Monday, March 10, 2008

Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge -- The Invisible Brown Bear

Can you see the invisible brown bear off in the distance?

I spent a pleasant afternoon driving through the Black Point Loop of the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge the other day. It’s one of my favorite places… lots of wildlife and always a few surprises. With my camera at the ready, I meandered along the one-lane dirt road, stopping when I came to something interesting or when I would come upon a slow-moving car.

The road is lined with wetlands on each side, and within the rivers and ponds are islands loaded with birds and all manner of wildlife. On my first visit to the refuge, I saw a huge alligator and I was hoping to repeat that sighting.

It was a big wildlife day for me. Not only did I see one alligator, but I saw three: a large one – about ten feet; a medium-size one – about 6 feet; and a small one. Plenty of wading birds were on hand. In addition, there was a pair of juvenile Eagles in a nest. I couldn’t get close enough to take pictures of them, but a man with a scope offered to let me take a look.

I had one non-sighting on this trip. I’m still a little peeved about it. An SUV was stopped ahead of me. The passengers, a man and a woman, were looking at something in the brush off to the left. There was just enough room for me to carefully pull up beside them without sliding into the wetland. So, I inched up to their window and asked them what they were watching. They said they had spotted a brown bear in the brush. Quickly, I pulled ahead of them and stopped. I looked where they seemed to be looking – nothing.

A couple minutes later, another SUV pulled up beside me. I told them that the SUV behind me had spotted a bear. They started to pull ahead of me and I heard the driver say, “There he goes,” as he pointed ahead but still to the left. I looked where he seemed to have pointed – nothing.

I watched for a while but finally gave up and resumed my slow drive around the loop. When I came to SUV again, I pulled up beside it and the man said, “Did you see the bear?”

“No,” I said.

“I’m surprised you missed him,” he said. “He crossed the road right in front of us.”

I tried to smile. I knew it was forced. For the rest of the loop, I was on the lookout for that pesky bear – nothing. I could only conclude that it was an invisible bear…