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Real stories by real people
about their outdoor adventures in the Titusville Florida area.

Ecotourism on Florida's Space Coast

Kayaking Turnbull Creek

and the
North Indian River Lagoon
on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

by Laurilee Thompson of Dixie Crossroads Restaurant



Thin wisps of steam spiral up from the warm waters of the creek in the predawn light. Patches of fog lay low over the marsh in the cool morning air. Looking over Turnbull CreekSilently I paddle, listening for the rustle of an elusive rail as it scurries through the dry grass. Once I saw a sora rail crouching on a willow limb as I passed silently by, locking eyes with the wily bird. It never moved a muscle.

The sun rises, turning the dew on the spider webs into sparkling diamonds. They are everywhere, shimmering jewels of all shapes scattered throughout the marsh. Common yellowthroats are flitting about in the willows at the waters edge and a great blue heron takes to the air, flying alongside expressing his displeasure at my appearance with loud squawks. White ibis probe in the mud of the sandbars with their big orange bills and a stealthy green heron crouches on a myrtle limb waiting for his unsuspecting breakfast to swim by.

Starting down Turnbull Creek The sun is burning the fog off now and the air is getting warmer. A chattering kingfisher stays just in front of my boat hovering in the air like a hummingbird, then diving at the water to snatch a minnow. Vultures circle lazily, riding the thermals. An occasional woodstork will join them as they wind higher and higher. A peregrine falcon sits on a dead palm snag and a red-shouldered hawk screams nearby.

pelican Thousands of robins are wakening in the red cedar hammocks. Tree swallows are dive bombing for insects over the marsh. Savannah sparrows and myrtle warblers flit and chip in the bushes and a squadron of brown pelicans glides silently overhead. Around the next bend a flock of coots noisily runs on top of the water trying to stay ahead of my boat.

The creek water is getting saltier now. The myrtles, cattails and willows are giving way to an unending sea of cord grass. This is a pristine salt marsh, one of the few left in the Indian River Lagoon that has not been altered by man. It is one of the most relaxing paddles around. Hundreds of Great Southern White butterflies flutter about. They migrate through salt water habitats in spring and fall.

Osprey A cormorant perches on an old sign and spreads his wings in the sun to dry. A flock of blue wing teal explodes into the air from a hidden pond in the sea of grass I cannot even see. An otter and her young frolic near the shore disappearing down a trail through the grass as I approach. A great egret crosses my bow and a tricolored heron takes off from a sandbar, squawking loudly in time with his wing beats.

Youngsters enjoy the trip. The winding creek is getting wider as I near the Indian River. An immature little blue heron stands silently on a log watching me glide by, pea green legs the field mark for this snow white bird who will be steely blue a year from now. A flock of cormorants glides by heading for their favorite fishing area near the mouth of the creek.

The water is getting shallower, and occasionally I see a large redfish, head down and tailfin waving slowly above the water as it roots for blue crabs in the mud. A sting ray explodes from the bottom, the undersides of its wings flashing white as it streaks from a cloud of sand across the grassflats.

Dolphins are playing in the river when I leave the creek. dolphinThey have a school of mullet cornered. A jumping mullet is followed from the water by a leaping dolphin who snatches the hapless mullet in mid-air. Once I saw a pelican fishing where a young dolphin was feeding. The baby dolphin would chase a mullet down and the greedy pelican would grab it from right in front of the dolphin. A raft of ducks floats out in the river and gulls and terns dive noisily into the school of mullet that the dolphins are terrorizing.

End of Turnbull Creek trip Sadly, I turn boat towards the dike road and prepare myself mentally for the trip back to civilization. Turnbull Creek is a serene escape back in time. The creek looks the same way it did when the Indians fished it. Fiddler crabs scurry into their holes as I drag my boat up the dike and a great blue heron protests my presence as he flaps slowly away. I load my boat and drive towards U.S. 1 as slowly as I can, savoring the transition from salt marsh to cedar hammock as I creep slowly westward, putting off my reentry into the civilized world as long as I can.

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