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Limpkin

With so many species of birds and wildlife in Florida, and such a welcoming climate, there are many compelling reasons to become more knowledgeable about our natural environment. For starters, the state is among the best locations in the country for observing birds and wildlife. And fortunately there is a top-flight festival for seasoned and amateur birders and wildlife enthusiasts, or for those with a passing curiosity. Recently named one of the Top 20 Events by the Southeast Tourism Society, the 19th annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival will be held January 20-25, 2016.

So, why is Florida such a prime location? Not only is Florida rich in native populations of many varied species of wildlife and birds, but it is also on a busy route for birds as they migrate and even stop for the winter to avoid the cooler northern climates. A second reason for Florida’s plethora of birds is that the state has a wealth of protected wildlife habitats.

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Birder

During the state’s cooler months, Florida’s Space Coast is one of the best birding locations in the United States. The county is situated at the convergence of two zones - temperate and tropical - creating a natural diversity of unique habitats that attract varied bird species.

The festival will be based at Eastern Florida State College in Titusville. Naturalists, photographers, ornithologists, artists, authors and scientists, and those wanting to learn, will gather all over the region, for field trips, seminars, hands-on workshops, speakers and exhibits.

“There is no other event in Florida where you have a chance to experience so many and such a varied array of wildlife encounters with access to the foremost experts in the business. If you want to immerse yourself in birds, plus experience all of the wildlife, flora and fauna in our area, this festival is for you,” shared Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival Chair, Laurilee Thompson.

A special component of this event is that it gets attendees out into the field. According to Thompson, attendees gear up and disperse throughout the region to areas such as the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Canaveral National Seashore and water reclamation areas such as the Viera and Blue Heron Wetlands.

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Viera Wetlands

Enthusiasts will enjoy first-hand encounters with many bird species including coveted Florida Scrub-Jay, Crested Caracara, Painted Bunting, Roseate Spoonbill, Bald Eagle, Limpkin, Snail Kite, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and even the Peregrine Falcon.

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Reddish Egret

But many agree that the best part of this birding extravaganza is being outdoors. While participants traipse through fields, walk around marshes, hammocks, flatwoods and scrub, they may see more than birds – and that includes alligators, gopher tortoises, bobcats and butterflies.

“One of the significant advantages to attending the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival, aside from the camaraderie of nature and wildlife enthusiasts, is that we provide participants with special access to conservation land that is not available throughout the year,” commented Festival Executive Director, Neta Harris.

The festival keynote speaker is author, seabird expert and birding guide Steve N. G. Howell, who will discuss a topic as vast as the ocean. In fact it is the ocean. In his talk he will relate the importance the cradle of life from his perspective of spending much of his time in, on or near the ocean, a place most people only know from standing on the shore.

Also slated for the festival is bird expert Dr. Stephen Kress, Director of the National Audubon Society’s Seabird Restoration Program. He will discuss pivotal advances made in puffin and tern habitats on Maine’s nesting islands. Bird and insect expert Giff Beaton will present an illustrated chat about dragonflies and damselflies while TV show personality James Currie, who hosts Discovery Channel’s Nikon’s Birding Adventures, will discuss many interesting and unusual bird explorations.

Husband and wife birding team, Kevin Karlson and Dale Rosselett will share details on a new bird identification trend called Birding by Impression, which offers a quick glance birding identification tool.

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Great Blue Heron

Space Coast Festival attendees can expect to learn, interact and grow their appreciation for the wonderful world of Florida wildlife. They will be able to choose from a wide range of field trips such as a Florida Scrub Jay Hike; Owls, Bats & Nocturnal Birds; A Kayak Tour to the Cocoa Beach Thousand Islands; Gull Fly-In at Daytona Beach; Advanced Shorebirds by Impression; and for beginners: Wings Over Florida.

Festival organizers say this year’s event is shaping up to be one of the best. “But be sure to register early because the events will fill up,” shared Laurilee Thompson.

And with the combination of world-renowned experts, ever-popular field trips and classes guided and taught by the “best” in the business, and it’s no wonder why.

“This year we have expanded our photography offerings with some of the most knowledgeable photographers (20) in the industry who will teach classes on a wide range of topics,” Thompson continued.

If you have ever had more than a mild interest in Florida’s unique environment and its wildlife - and are interested in learning more – you’ll enjoy this special event and it is sure to take your appreciation to another level.

How to Register:

Pre-registration is required for all field trips, classrooms and keynote presentations.

Full Festival Registration Fee is $85. This includes entrance to all afternoon socials (value $15 each) and as many $10 classroom sessions as you wish to attend from Wednesday through Saturday. Classrooms sessions will be first come first served. A single day registration will cost $35. Want to bring your young bird and wildlife enthusiast? Children under 12 are free when accompanied by a registered adult.

For more information and registration, consult the website online at www.spacecoastbirdingandwildlifefestival.org.

Where to stay:

Fairfield by Marriott in Titusville is the host hotel for the festival. Rooms have been set aside and special discount rates apply. Make sure you say you are attending the festival when you make a reservation.

Florida native Robin Draper is a columnist and owner of the award-winning 2015 “Blog of the Year” and “Best Travel Blog” and website, AuthenticFlorida.com, that features travel and lifestyle topics. 

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