Let’s head back to the Space Coast well one last time, shall we?
I spent a lot of time at Viera Wetlands while at the Space Coast Festival as an 10,000 Birds attache. Fortunately this is a hardly a disappointing turn of events. There are few places in Florida – heck, in the United States – that are as fun to hang out at as this water treatment facility. The birds are plentiful, diverse, and remarkably easy to see. The first time I was leading a trip with the ABA’s Jeff Gordon. The second time saw me return two days later to help out on an eBird introduction course. I was not originally officially scheduled to go on this one, and actually had the morning off from Space Coast duties, but when asked the opportunity was too good to pass up. So not only did I get to bird, I got to spread the word about one of the bird-related topics about which I am most passionate.
One of the great things about heading back to the same place more than one time in a given trip, is that you really feel like you understand the site better. You know where to look for certain birds, and what to expect. Of course, this expectation bias can manifest in unfortunate ways too. For instance, on our first trip to Viera we found a single female Lesser Scaup among the Ring-billed Ducks. Of course, when I returned two days later, I called a particularly pale-faced female Ring-necked Duck in the same spot a Lesser Scaup, and stuck to my guns even though my gut was screaming at me that something was up. Of course, as we rounded the corner to find the bird in better light, I had to admit that I had really botched it. Easily on the top 10 list of my biggest blown calls all time. And there’s really nothing like a blown call, stuck to beyond reason and revealed in an embarrassing way, to really inspire confidence in yourself as a group leader.
In any case, I sort of redeemed myself with I picked up a distant Crested Caracara that slowly got closer and closer until it passed right over the top of an adoring group of birders. In a state with no shortage of impressive birds, even Crested Caracara stands apart.
We turned up the typical Viera fare on that day, not so much different that the trip two days prior, until Jeff spotted a pale spot in the middle of a dense stand of reeds that turned out to be Least Bittern, easily the moist difficult of the wading birds anywhere in the county by vittue of its tiny size and secretive nature. Everyone got excellent looks, among the best even I’d ever had.
My afternoon trip was less exciting, at least as far as the birds were concerned. The field trip to Pine Island, site of the first permanent white settlement in Brevard County had a historical slant and the hot afternoon sun, even in January, made for slow birding. I turned, as I do from time to time, to the butterflies, particularly those species that I can’t see in North Carolina. One of my favorites is Zebra Longwing. The Heleconius genus is undeniably tropical, and this is about as far north as this species is seen with any regularity.
But my personal favorite of the half dozen species that were flying around was this cool White Peacock. Lots of subtle colors on this one.
I’m no butterflyer, but I’ve come far enough to readily admit that they are a fair replacement for birds when the latter are not performing. Mostly, I just like to know what things are though, and that urge to name things has reached something of a impasse with birds so it’s time to move into another group. I suppose that’s how the evolution of the naturalist goes. Fortunately Florida has as much to offer to that end as it does for birds.
I had to leave Space Coast the nest day to head out to India. I was excited to travel but I would have loved to stay to see some more birds! Space Coast is a fantastic festival. If yo uhave the opportunity to attend, you absolutely should.