Largest Birding Festival In Nation Opens In Brevard
By Robert Hughes // January 23, 2013
Events Continue Through Monday
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Blythe Williamson didn’t have to drive far from his Orlando home to go on a kayak trip through the Thousand Islands in Cocoa Beach, but he felt like he was a world away.
At the end of his paddle, he summed up the outdoors experience by saying, “It gets you away from the Disney scene and into something real.”
Fans of the outdoors desiring a deeper look into “something real” will be flocking to the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.
The annual celebration runns today through Monday, Jan. 28 with the event’s center at Brevard Community College’s Titusville campus on U.S. 1 just north of the town.
Williamson’s tour of the Thousand Islands, an incredible maze of mangroves and a good viewing spot for dolphins and manatees, was with Adventure Kayak of Cocoa Beach, which will guide tours there as just one of dozens of field trips the festival offers.
Most of the field trips will focus on the area’s incredible variety of birds, but there will also be trips for people interested in all facets of the outdoors, including its animals and plants, as well as historical sites. All the trips will be guided by experts in their fields, so participants will learn more than they thought possible about the wild world around us.
In addition, more can be learned and enjoyed from classroom presentations, keynote speakers, seminars and exhibits. The event center also has 82 vendors selling and giving information on a wide variety of goods related to outdoor activity, from birding scopes to wood carvers to cameras.
There also will be art and photo shows and competitions, an on-going silent auction, food vendors and a Raptor Project show where Jonathan Wood will give the audience a close-up and dramatic demonstration of a number of birds of prey.
Neta Harris, the executive director of the festival and head of the Brevard Nature Alliance, is excited about the response the event has gotten from participants so far.
“This year has been phenomenal; people are registering for everything,” she said. “And we’re really excited about the nationally known birders who are coming.”
The festival, which drew 5,300 participants from around North America and the world last year, is the largest of its kind in the country and is now in its 16th year.
Harris encourages people to register as soon as they can for any activity they’re interested in, because some of them will fill up. Field-trip participants will meet at the event center and take busses or carpools to their destinations, which includes such birding and natural hotspots as the Viera Wetlands, the Enchanted Forest and Tosohatchee Preserve, both near Titusville, Lake Jessup, and the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge.
Special social and dining events include Afternoon Socials on Thursday and Friday, a Saturday Barbecue and a Sunday Brunch.
“Everyone needs to come out and learn more about the incredible outdoor activities and preserves this area has to offer,” Harris said. “There’s so much here that even locals don’t know about all of it.”