Local Travel Book: Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge | Foxtale Photography

If you read our first travel entry, you might remember that we enjoying birding during our travels. So to start off the new year, here’s our latest travel/birding adventure. We planned a day trip to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, one of Florida’s best birding spots. It was on our last visit there, about a year ago, that we saw a Florida panther! how cool is that. Unfortunately, it ran into the brush too quickly and we were left with no proof of our sighting. With camera in hand and ready to shoot, we headed out once again hoping to get some proof this time.

We woke up at 5 a.m. on an unusually cold Florida morning and after a 2 hour drive, we finally arrived to our destination. We started off by visiting the visitor’s center. We checked out their sightings log, in which someone swore to have seen a black panther a few days ago. We set our sight on seeing our Florida panther again.  While at the visitor’s center, we saw a painted bunting. For those of you who don’t know much about birds, painted buntings are kind of a rare sight to see, so it was very exciting to say to least.

After driving through some of the trails, we went back into town to get a bite to eat. Wayne spotted this little taco place, where a lot of locals were eating and we decided to give it a try.  The tacos were pretty tasty and the place had a nice relaxed atmosphere.

After our quick lunch break, we headed back out to Merritt Island to continue our hunt for the elusive Florida panther. This time we drove through Black Point trail where you have the beach to the left of you and a canal full of gators to the right of you. One of our first animal finds was a wild boar! A surprise to see one there for sure. There was a good amount of migratory birds, beautiful landscapes and plenty of gators (my least favorite part).

During the last part of the day, we went to the manatee lookout point, hoping to see some. We didn’t see any manatees this time but we did see a kingfisher and Wayne spotted and saved a crab! The crab was about to get run over by a car when Wayne jumped in front of the car to save the crab’s life and moved it to the grassy area near the parking lot.

The weather was pretty much perfect that day, the drive was nice and relaxing, we spotted a lot of cool birds and wild chanchos. Unfortunately we did not run into that panther again. I guess we’ll have to come back and hope that we see it then.

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Richard Horton - I travel from virginia to fish merrit island nwr, over the years have spent weeks traveling back roads had stopped on bio lab road catching mullet in castnet side of road. That sectio n starts several. Sharp curves pullover on left truck parked there, was throwing net on other side. Road for10min. Looked back to truck panther 30yds from truck turned ran down road curves this was 6yr ago March around dusk panther black. Told me at refuge that I was mistaken no black cats in Florida. Could barely sleep that night know what I saw, went at daybreak to same place sat in road half hour nothing, drove through curves slowly there it goes running down road followed instatlly panther ran about75yds before leaping out of road into scrub. I have never saw again. Have been on bio lab rd many times since then this panther was dark grey black squarish jaws long tail body4ft long at least 80 lbs. I saw twice at dusk and right after sunrise next morning couldnt believe I was so fortunate. I think water on both sides road funneld panther to run on road ahead of me that morning look up on google earth Bio Lab road Merritt island nwr florida

Wayne and Lucy - We’re glad you enjoyed the post! To answer your question (as best as I can), the tail can be a giveaway as well as the size. They are considerably bigger than any other wild cat, they’re usually out more in the early morning and late afternoons, and the tails are nearly 4 or 5 times longer than a bobcat. Did you go up to the visitor’s center to check their visitor’s log? I have read in there people saying they’ve sighted them near Black Point before, but it’s so hard to know for sure without photographic proof! When we saw what we believe to be a panther, it was too quick for us to get our cameras out, in and out of the thick scrub.

A B - Thank you for the great photos of the various inhabitants of Brevard County. Having been to some of the areas pictured, it was good to read the lively descriptions, especially of the Black Point Drive area. As it happens, my husband and I went on that drive yesterday and just before we entered the gates we saw what we believe was a panther. I’m no expert but the cat we saw was bigger, had no markings and definitely had a longer tail than one would expect from a bobcat. Do you know if it is possible that we did see a panther?

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