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It’s hard to resist the chance for some mid-winter birding in sunny Florida. That’s why we’re happy to announce that our Space Coast birding adventure is back!

This trip will be even bigger and better than our Rendezvous in Titusville in February 2015, with more days, some new birding hotspots, engaging evening programs, and the great Rendezvous staff and local guides you’ve come to expect.

Why are we going back to Titusville, Florida? The answer is simple: Our 2015 Space Coast Reader Rendezvous was amazing! We saw 120 species, and among the highlights were red-cockaded woodpecker, brown-headed nuthatch, Bachman’s sparrow, Florida scrub-jay, snail kite, limpkin, and Florida sandhill crane. We also started something at that first Florida Rendezvous that we’ve added to almost every Rendezvous since: hands-on birding skill-building sessions in the field. We call this Birding Basics & Beyond, and it’s the best possible way to get better as a bird watcher, because you’re learning by doing.

In our Return to Space Coast Rendezvous, set for Wednesday, January 31, through Sunday, February 4, 2018, we’ll be birding at an easy, casual pace, with the goal of getting everyone on every bird—something we take great pride in as Reader Rendezvous hosts. We’ll also be dining at some of the region’s most interesting restaurants, including the legendary Dixie Crossroads in Titusville.

We’ve made arrangements with local guides to visit some of the area’s best birding sites, where we’ll have hands-on instructional, in-the-field workshops on using optics, bird identification, and the field craft of birding. Among the things you’ll learn will be:

  • How to find birds in your binoculars more quickly and easily
  • What to look for when identifying an unfamiliar bird
  • How to use non-field-mark clues (like sound, habitat, and behavior) to identify a bird
  • How to use tools such as field guides and birding apps
  • Tricks for getting the most enjoyment, satisfaction, and fun out of birding
  • Tips for helping others find the bird you’re seeing
  • How to field sketch birds (two sessions)
  • And much, much more

Among the expected bird species are roseate spoonbill, limpkin, wood stork, least bittern, bald eagle, northern harrier, crested caracara, sandhill crane, purple gallinule, anhinga, Florida scrub-jay, brown-headed nuthatch, Bachman’s sparrow, red-cockaded woodpecker, snail kite, and loggerhead shrike, plus a huge variety of shorebirds, waterfowl, wading birds, gulls and terns, sparrows, and several species of wintering warblers. We’ll keep the itinerary flexible to take advantage of weather and birding conditions.

Home base during the Return to Space Coast Reader Rendezvous will be the Fairfield Inn & Suites Titusville/Kennedy Space Center, located near the intersection of Florida Route 50 and I-95. See below for lodging details.

Our weekend will start at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, January 31, when Rendezvous registration opens in the lobby of the Fairfield Inn & Suites. The late afternoon hours are yours for settling in and relaxing, and then we’ll gather for the Happy Birders’ Hour (beer, wine, lemonade, snacks from 4 to 5 p.m.) in the hotel conference room, followed by a catered dinner, staff and attendee introductions, a review of the schedule ahead, a “tips for polite birding” primer, and a fun game or two. We may also include a short slide presentation featuring the birds of the area from one of our local guides, time permitting.

Thursday, February 1: Bachman’s Sparrow Overdrive!

This popular birding itinerary was a special pre-Rendezvous add-on trip in 2015. But it was so awesome that we decided to bake it right into the recipe for our Return to Space Coast. We’ll leave the Fairfield Inn in Titusville before dawn and drive to Hal Scott Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in hopes of seeing some of central Florida’s most sought-after birds: Bachman’s sparrow, red-cockaded woodpecker, and brown-headed nuthatch. After we get our target birds we’ll head over to the Orlando Wetlands for a variety of water-loving birds, including limpkin, purple gallinule, wood stork, and others. While at Orlando Wetlands, special guest guide and bird artist Catherine Hamilton will lead a beginning field-sketching workshop. She’ll teach us how to create a basic sketch—even if you’ve never tried it before. We’ll share more details about this in the final itinerary that we send to Rendezvous participants. Catherine’s appearance is courtesy of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, a longtime sponsor of our Reader Rendezvous adventures.

After lunch, we’ll visit Blue Heron Wetlands on the way back to Titusville. We’ll return to the hotel by 3 p.m. or so to rest up for the Happy Birders’ Hour, followed by dinner at the world-famous Dixie Crossroads restaurant. After dinner, we’ll go back to the hotel for a fascinating presentation by Gina Kent, one of our local guides, on her research work using satellite tracking to monitor snail kites in Florida.

Friday, February 2:   Let’s Go Find a Kite!

Friday will be devoted to birding and skill building in the field at some of east-central Florida’s best birding spots. Sites we’ll visit include Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, Joe Overstreet Road, Lake Marian, and Forever Florida, where we’ll have a family-style lunch. Our primary target birds this day are snail kite (hence the name), red-headed woodpecker, crested caracara, and maybe even a whooping crane, if we’re lucky. Dinner will be near the hotel, overlooking a golf course, at a place called the Blue Heron Restaurant. We’ll enjoy a program from our local guide Adam Kent on “Florida’s Endangered Birds.”

Saturday, February 3: Earning Your Birding “Merritt” Badge

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a must-bird destination in the Space Coast region. Home to Florida scrub-jays, alligators, manatees, and an incredible bird list, Merritt delights hundreds of thousands of birders annually with its wildlife driving routes and wonderful visitor center. One of our hoped-for species—the painted bunting—may be at the visitor center feeders, and we’ll certainly try for it. We’ll also look for reddish egret, roseate spoonbill, and other long-legged waders, plus a long list of waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls, and terns. We will also bird at Smyrna Dunes State Park. Saturday evening we’ll gather in the hotel banquet room for our social hour and dinner followed by a birding presentation by one of our expert staff members.

Sunday, February 4: Things Turn Bittern

Sunday will find us back out in the field early to try out all of our newfound birding skills and techniques at one of Florida’s best birding hotspots: Viera Wetlands. Catherine Hamilton will offer her second field-sketching workshop while we are birding there. Our target species will include both least and American bittern, sora and other rails, peregrine falcon, and a variety of ducks, including mottled duck and the whistling ducks. We’ll bird until 11:30 a.m., and then head back to Titusville to enjoy a picnic lunch at a waterfront pavilion. We’ll also go over the weekend’s checklist, which should be quite impressive. Then we’ll return to the hotel and say our “see you laters” to our fellow Rendezvousers.

Note: This itinerary will be kept flexible to take advantage of local birding conditions. If rainy weather makes outdoor birding difficult during the weekend, we’ll head indoors for our workshops and wait until the conditions are more conducive to birding.

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