Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Spacing Out

Goodies and loot in the exhibition hall at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival

The coastal areas around Cape Canaveral are know for exceptional birding spots; birding festivals are known for attracting exceptional talents in the craft and science of birding, so it stands to reason that a birding festival just north and inland of Cape Canaveral would be an event to remember. And it was. Sort of.

This year's Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival was a sprawling five-day bird orgy, featuring both Kenn Kaufman and David Sibley as keynote speakers, and every seasoned Florida bird-nerd with a quadruple-digit life list as a field trip guide. Glenn and I got there on Friday afternoon, the third day of the festivities (and the first day I could get away from work), and jumped into the fray.

It didn't take long for us to find birds: in the back of the exhibit hall was a collection of rehabilitated raptors, courtesy of the Raptor Project. The raptors somehow managed to look both fierce and cuddly at the same time:

The star of the show was an Bald Eagle named Uncle Sam, who lost part of a wing tip in a collision with a car. He was prominently perched in front of a large American flag:

The ringleader of the raptor exhibit put on several shows, which ended with soaring music, a spotlight on Uncle Sam, and an affirmation of how wonderful life is in the U. S. of A. It was heartfelt and sincere, though I couldn't help remembering that my first-ever sighting of a Bald Eagle took place in Canada. And the graphic effect of the eagle against the flag made me think of this.

An ironic thing about bird festivals is that I always end up seeing fewer birds than I would in a typical weekend stomping around at home, and this time was no exception—this was largely because all the field trips we would have liked were filled by the time we got around to registering. But we did get to attend a number of informative workshops on warbler and raptor ID, and the effects of weather on bird migration. They were all clearly presented and useful—but just made me want to go out and See Stuff.

The one field trip we managed to get into was focused on ducks at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. We saw hundreds of them—but all were ones familiar to us from California (including a Eurasian Wigeon), and almost all seemed to be miles away; discernable only with spotting scopes. Yawn.

So Glenn and I amused ourselves with birds that were, to our mind, a bit more interesting—such as this immature Roseate Spoonbill, who flew in to feed only feet away:

Just outside the reserve, we also saw some exceptionally bold gulls shamelessly harrassing Brown Pelicans for food:

Just before we returned home on Sunday afternoon, we attended Kenn Kaufman's keynote address, "Pride in the Name of Birding" I suspect he'll want to give it again, so I won't give up too much of it, except to note that it involved a number of shaggy dog tales, some of which involved actual (or imagined) dogs:

On our way out back to our car, and our drive back home, we ran into a couple of Gainesville birding pals—who announced excitedly that just outside the auditorium, a Cattle Egret had just eaten a female/immature Painted Bunting (the latter was already dead; probably from a window collision). And we'd missed it by minutes.

Oh well. What do you expect to find at a birding festival—birds or something?


Bob Kaufman said...

Ain't I the spitting image of cousin Kenn?

just kidding! unfortunately i'm not related to him (maybe). :-)

Felicia said...

Hee hee-you guys could be twins! ;<)

Ali Iyoob said...

Seems like you had a great time! My friend, Michael McCloy, was there and had a great time!

Felicia said...

It was an experience! There were something like 900 people registered, so I could well have run into Michael and not known it. Glad he had fun, too!

Tabib said...

Nice birds pictures and love that Roseate Spoonbill.

Felicia said...

Spoonbills are awesome! It would have been even better if one of the mature ones (big red wing patches, bright yellow head) had come closer!

dAwN said...

Hey..glad you were at the festival..we were there last year and loved it! great birds there..and kenns lectures are always fun!

Felicia said...

Hey Dawn, glad you got to go last year! It's definitely worth it. If I go again, I'll have to remember to sign up early to get on all the good field trips (like the ones Kenn Kaufman was actually leading!)