I registered last week for the 13th Annual Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival in Titusville, Florida. I have an aunt (hi Maggie!) in New Smyrna Beach - only an hour away - so I will be staying with her and driving each morning to the festival. I will also be attempting my first drive from Philadelphia to Florida. Nineteen hours! I hate long distance driving and will be stopping for an overnight stay at about the twelve hour mark. If I don't get a lot of life birds, the drive back will seem twice as long.
Scouring the Festival brochure was almost as much fun as being there. This is a huge festival with dozens upon dozens of field trips, seminars and events. Running from January 27 to February 1, the Festival will host keynotes by noted bird celebrities Kenn Kaufmann, David Allen Sibley, Louise Zemaitis, Alvaro Jaramillo and Reinier Munguia. Also in attendance will be my personal hero Pete Dunne and the incomparable Jeff Gordon. I will try hard not to stalk them. But no promises.
The Brevard Nature Alliance is hosting the Festival and along with the Marine Science Center is also co-hosting a North American Gull Conference sponsored by Swarovski Optik. I didn't choose any field trips or seminars connected with the Gull Conference. I am strictly novice at gull identification and my personal goal of the festival is 20 lifers, so I am focused on field trips that will garner those numbers.
Here are my field trip choices (no pelagics - I get terribly seasick. I am afraid that my North American Life List will never include pelagic specialities).
Beach Birds Field Trip: at Smyrna Dunes Park in Volusia County (how could I resist a field trip only 10 minutes from where I am staying??). Rarities like Glaucous or Iceland gulls are a possibility, but more likely to see Wilson's Plover, Oystercatchers, Red Knots, etc.
Central Florida Specialities: looking for these lifers - Least and American Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, Limpkin, King Rail, Eared Grebe, Sandhill Crane, Crested Caracara, Burrowing Owl, Mottled Duck, Grasshopper Sparrow, Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, Bachman's Sparrow, White-Tailed Kite, Whooping Crane, Snail Kite, Roseate Spoonbill, Purple Gallinule, Long Billed Dowitcher, Red-Headed Woodpecker and Florida Scrub Jay. Think I am setting my hopes too high for this field trip?? Wes Biggs is one of the trip leaders and I had a wonderful trip with him at the Quiet Resorts Festival in Delaware. I look foward to tripping with him again.
Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera: Jeff Gordon is one of the leaders of this trip. Looking to collect these lifers: Black Bellied Whistling Duck, Lesser Scaup, Ring Necked Duck.
South Brevard County: Again a Jeff Gordon-led trip. Could see these lifers here: Bachman's Sparrow, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Scrub Jay, Fulvous Whistling Duck.
I am also looking foward to the Expert Bird ID Forum, a panel discussion moderated by Kevin Karlson. The panel includes Pete Dunne, Kenn Kaufman, Michael O'Brien and David Allen Sibley. And the David Allen Sibley keynote address is also my to-do list.
A side trip to Merritt Island should also prove fruitful. My Aunt Maggie is used to ferrying birders around since she takes her brother, my Uncle Jim and my birding mentor, out to find birds every time he visits. So she is an experienced guide.
Four days of 8+ hour birding trips plus two seminars will wear me the heck out, but I am cramming in as much birding as possible. After all, how often do I get to visit Florida in the company of such distinguished birders?