Where to see waterfowl, herons, egrets, storks — and spectacular sunrises.
By Ivan Green | Published: 2/12/2016
This site, formally the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands, is a wonderful and accessible place to bird. Some of my favorite sights are nest-building Great Blue Herons. The female constructs the nest while the male gathers the materials. The system works well until the male brings back a stick that the female doesn’t like. She’ll drop it or won’t even accept it, and then the male will take off to find the perfect stick. Often during this time, the two birds will engage in bill tapping as part of their courtship.
Recently hatched birds are always a thrill to behold, and at the wetlands in springtime, fledglings are everywhere. Spring arrives as soon as mid-February, when we begin to see young herons, egrets, and other waterbirds. Get here early in the day: Sunrise flights are spectacular, as are the sunrises.
The 200-acre property is divided into four cells and a lake separated by berms. Cells 1 and 2, containing giant bulrush, soft-stem bulrush, and water lilies, mimic a deep-water marsh. Cells 3 and 4 are like a flag-pond marsh, with pickerelweed, arrowhead, and spike-rush.
At a depth of 29 feet, the lake is deep by Florida standards. It’s where you will find the biggest alligators. — Ivan Green
Ivan Green is a Florida Master Naturalist and a wildlife photographer. He birds the wetlands nearly year-round.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Constructed treatment wetlands divided into four cells of approximately 35 acres each, plus a central deep-water lake.
Unpaved roadways atop 2.7 miles of berms divide the cells and lake. Facility remains open to walkers and bicyclists even when wet conditions close roads to vehicles. Road surfaces are primitive; wheelchair accessibility limited.
Resident: Mottled and Ring-necked Ducks, Pied-billed Grebe, King Rail, American Coot, Common Gallinule, Least Bittern, Limpkin, Sandhill Crane, Common Grackle, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Great Blue, Green, Little Blue, and Tricolored Herons, Cattle, Great, and Snowy Egrets, White and Glossy Ibises, Wood Stork, Red-shouldered Hawk. Winter and spring: Purple Gallinule, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Hooded Merganser, Killdeer, Wilson’s Snipe, Black Skimmer, American White Pelican, American Bittern, Peregrine Falcon, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Harrier. Vagrants: Masked Duck, Eurasian Wigeon, Mississippi Kite.
When to go
Year-round. Best December through March.
Observation tower, information kiosks. Portable toilets near parking areas.
County water-treatment facility. No fees. Open daily, February and March, 7-7; April through September, 6-8; October, 7-7; and November through January, 7-6.
Best viewing by car. Weather is cool to cold in winter and hot and humid in summer.
For more info
Viera Wetlands. General hotline: (321) 637-5521. Road hotline: (321) 255-4488.
River Lakes Conservation Area, Moccasin Island Tract
West of wetlands at the end of 4 Mile Rd. 14,000 acres along St. Johns River. Wood Stork, Crested Caracara.
North of wetlands. Two large settling ponds that attract wintering waterfowl. Great for shorebirds, especially after water draw-downs expose mudflats.