Birding on the Space Coast of Florida

Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival
The First Thirteen Years

1997 - 2009 by Dave Freeland of Merritt Island, Florida

When I moved to Florida in 2003, I became involved almost immediately in the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival, the already well established brainchild of Titusville restaurateur Laurilee Thompson, supported by her capable "backroom," Neta Harris. They needed a top birder to help the steering committee, and I was it. Where the Festival came from, where it was then and where it's headed are interesting subtopics of the Festival's exciting history.
1997 The Festival is born with a social on a November Friday evening and two full days of activities for any and all who chose to attend. Ten events are offered from beginning birding to intermediate birding, including three guided auto tours of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge's Blackpoint Drive. A team birding competition is a highlight.
1998 The Festival grows to four days with added activities like guided kayak tours, kids day, horseback rides, butterflies and manatees, bobcats and photography, Whooping Crane tour and more. Speakers include 19 Central Florida experts plus Geri Lindner of Eureka, Missouri, on efforts to reintroduce the red fox to its former range.
1999 Five days of programming include "The Wild Side of Kennedy Space Center," whales and dolphins, snake walk, sea turtles, live raptors and reptiles, beginning birding for youth, hayride on Blackpoint Drive, Black Rails after dark and visiting speakers Paul Neess of Eagle Optics, story teller Ada Forney and Terry Johnson of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources with a program on hummingbirds of the southeast.
2000 A wildlife art competition enriches the program. Speakers from out of state include Dr. Joe Michael Meyers of Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (Georgia) and Bob and Martha Sargent (Alabama). Our first pelagic trip into the Atlantic Ocean is a popular attraction. The Great Florida Birding Trail is inaugurated at the Festival. A visit to local Indian mounds and airboat tours are started.
2001 New events include a bird banding demonstration, behind the scenes at the Brevard Zoo and a boat trip to America's first national wildlife refuge, Pelican Island. The southeastern beach mouse is subject of a seminar. Keynote addresses are given by Debra Shearwater of Monterey Bay, California, and Kevin Karlson of Cape May, New Jersey.
2002 Digiscoping is a state-of-the-art program introduction and bird identification workshops focus on shorebirds, sparrows, raptors, gulls and terns. Workshops include satellite telemetry, birds of the West Indies and the biology and ecology of bottlenose dolphins. It is the last year for the birding competition, but new tours include one by night with spotlights at Orlando Wetlands and another on horseback into the Geneva Wilderness. Outside speakers include Dr. Jeffrey Wells of National Audubon Society and Fred Anderka of the Canadian Wildlife Service.
2003 The 2000 attendance barrier is broken. Three foreign countries and 26 states are represented. Top birders Kenn Kaufman and Dr. Jim Davis are featured keynoters. The Festival offers 47 field trips, 14 workshops, 35 seminars, 28 photo sessions and 31 kayaking adventures. The list of bird species seen on Festival trips since 1997 passes 240. Sponsors increase to more than 25, including such diverse organizations as Avis, Boeing, Florida Today, Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex, Ocean Club Cruises and National Audubon Society.
2004 Pete Dunne of New Jersey Audubon's Cape May Bird Observatory, a famous author, is headline speaker. New events include a sailing experience at Port Canaveral, seabird identification workshop, bats, archeaology of Brevard County, and birding foreign sites such as the Panama Canal Zone, Peru and Ecuador. Over 30 Festival partners include U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Titusville Art League, Florida State Parks, Brevard Zoo and Florida Gulf Coast University.
2005 Victor Emanuel, Denver Holt of the North American Owl Institute, Neil Fifer from Hong Kong and underwater photographer Peggy Goldberg excite Festival-goers. Six well known authors sign their books. We visit Volusia County's Marine Science Center. A live Florida panther is on display. The Festival's expanding range of exhibits includes optics manufacturers, international and domestic tour leaders, photographers, arts and crafts, history, conservation and birding, etc. Field trips include a boat trip to witness fish communication and a visit to a bird rehabilitation center, the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey.
2006 not available
2007 The Festival wraps into the umbrella of the Brevard Nature Alliance and is moved three months from its traditional November setting to January. We hear from John Fitzpatrick of Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Bill Thompson III of Bird Watcher's Digest, Jonathan Wood of The Raptor Project and writer-naturalist Scott Weidensaul. Popular field trips continue to Viera Wetlands, South Brevard County, North Brevard County, Zellwood-Lake Apopka, pelagic trip now out of New Smyrna Beach and others. Specialized topics like birding by impression, shorebirds by impression and birding by ear and habitat enhance the schedule
2008 Expanding to six days, renowned national birding experts like Paul Lehman, Chris Wood, Michael O'Brien and Alvaro Jaramillo join regional aces like Larry Manfredi, Murray Gardler, Wes Biggs, Bruce Anderson, Glen Woolfenden, Bill Pranty, Jeff Bouton, Andy Bankert and Reed Bowman among the field trip leaders. A silent auction, art competition and Sunday social attract visitors along with the usual array of field trips, workshops and seminars. Topics include the Canadian Arctic, Antarctica, Galapagos Islands, Bahamas, Mexico, Bolivia and Madagascar.
2009 Responding to requests, the Festival is "greened" by adding activities in partnership with the Brevard County Solid Waste Management Department's Recycling Division. Speakers include author Jonathan Rosen along with old friends like Chris Wood, Pete Dunne, Debra Shearwater and Arthur Morris. Programs reach out to forest diversity, wetlands management, Barn Owl introduction, native Florida reptiles, parrots in the U.S., warbler identification and bird houses and feeders.

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