Just ahead, partially obscured by the roadside vegetation I saw this head of a bird pointing up toward the sky, brown, with some white striped markings including one crossing its eye, an American Bittern. I had never photographed one before. In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever even seen one. It was right by the berm, motionless, but I could tell that if I drove any closer I was going to spook it and there was no getting out of the car. That would surely ruin my chance. I had to take a shot now. Unfortunately with the angle I had I was going to get either the passenger side rear view mirror or the frame of the windshield in the shot. I took a chance and inched the car forward until I could shoot between the two. I was lucky. He held his position just long enough for one clear shot. At the sound of the shutter, he slowly and silently crept across the shoreline weeds into the reeds just offshore. He then found what he felt was a secure hiding place and froze, providing me one more shot of just his head. These birds are fairly common, yet are rarely seen as they are known to be very secretive blend in well with their habitats. They are more often heard, having a call that has been described as a “congested pump”. They are in the Heron family and are usually most active at dusk. I had already photographed Black Gallinules, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Double Crested Cormorants, Mottled Ducks, American Coots, and one Alligator, and this was a slow day.
The unusual thing was, I was not in some far off swamp along Florida’s St. Johns River in my kayak. I was in of all places, a sewage treatment plant, specifically the City of Titusville’s Blue Heron Water Reclamation Facility.
The City of Titusville, in creating the Blue Heron Facility for the treatment of waste-water, including a 300 acre engineered wetlands have also created a birding and wildlife photography hot-spot. The wetland is divided into seven cells: one pond cell, three deep marsh cells, and three shallow marsh cells, with the water levels of each cell managed to provide optimal conditions for the target vegetation types to treat the waste-water through biological processes. The cells are separated by berms while a perimeter berm surrounds the entire wetlands. The perimeter berm can be driven, biked or hiked in a counter- clockwise direction while the inner berms separating the individual cells can be walked. By virtue of various cells hosting different vegetative communities attracting different wildlife species this area attracts a huge diversity of bird species providing a tremendous opportunity for birders to add to their “Life Lists” while photographers can add additional species to their portfolios. The ability to shoot from a vehicle is also a tremendous asset as vehicles make great photo blinds. Be sure to stop at the office and sign out when leaving, while a logbook is also available for visitors to record unique sightings. Over 100 species have been recorded here and the wetlands are listed as a stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail. The highest bird species diversities will occur during the fall and spring migrations with many species spending the entire winter here. However, even though the diversity decreases during the warmer months, the residents here including Sandhill Cranes, many Heron and Egret species, and others use these wetlands for breeding and rearing their young, provide great photo opportunities. For birders visiting the Central Florida Area, these wetlands are a must see. Alligators, Otters, and even the occasional deer.
When to go: The Gates to the Blue heron Wetlands open at 7:00 AM and close at 3:30 PM, Monday through Friday. They do not leave the gates open on weekends as there is usually only one employee on site, but you can still visit.
To visit the wetlands on a weekend, call 321-383-5642 the Friday before and let them know what to you would like to arrive. The attendant will be sure to open the gate shortly before your scheduled time. Carry the above phone number with you in case you are running late to let them know. They will reschedule your time. It is asked that all visitors sign in at the office upon arrival and sign out when you leave. They also have a book for you to record any unusual sightings.
The Blue Heron Water Reclamation Facility is located at 4800 Deep Marsh Road on the south side of Highway 50, about a half mile west of I-95 in Titusville. If driving from the east you will have to do a U-turn at the Great Outdoors entrance on Highway 50 (Plantation Drive). The entrance to the wetlands will be the next right almost immediately after the U-turn.