You know you’re a birder when you hear the phrase “wastewater treatment ponds” and you get excited at the birding potential! An important part of the Brevard County’s water reuse system, the wetlands were designed as a cost effective measure to remove nutrients and pollutants in the final process of wastewater treatment. The added benefit is that the process creates an attractive habitat and is a great source of food for wetland birds, drawing a large and diverse array to area. Also, because it’s being managed as a treatment site, large parts of it are accessible by car, the visuals are great, and sightings are much easier than in a completely wild area.
This 200 acre park features flat trails that follow berms around small ponds and a lake that treat wastewater naturally, and is an easy walk full of birding potential. Known to many birders simply as “Viera Wetlands” the full name is the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands and it’s comprised of four cells and a lake separated by these man-made berms. Trails can be driven, biked or walked and the area is a hot spot for anyone seeking to get photos of wetland birds. Since all the trails are on these raised berms to keep the ponds separate, you are looking down into the water and circle each pond, giving you a fantastic point of view. As the light shifts throughout the day, if the bird you’re watching of suddenly has bad lighting, you can adjust your position by going around the trail, allowing you to get great shots of the birds and other wildlife. In addition to the easy access, there is a watch tower which gives great views of the entire complex. Another advantage that the high point of view down into the water and the vegetation is that it gives you ample opportunity to spot elusive and hard to see species like American bittern, least bitterns and sora, who like to use the tall reeds to disguise themselves from predators.
Many Florida specialties can be found here, like the limpkin and even roseate spoonbill. In winter, absolutely dizzying flocks of hundreds of tree swallows feed around the wetlands, as do common yellowthroats, savannah sparrows and even a few buntings, feasting on the insects that are available year-round (so don’t forget your bug spray). It’s a great spot of waders and you’d be hard-pressed to leave the area without amazing photos of herons, egrets and ibises, who, because they aren’t hunted in the wetland, are relatively at ease with humans that stick to the trails.
In addition to the migratory birds that regularly pass through the area, many species call the Wetlands their home, nesting here. One popular spot is towards the center where not only might you find the light colored Florida morph of the red-shouldered hawk, but one of the big draws is that great blue herons and anhingas nest on the many palm trees planted as part of the treatment process. These already-large birds build their nests and raise their young in plain sight (protected by the water and the berms), giving you an easy opportunity for some amazing photography as they go about their business, collecting sticks, going through mating rituals, brooding their eggs, and finally feeding their young. So while the trails are easily covered in around 30 minutes, make sure to plan a little extra time to enjoy the behavior of these nesting birds, who are so relaxed it may almost seem like they’re really posing for you.
On top of the outstanding birding potential, plenty of fauna takes advantage of the habitat of Viera Wetlands, and not all of it friendly! Yes, there are plenty of alligators lurking the ponds (so avoid going into the wastewater at all costs). Big ones, too, as you easily see when they come out of the water to bask in the sun, potentially sending the soft-shell turtles scurrying back into the water. Many varieties of frogs and snakes can easily be spotted as well. On a furrier note, if you’re lucky and patient, you might spot a river otter among all the muskrats cavorting in the ponds. While it’s an easy way to get some great shots of the wide variety of birds, reptiles, and mammals that call the area home, Viera Wetlands isn’t a park per se, so amenities are light. There is a kiosk/message board with trail information and a handy, free guide to the wildlife of the area, but no visitor center and no potable water, though there is a portable restroom facility on-site. In addition to the bug spray you may need because of the insects that are a crucial part of the habitat, the facility features very little overhead cover, so make sure to bring your own water and headgear, especially if you plan on spending a lot of time in Viera.
As we said previously, you can easily walk or bike the trails, but if you do drive, keep in mind that the trails are narrow, and if you get out of your car to watch the wildlife, please make sure you pull over so that others using the trail can pass. Also keep in mind that these are dirt trails, so weather conditions may prohibit the use of car, and accessibility for those who prefer or need paved trails may be limited. Call the information number below if you have any concerns.
Wildlife to Watch
Alligators, river otters, muskrats, armadillos, skunks, roseate spoonbills, anhingas, limpkin, boat-tailed grackle, red-shouldered hawk, white ibis, glossy ibis, common gallinule, wood stork, great egret, tricolored heron, black-bellied whistling duck, little blue heron, Wilson’s snipe, great blue heron, least bittern, American bittern, reddish egret, fulvous whistling duck, black skimmer, northern harrier, crested caracara, sandhill crane
Generally the gravel trails around the ponds are open to bikes, pedestrians and cars. Sometimes they are closed so it’s best to call ahead if you aren’t prepared to walk 312-225-4488.
Because the trails are flat and full of interesting wildlife, there are occasional running events happening.
General information regarding the site and the birds that can be seen there can be found by calling 321-637-5521.
Because summer is very hot in Florida, heron breeding season gets under way around the end of December.
Every spring the friend’s group hosts a festival. Check the website for dates.
Basic Written Directions
Take Interstate 95 towards the town of Viera and exit on North Wickham Road. Head west on North Wickham for about two and a half miles. The road will fork, you want to take the left side and you will end up in the parking lot for Viera Wetlands.
Brevard County Utility Services
Viera, Florida in Brevard County
Best Season for Viewing
Winter, Spring and Fall. You can visit in summer but it will be hot.
Hours of Operation:
April through September 6:00 AM – 8:00 PM Daily
February, March, October 7:00 AM – 7:00 PM Daily
November through January 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM Daily