The trip from Columbus to Titusville, Florida, took 15 hours. I had a hard time falling asleep in the van until about 5AM, and then had to keep myself awake once it became light enough to see and start seeing birds. My first life bird of the trip came at about 7:30 AM, a Swallow-Tailed Kite.
We arrived at the house of a former Ohio resident and birder who graciously volunteered to lead us around the area and hit the hot spots, such as Merritt Island NWR and Viera Wetlands. On the way to his house, I added White Ibis and Eurasian Collared-Dove to the life list. So far, a productive day, and as it would turn out, the most productive in terms of adding numbers to my life list, with ten life birds.
After a breakfast of coffee and donuts at our guide's house, it was off to Merritt Island, with a brief stop for Black Skimmers (yet another life bird) and Least Terns. One thing I noted was the high density of Osprey nests in the Titusville area - it seemed like there was one everywhere you looked.
Merritt Island was incredible. Wading birds everywhere you looked - White Ibis, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Reddish Egret (another lifer), Tri-colored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron and Glossy Ibis abounded. Other great birds were present, including Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills (yes, another lifer). In addition, shorebirds were present in decent numbers, including Black-necked Stilts, Short-billed Dowitchers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Stilt Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeer, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover and White-rumped Sandpiper. Ducks were not too common, but did include Mottled Duck (a lifer), Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, and Red-breasted Merganser.
Florida Scrub-Jays were fairly easy to find, and seemed acclimated to humans. Other perching birds were in short supply, however, and limited to Loggerhead Shrikes, Boat-tailed Grackles, Blue Jays, Eastern Towhee, Red-winged Blackbird, and a few others, such as Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. A nice find was a singing Sedge Wren, as well.
Manatee, Merritt Island
Other birds of note included Northern Bobwhite, Common Ground-Dove, and Red-shouldered Hawk. We also got to see a manatee at a little marina and a gopher tortoise, nice bonus animals.
Mottled Duck, Viera Wetlands
After a morning at Merritt Island, we had a nice lunch and proceeded to West Cocoa Beach, where I added Black-Bellied Whistling Duck to my life list, and then onto Viera Wetlands, a wetland constructed as part of a waste water treatment plant, and a nice one, too. Here we had a lot more Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Sandhill Cranes, the now-usual gang of waders, Common Moorhen, and my life Least Bittern! We also had Purple Gallinule and Black-Crowned Night Heron here, and in the cattle ranching area accessible by a dirt road, we had Northern Harrier and Red-tailed Hawks, along with a Limpkin and white-morph Short-tailed Hawk, neither of which I got a look at here.
Loggerhead Shrike, Viera Wetlands
We then bade farewell to our guide and headed southwest to St. Cloud, in search of a hotel and Limpkins. We did find a decent hotel, but no Limpkins yet. We all turned in early, anticipating the first target bird of the next day: Short-tailed Hawk!