individuals. Small flocks of Florida Scrub Jays can be spotted along the scrubby roadsides between the visitor center and Playalinda Beach. Plants, too, are plentiful: approximately 1,050 species of plants, including coastal Beach Sunflowers and Sea Daisies, have been identified at the two sites.
Leading off Route 406 just northwest of the visitor center, 6-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive meanders through flatwoods and impounded marsh, affording excellent views of wildlife. This is the best place to see large concentrations of waterfowl and shorebirds in winter, Roseate Spoonbills and Black-necked Stilts in summer, and herons, ibises, and egrets year-round. Alligators are also common. The turnoff for the 5-mile Cruickshank Trail, named for the wildlife photographer, writer, and naturalist who helped establish the refuge, is located about halfway around the drive. The trail encircles a picturesque marsh and includes an observation tower and a blind for photographers.
Located off Route 402 about a mile east of the visitor center, the 1/2-mile Oak Hammock and 2-mile Palm Hammock Trails trails pass through typical coastal oak-palm hammocks. Situated at the eastern end of Route 402, Playalinda Beach is a popular spot for swimmers and sunbathers. The undeveloped beach (as well as others within the confines of the seashore) is known as a nesting site for marine turtles such as Loggerheads and Green Turtles during the summer. Females arrive at night, lumber up the beach to the edge of the dune line, scratch out a nest cavity in the sand, lay their eggs, then return to the ocean.
North of Playalinda Beach and accessible only by foot, bicycle, or horseback (in deference to sea turtles, horses are allowed only from November 1 to April 30), this is one of the longest stretches of undeveloped beach on Florida’s eastern coast. The trail that follows behind the dune is good birding territory. Backcountry camping (by permit only) is allowed on parts of the beach during winter and early spring.
Mosquito Lagoon, an inland waterway some 20 miles long, is lined with mangroves and dotted with small, sometimes marshy islands. Canoes can be launched just north of Turtle Mound Trail.
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