Largest Birding Festival In Nation Opens In Brevard

By  //  January 23, 2013

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Events Continue Through Monday

Space Coast Audubon members, from left, Jim Eager, left, Rosemary Webb and Jason Frederick are all eyes during a bird-watching outing at the Viera Wetlands, a popular birding spot that will be the destination of some Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival field trips.(Image by Robert Hughes)

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.”

Blythe Williamson of Orlando said of his guided paddle tour through the Thousand Islands, “It was fantastic. I’m going to have to come back again with my family.” (Image by Robert Hughes)

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.

Dale Bailey of Adventure Kayak of Cocoa Beach will be guiding tours into the Thousand Islands area in Cocoa Beach during this week’s Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. (Image by Robert Hughes)

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.”

The Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival takes place today to Jan. 28, with the event center at Brevard Community College’s Titusville campus at 1311 North U.S. 1. The only event scheduled for Jan. 28 is the off-shore pelagic birding boat trip, which is sold out. Pre-registration for activities is strongly advised. Field-trip participants are encouraged to bring water, snacks, layered clothing, scopes and cameras. There will be activities for children and the event center has disabled access. For more information, go to