Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival

January 22 – 27, 2020

Every year we send a few of our guides to the Space Coast Birding Festival, in Titusville Florida. In it’s 23rd year, this is one of the largest birding festivals in the US with tour companies from around the world. Titusville is close to Cape Canaveral National Seashore, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and lots of other great birding spots where you can see Florida Scrub Jay, Snail Kite and Limpkin, just to name a few. It is very easy to get to from Orlando!

Emilie Travis, our Florida-based guide, at our booth
by Simon Thompson

This year Simon Thompson, Kevin Burke and Emilie Travis represented Ventures Birding Tours, leading field trips and hanging out at our booth in the Exhibit Center.

Simon led three trips to Orlando Wetlands Park and Kevin led one trip there as well. This fabulous birding destination is not actually in Orlando, but rather in the town of Christmas. One of their favorite birds from this spot was a Least Bittern. These secretive marsh birds are seldom seen, so it was treat to get a good look!

Least Bittern at Orlando Wetlands
by Simon Thompson

They also got some good looks at American Bitterns, which are also usually hard to see.

American Bittern foraging along the edge at Orlando Wetlands.
by Simon Thompson

Another highlight from Orlando Wetlands was a pair of resident Sandhill Cranes dancing for spectators right in the middle of the path!

Resident pair Sandhill Cranes performing a mating display
by Simon Thompson

Kevin enjoyed being one of the bird guides for Port Canavaral and Pelican Island boat tours. The Pelican Island boat tour was rainy, except for a small window near dusk when they got a beautiful double rainbow! Despite the rain, they got some great looks at Roseate Spoonbills, Magificent Frigatebird, Glossy Ibis and lots more!

Rainbow over Pelican Island, the very first National Wildlife Refuge!
by Kevin Burke

One of Emilie’s favorite days was co-leading a trip to Blue Spring State Park. Cold water pushed the manatees into the warmer spring waters that are a constant 72. In the 23 years of this festival the normal counts of manatee were about 40, but they were blessed with 524 counted that morning! Emile deemed the birding group the “Holy Sea Cows” and it was a blast!

An aggregation of manatees at Blue Springs
by Emilie Travis

Emilie’s trip then continued on a riverboat cruise along the St. Johns River, seeing record numbers of Purple Gallinules and Limpkin. They also scored a Barred Owl as well as both Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons on the same tree!

Limpkin feeding along the St. Johns River
by Emilie Travis

Emilie also led sunrise and sunset kayak tours to Mullethead Isand, a protected Roseate Spoonbill Rookery. Seeing magenta pinks enhanced by the copper tones from the rising sun was surreal! Both mornings were crisp and windy so a little less comfortable to start but once in boats and watching sunrise they were all were good!

Emilie kayaking at Mullethead Rookery Island

Kayaking the sunset tour on Saturday was most spectacular because they got to see lots of dolphins and manatee swimming close to their boats along with some bioluminescent comb jellyfish!

Both Kevin and Emilie also led trips to TM Goodwin Wildlife Management Area. produces grand numbers of wetland species including hundreds of American White Pelicans. This year their numbers were less than a 100 but last year more water in the unit produced nearly 1000!

Everyone saw lots of Limpkins during the Festival. In the US this species is generally only found in Florida, but their range is quickly expanding. They feed on apple snails and a non-native apple snail is benefiting this species.

Limpkin at Orlando Wetlands
by Simon Thompson

After the Festival ended, Kevin and Simon did some birding at Lake Apopka and saw a couple of their favorite species of the trip: Ash-throated Flycatcher and Fulvous Whistling Duck.  Ash-throated Flycatchers are more common in the Southwest US, but winter in small numbers in the Southeast.

Fulvous Whistling Duck at Lake Apopka
by Simon Thompson

We look forward to returning to this great festival again next year. Maybe we will see you there!

Cheers to some great Florida Birding!

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