Birding began around the motel where we found some common North American species: Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Mourning Dove and the familiar Eurasian Collared-dove. Flying overhead we had Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls, Least Tern, Brown Pelican and Chimney Swift.
Our main birding location today was a short drive north to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Our first location was Black Point Wildlife Drive, which is a loop around lakes and marshlands, and this got us off to a good start. Waterbirds were much in evidence with Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Glossy and White Ibises, Reddish, Great and Snowy Egrets, Little Blue and Great Blue Herons and Roseate Spoonbill. Ospreys were common and we found a fine Bald Eagle perched on top of a telegraph pole. Various small pools in the marshlands added Sora Rail, American Coot, Common Moorhen, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Black-necked Stilt, whilst Eastern Meadowlarks sang from atop bushes and both Turkey and American Black Vultures soared overhead. A walk gave us good views of Eastern Kingbird, Boat-tailed Grackle, Pied-billed Grebe, Least Sandpiper, Willet and Killdeer, whilst continuing on to some open water we added Spotted Sandpiper feeding along the shore, together with Gull-billed, Forster's and Caspian Terns over the lake. Adjacent bushes held Loggerhead Shrike, three Savannah Sparrows and two Swamp Sparrows, whilst another small pool had a flock of eight Stilt Sandpipers. Further along, we found a superb male Indigo Bunting, a Gray Catbird and a Common Yellowthroat. Back on the road, we stopped to watch a Northern Harrier flying past and a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers at their nest hole, then a Red-tailed Hawk flew over, quickly followed by 60+ American White Pelicans. On the edge of another lake a Least Bittern was found and we had good views of a calling Fish Crow, plus Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone and a Red-breasted Merganser.
A stop in a small town for lunch didn't stop the birding and we all enjoyed both Cooper's and Red-shouldered Hawk as we stood in a carpark! After lunch, we stopped at some large, shallow lakes that contained flocks of birds. The first lake held about 240 Lesser Yellowlegs, two Short-billed Dowitchers and a Least Sandpiper, whilst another had a lone male Lesser Scaup. As we watched the scaup, three American White Pelicans and a Bald Eagle flew over. A flock on a sandy island in another lake comprised about 100 Black Skimmers and a few Caspian Terns. Our next stop was a mile or so away from the huge NASA space shuttle buildings. This area is much drier than the areas we had previously birded so, consequently, there were new birds for us: five Common Ground-doves, a migrant Bobolink, a Downy Woodpecker and the one truly endemic species of Florida, Florida Scrub-jay.
The final stop of the day was at Lori Wilson Park, just south of Cocoa Beach. We had time for a short check of the birds over the sea and picked up at least 20 Northern Gannets in varying plumages, Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls and Royal and Caspian Terns. In a wooded area we picked up a female American Redstart. All-in-all, an excellent start to the trip, with one of the Florida specialities we wanted already on the list.