Space Coast Birding Festival a Blast (mostly)

February 2, 2014 at 2:24 pm (Birds- Florida, Great Florida Birding Trail, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Photography) (, , , , , )

Brown Pelican at sunset

Brown Pelican at sunset

I was hooked on birds at age 9, thanks to Mr. Percy O. Turner of Harahan, Louisiana.  He and his gray-haired wife lived across the street, and as kids did in those days, I went over to say hello.  I think I wanted to know about the noisy guinea hens caged in the front yard, and somehow we got to talking about birds.  You see, Mr. Turner was a hunter, of which I did not approve, but he had many beautiful feathers – iridescent greens and blues of mallards, a mourning dove’s soft browns, even the cerulean of a blue jay tail feather that he found in the yard. He also had some bird calls he used for hunting, and he told me that instead of being “horse crazy” (aren’t all little girls?) I should learn to like birds.

Whooping Crane, Homosassa Springs State Park (captive)

Whooping Crane, Homosassa Springs State Park (captive)

You never know what kind of influence for good or evil you will have on a young child, but that one encounter changed my life.  Even though we moved away soon after, I had tried several times as I grew up to let him know how much I appreciated that advice.  My nickname in school was “Birdbrain” because I studied birds, brought bird books to school, drew birds, and watched them in the schoolyard.  It was a moniker I wore with pride.

Fifty years later, I’ve discovered the joy of a bird festival.  I somehow acquired a glossy magazine full of field trips and workshops for the Florida Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, and began lusting over the possibilities.  Many of the premiere trips (both free and for a fee) were already full, but I managed to sign up for several.

Limpkin family, Viera Wetlands

Limpkin family, Viera Wetlands

When my job as refuge ranger at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge ended due to recent budget cuts, I followed my heart’s desire and went to Florida, seeking birds and manatees.  The only way I can afford trips like this is to sleep in my car in free places such as rest stops, 24-hour travel centers, WalMart, or similar places that have a bathroom in case I need it, and enough people coming and going to ward off foul play.  It is not only pointless for me to pay $20-plus a night for a campground, it is also not in my budget.  As a photographer, I’m off before dawn and back after sunset.  All I need to do is put up a few window screens, kick back my seat, drape my sleeping bag over me, and I am perfectly comfy.

Wood Stork, Viera Wetlands

Wood Stork, Viera Wetlands

So prior to the bird festival in Titusville, I visited several birding hotspots and swam with the manatees.  (See previous and future blogs about these adventures.)  Then I headed to my first workshop on Advanced Photoshop Techniques.  Now, I can easily learn these things on my own with books and online tutorials, but like many I appreciate a visual demonstration and personal tips.  I figured it would jump start my long-standing plans to learn techniques such as masking and levels.  And at $35, which I prepaid, I hated missing any part of it, so I berated myself for arriving 15 minutes late.

Pintail drake, Merritt Island NWR

Pintail drake, Merritt Island NWR

However, the volunteer guarding the classroom door informed me that the instructor was refusing entry to anybody more than 15 minutes late.  I pointed out that I was exactly 15 minutes late, and I was just going to go in and sit down.  It wasn’t like I’d be interrupting a theatrical performance.  After 10 heated minutes involving two festival folks (one of whom went in to ask permission for me to enter – and was denied!) I just walked on and sat down.  I expected all hell to break loose and I was ready for this prima donna, but fortunately for everyone he continued the class as if nothing had happened.

Great Blue Heron, Viera Wetlands

Great Blue Heron, Viera Wetlands

After a few minutes I decided maybe he wasn’t an arrogant SOB, but maybe just an insecure instructor who wasn’t able to tell a latecomer “we’ve already covered that, but I’ll be glad to go over it with you after class.”  However, his strong accent was a bit hard to understand, and even though we were in close quarters, it was hard to see the details he projected as he demonstrated the techniques.  But he seemed like a generally nice guy, and I decided not to have words with him after class about this ridiculous “rule” of his.  And of course, I waited until the end of class to ask my questions.

I’ve given classes myself, and allowing instructors to refuse admittance to latecomers is doing a disservice to students, and gives a bad name to the festival itself.  It doesn’t matter why the person was late.  Bad GPS directions… taking an important phone call… taking a nap….   not allowing a paying student to simply sit down and take notes is an abuse of power.    Fortunately, the rest of my experiences at the festival were much more enjoyable.

Sunset at Mullethead Rookery

Sunset at Mullethead Rookery

Some local boat operators had offered trips to island rookeries, but I think the cold weather kept many from signing up.  However, Capt. Jeff of Merritt Island Boat Tours took five of us to Mullethead Island where we watched scads of birds fly in at sunset to roost. The odor of guano greeted us as we motored close enough to view the birds, but not too close as to frighten them.   Brown pelicans were silhouetted in graceful (for a pelican) flight against the setting sun, and roseate spoonbills glowed coral as they flew in from their feeding grounds.  Probably a dozen species were on the ground and in the trees.

Jeff told us that SpaceX – a private rocketry company – wanted to build a spaceport on or near this island.  I was instantly incensed.  We have so few places left for birds and wildlife – and with the current political climate that favors profits over the common good, I fear they may prevail.  Apparently this is not the only natural haven in jeopardy by the commercial expansion of the space industry.

Florida Scrub Jay at sunset

Florida Scrub Jay at sunset

The next morning I did a free field trip to the Malabar Scrub Sanctuary and learned about efforts to restore the habitat for Florida’s only endemic species, the Florida Scrub Jay.  Because of rampant development, most of this habitat has been developed, and this sanctuary only has seven jays in two family groups.  Unfortunately we didn’t see them, but I did see them in two other scrub sanctuaries later.

Sora Rail, Green Cay Wetlands, Boynton Beach, FL

Sora Rail, Green Cay Wetlands, Boynton Beach, FL

Since I was already 50 miles south of Titusville, I decided to skip the next two festival days and head to Boynton Beach to my two all-time favorite bird spots – Green Cay and Wakodahatchee Wetlands.  More on those in later blogs.  I did the Black Point Wildlife Drive twice at Merritt Island NWR, and attended a dawn field trip at Lake Jesup Conservation Area south of Orlando.

Roseate Spoonbill at sunset

Roseate Spoonbill at sunset

Now here’s the thing about field trips, according to one of our leaders, Laura Erickson from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:  you might not see your target birds but at least you know where to come and where to look later.  Actually, it didn’t matter that I didn’t see a LeConte’s sparrow – listening to Laura detailing habits and stories about birds was worth the time spent.  She is a very engaging and encyclopedic purveyor of bird lore and info.  Corey Finger of the 10,000 Birds website/Facebook page was also there, and it was just nice talking to other birders about their experiences and sharing mine.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Boynton Beach, FL

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Boynton Beach, FL

Since Sunday was the final day, I spent a couple of hours talking to exhibitors.  I picked up a Pajaro Grande field bag which also has a water bottle sleeve and room on the belt to attach my small cameras – something I’d been looking for but didn’t know existed.

I learned about relatively inexpensive bird tours through Cheepers! Birding on a Budget and cruises through Carefree Birding.  They offer special birding excursions on standard cruise ships.  Now all I need is a job again…

Female Harrier

Female Harrier

The most exciting exhibit I saw was that featuring the most exquisite hummingbird photographs I’ve ever seen, rivaling John Gould’s hummer paintings.  I couldn’t afford the prints, but I did buy the $10 book of images with a short description of how the photographs are done in Costa Rica.  Check out the website of Chuck Fritsch and Cindy Walpole, the principal photographic artists.  They don’t have my favorite image on the website (maybe it’s new) but they are all absolutely stunning.  And you can buy the book online as well.

Roseate Spoonbill, Merritt Island NWR

Roseate Spoonbill, Merritt Island NWR

So even though my bird festival experience started out on a sour note, it ended on a high.  Plus I have some good leads on good places to bird.  I will be on the lookout for other bird festivals in whatever part of the country I wind up. I might even re-read “The Big Year” again, to remind me that there are even more fanatical “birdbrains” out there than me.  And that’s a good thing.

Bottoms Up - Blue-winged teals feeding

Bottoms Up – Blue-winged teals feeding

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

Feel free to reblog or share

Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

Online gallery:  Smugmug

Original hand-painted BW photographs for sale:  Etsy

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6 Comments

  1. Ronald Payne said,

    Cindy, I once knew a preacher (whose identity you can guess) who kept going to workshops until he finally decided that most of the time, he knew as much as he’d paid to learn from such workshops, so he started conducting workshops himself. The moral of this story is that it is evident to us that you needn’t attend any more workshops and should start conducting your own!

  2. Cindy McIntyre said,

    Hey Ron – there’s ALWAYS something new to learn about Photoshop, and as for birds, I’ll never be an expert as I can’t remember details and always need to refer to the manuals. But thanks for the pat on the back!

  3. ERMurray said,

    In my ignorance, I didn’t even realise there was such a thing as a bird festival so I’m glad you wrote this post! It sounds great but best of all, you’ve shared such beautiful images. Thank you. (And I agree, whether it’s photoshop or some other hobby, there’s always something new to learn – though it’s always nice to get a heartfelt compliment such as that from Ron!).

    • Cindy McIntyre said,

      It wasn’t until about five or six years ago that I was reprimanded for using the misnomer “seagull” and “Canadian” geese! I guess I wasn’t a serious-enough birder!

  4. Bella Remy Photography said,

    Oh lucky you to be able to participate in this birding festival. The variety of bird life you were able to see is wonderful and you captured them spectactularly. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Cindy Walpole & Chuck Fritsch said,

    It was a pleasure to meet you at Space Coast and now to get to look at your blog. We particularly enjoyed your Great Blue Herons in love. Thanks for the link. Cindy Walpole and Chuck Fritsch

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