2 Things We Love About Space Coast

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Jan 29, 2020 | by Sal Ingraham

Every January the Wildside team heads to Florida to attend the North Shore Birding Festival, and the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. As photography workshop and birding field trip leaders, we enjoy exploring Central Florida with our extended Wildside family.

Florida Scrub-Jay (the only endemic bird species in FL) – photograph by Sally Ingraham

The “Space Coast” is a wonderful place to the start the year! Its wealth of resident specialties and wintering birds are a draw to birders and photographers from across the country. There are always a few rarities or oddities to discover as well.

The regional food is delicious (have you tried Rock Shrimp yet?). The weather is usually good (especially when compared to our homes up north!). And meeting old friends while making new ones is a New Year’s resolution that you can easily keep.

Central Florida has a plethora of fantastic offerings, and it would be hard to pick a favorite. However, there are 2 things in particular that bring us back year after year.

1. The Wildlife (obviously!)

A Wood Stork intimidates a relatively small alligator, at Orlando Wetlands – photograph by Sally Ingraham

Everywhere you look, you will find drama and delight. The Atlantic coastline and the central pine-flatwoods region are rich in biodiversity. There are about 10 true Florida specialties (birds found mostly or entirely in this state) – the Snail Kite, Limpkin, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Bachman’s Sparrow, Florida Scrub-Jay, Wood Stork, Gray-headed Swamphen, Purple Gallinule, Short-tailed Hawk, and Fulvous Whistling-Duck.

Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area, another great birding spot in the Space Coast area – photograph by Sally Ingraham

These are the target birds we always hope to see. Equally exciting, though, is the spectacle of dozens of wading birds feeding together in the pools along Black Point Drive, in Merritt Island NWR.

Glossy and White Ibis circle Roseate Spoonbills, Little Blue and Tricolored Heron dart between Great Blue Herons. Reddish Egrets dance as they hunt, while American White Pelicans glide in. Anhinga watch from their mangrove perches, and Black Skimmers zoom past.

Turn around, and in the opposite pool a crowd of Blue-winged Teal share space with one Cinnamon Teal. Shoveler and Pintail and Coot raft past. A Bald Eagle watches from the top of a dead palm, and there are Osprey…everywhere.

A Peregrine Falcon harasses an Osprey with a fish, at Lake Apopka – photograph by Alex Lamoreaux

A couple days in Central Florida will treat you to over 100 bird species, easily. You’ll come home with a thousand photographs documenting interesting wildlife (beyond just birds – manatee, bobcat, armadillo, and of course alligator are all likely!) and fantastic behavior.

(Our “Florida: Central Specialties” tour starts right after the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. Led by Alex Lamoreaux, it offers a great opportunity to really observe and study the birds of this area. Workshop-style teaching about gull, waterfowl, and shorebird ID turn this trip into a crash course on this unique eco-region. Check out the tour!)

2. Our Wildside Family

Pictured: Glenn Crawford (our Central American specialist, trying to stay warm in chilly FL!); a field trip group during SCBWF co-led by Wildside guide Chris Brown (3rd from right), joined by at least 3 past Wildside tour participants; Wildside team member Sally Ingraham and Wildside guide and artist Catherine Hamilton (with Christina Lokey from Beaumont, TX – and a Florida Scrub-Jay!)

The Space Coast and these festivals draw us together in January. Members of the Wildside team come from all over (Belize, Puerto Rico, California, Oregon, New Mexico, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey this time…!)

Glenn Crawford, Lee Hoy, Kevin Loughlin, Catherine Hamilton, and Greg Miller catch a few much-earned ZZZs – photograph by Sally Ingraham

Our extended family gathers as well, with clients from numerous world-wide tours turning up in Florida to go exploring with us. Any given field trip, workshop, spotlight talk or Keynote is full of new and old friends – folks who have been with us for life-changing moments, wondrous encounters, hard-but-ultimately-successful searches, and lots of laughs.

The Wildside booth at the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival is a place for reliving those memories, and planting the seeds for new ones.

It can also be a place for taking naps (right), as a birding festival usually fills us to the brim with fun experiences, dawn-to-dusk…!

We always leave Florida and Space Coast reluctantly, despite knowing that we will be back. It’s hard to leave behind Limpkins, and Magnificent Frigatbirds…!

This Limpkin was hunting for clams in the rain during Lee Hoy’s “Trinity of Photography” workshop at SCBWF – photograph by Lee Hoy

Magnificent Frigatbirds were a highlight of the pelagic trip on the final day of SCBWF – photograph by Chris Brown

Greg Miller captured the sunrise at the end of the North Shore Birding Festival, and on his final morning during Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival – fitting bookends to another January on the Space Coast!

Glorious Central Florida sunrises – photographs by Greg Miller

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