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Ecotourism on Florida's Space Coast

Great Egret

Our First Birding Contest

A beginning Birding Team's experience at the
2000 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival's Birding Competition

By Matt Heyden
Great Egret

We finally got up the nerve to enter the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival's Birding Competition. This was our first "Big Day." We wanted to have fun, visit some pretty spots and not embarrass ourselves too badly in our count of birds. It was hard to take ourselves away from the extremely interesting seminars of the Festival. Our team, Four Feathered Friends, consisted of Judy McHugh (Capt.), Sandy Walters, Matt Heyden, Lora Losi.

We drove to Canaveral National Seashore. We arrived in the dark and were treated to a huge full moon setting over the Mosquito Lagoon behind the dunes. Sunrise over the Atlantic was stunning. We counted our first birds: Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, several species of gulls and terns and a Black Bellied Plover. Brown Pelicans, Northen Gannets and scoters were offshore. Frigatebirds, loons, and many more gannets appeared two days later. As we walked the high boardwalk over the dunes, someone thought to look down into the salt marshes across the beach road. There, in the early morning light, were large flocks of birds feeding and flying. Roseate Spoonbills, American White Pelicans, Great & Snowy Egrets, White & Glossy Ibis were all in their early morning routines. What a great way to start our count!

Several mudflats and ponds were next. Arthur Morris' fabulous seminar the following day would have greatly enhanced the identification of the dowitchers and sandpipers we found. A dirt dike road known as Bio-Lab Road produced more Snowy Egrets than I had ever seen before. I saw the large form of two geese in a short grass marsh. I had heard of the presence of Snow Geese, but these just did not look the part. A check of a field guide gave a positive identification of two Greater White Fronted Geese (an off-track Greenland migrant)! Quite the bird!

We could not resist Black Point Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Here we rounded out our count with Northern Shovelers, American Widgeon, several teal, shorebirds, and waders. We had planned a short hike at Merritt Island's Palm and Oak Hammock Trails. There, in migration, we have seen many species of warblers, including: Ovenbird, Cape May, Townsends, Black & White, Northern Parula, Worm Eating, and many others. Hunger and time constraints sent us home for lunch and a look at our neighborhood sandhill cranes.

Seminole Ranch and Hatbill Park provided us with some fresh water and oak & pine woodland species, including: Mottled Duck; Blue-gray Gnatcatchers; Pine, Prairie, Palm, and Yellow Rumped Warblers. The last few hours of daylight found us around South Lake and our own backyards in Titusville. A Southern Bald Eagle, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, American Kestrels, Wood Storks, Downy Woodpeckers, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers are our daily visitors.

Sunday, at dawn, was our time to scope out the city of Titusville's Blue Heron Wastewater Reclamation Wetlands. We all know these ponds well and felt that they offered our best bet for spotting not yet seen species. Sparrows, Common Moorhens, American Coots, Belted Kingfishers, Blue Wing Teal, Green-backed Heron, and Anhingas were here but not the later winter finds such as Black Necked Stillts, bitterns, widgeon, etc.

With just over an hour left, we headed to the Max Brewer Causeway (swing bridge) and the first impoundments of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The avocets weren't on their usual pond. A Horned Grebe was a surprise find. Wintering pintails and others had not arrived yet (or we missed them). We have spent many pleasant hours in the past, along the causeway, watching feeding Black Skimmers, but had not seen them yet today. As we were sitting at a picnic table, finalizing our ballot, two lovely flocks of Black Skimmers flew past! We enjoyed our 29-hour bird-a-thon and even located a few "life birds" that we would not have have found, had we not entered the competition.

We documented 85 species, not great, but good enough to capture the Herb Kale Memorial Award (First Place) in the Beginning Adult Birders Category. This included a trip to the Dry Tortugas sponsored by Birdwatchers Digest and Florida Nature Tours. Not bad for beginning birders in this bird rich area of Florida.

Dean Pettit       BACK to Out There Magazine
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Dean Pettit, Editor

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