Space Coast Birding eMagazine

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They begin their southbound migration

Joanna Taylor, ranger - education
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service -- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
P.O. Box 6504, Titusville, FL 32782; (321) 861-0667

The Space Coast Flyway Festival and Birding Competition

They begin their southbound migration in early November, traveling over 2000 miles in just 40 hours! Their destination? Florida's Space Coast, where they will spend a couple of days resting and feeding to prepare for their biggest task of all; to identify as many species of birds in Brevard County, Florida in just 29 hours. That's right, 29 hours of hardcore birding to win the Space Coast Flyway Festival Birding Competition. What are they? The Canadian birding team, who will compete again this year against many other birding teams to win thousands of dollars in prizes for the most species of birds identified. Will the Canadian Team win again or will some other team rise to the challenge and ruffle some Canadian feathers?

The Space Coast Flyway Festival Birding Competition sets itself apart from any other international birding competition event for 3 BIG reasons: the geographical location of the event; the season in which it is offered; and the fact that it features 4 days of unique wildlife, nature and space technology tours, field trips, seminars, and family activities, in addition to the competition. What more could a space age birder want!

What's so special about the geographical location of Brevard County? Lying in a region where temperate and subtropical climate zones meet, Merritt Island and its surrounding waterways offer sanctuary for a rich abundance of plants and animals. Plants and animals from the north live and compete with plants and animals from the south, creating a wide diversity of species and habitats. Merritt Island is strategically located on the Atlantic Flyway and extends outward into the Atlantic Ocean making it a key resting stop for many migratory bird species. It also has the unique distinction of being the home of NASA's Kennedy Space Center, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Canaveral National Seashore.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the 2nd largest refuge in Florida, is a unique barrier island consisting of 140,000 acres of salt marshes, freshwater impoundments, brackish estuaries, pine flatwoods, oak hammocks and coastal strand scrub and dunes. The refuge is home to more threatened and endangered species than any other wildlife refuge in the continental United States.

The Canaveral National Seashore is nationally recognized as one of America's most beautiful beaches. And thanks to the nation's space program, it is likely to be preserved for generations to come. It is the only place on the Atlantic coast where a person can face north and see the coast of Florida as it looked hundreds of years ago no buildings or seawalls, just sand and dunes. Facing south, a person can gaze upon some of the world's most advanced technology the launch pads that sent man to the moon.

The Indian River Lagoon, named an Estuary of National Significance because it is the most species-rich in the country, plays a vast ecological role in Brevard County. Most vital is the lagoon's status as a nursery-ground for crabs, shrimp and other marine life. The lagoon supports 72 endangered and threatened plants and animals, including the Florida manatee and the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. Healthy sea grass beds support about 50 million small invertebrates and 40,000 fish per acre. No wonder birds are everywhere!

The cool sunny days of November usher in the peak season for birdwatching at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore. As birds migrate south along the Atlantic Coastal Flyway, they stop when they reach the fertile wetlands of the Indian River Lagoon and the protection offered by the barrier island. Considered to be one of the state's prime birding sites, 331 species of birds can be found on the wildlife refuge including the Florida scrub jay, roseate spoonbill, reddish egret, American wood stork, white pelican, bald eagle, black-bellied plover, and northern pintail. Over 23 species of waterfowl and 19 species of shorebirds can be found on the refuge during the winter months. Last year's birding competition turned up a total of 180 species of birds, including American avocet, marbled godwit, and Eurasian wigeon.

In addition to the birding competition, the Flyway Festival Committee, which consists of more than 22 community members, has hand-picked subjects for wildlife and nature seminars, field trips, and special tours presented by local and national experts. Field trips highlight regional species such as the endangered whooping crane, red-cockaded woodpecker, snail kite, Florida manatee, indigo snake, Florida scrub jay and the rare and illusive black rail. A variety of seminars available to choose from include shorebirds, wading birds, bobcats, eagles, butterflies, wildflowers, nature photography, beginning birding and coastal whales and dolphins, just to mention a few. Special tours include wildlife and technology and space history tours at Kennedy Space Center, Mosquito Lagoon boat tours, kayak tours alongside manatees and dolphins, and horseback riding through Florida pine scrub habitat. Last but not least, family programs and activities will include Live Birds of Prey Shows, family educational programs, hands-on youth activities, and biking the salt marsh dikes.

Enthusiasm is mounting for the 3rd Annual Space Coast Flyway Festival to be held November 11-14, 1999 in Titusville, Florida. Birding team registration is underway and is open to both national and international adult and youth teams. This year, more than $12,000 worth of prizes will be awarded to winning teams. The grand prize package includes 4 Leica Telavid spotting scopes. Other prizes include 4 Pentax binoculars, vacation packages for the Space Coast, artwork from local wildlife artists, trips from various local wildlife tour operators and more. Florida birding teams who have participated in the competition for the past two years are rising again to the challenge. Will the Canadian team beat the Florida teams again in their own state? Any Florida birders who can form a birding team should grab this opportunity to bring honor and glory back to the state of Florida!

If you would like more information about the Space Coast Flyway Festival and Birding Competition, contact the Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce at 2000 S. Washington Ave., Titusville, FL 32780, (321) 267-3036 or visit our website at

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