When it comes to bird-watching, or sighting other critters in the wild, I'm often reduced to acting like that annoying guy in the movie theater who doesn't understand what just happened in a big-budget spy thriller.
I'm the one leaning over the person next to me and whispering, "Is that the eagle's nest? Over there?" "There's a gator in those weeds? Is that it?"
So, although I love the quiet of such natural gems as the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Titusville, it's not unusual for me to leave with the feeling that I've missed a lot of the best stuff.
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Titusville, FL, USA
Not so on a recent visit, a rain-soaked road trip to take a spin on the seven-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive, check out the manatee observation area on Haulover Canal and stroll the wooden walkways at the visitor center. The refuge is one of the prime backdrops for the 16th Annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival (spacecoastbirdingandwildlifefestival.org), which unfolds Jan. 23-28.
The event attracts birders and wildlife aficionados worldwide for field trips into marshes and woodlands of natural conservation areas, landfills and water reclamation sites in Brevard and Volusia counties. Activities also include kayaking excursions and tours of the Canaveral National Seashore.
The Black Point drive will be the spot for Beginning Birding field trips on Jan. 24 and 26. Hosted by Nancy Corona of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and members of the Merritt Island Wildlife Association, the trips are limited to 40 guests, who will depart as part of a carpool from the visitor center to the nearby loop.
If the drive is anything like my rainy-day experience, there will be plenty to see. Even with my aforementioned cluelessness, I spotted roughly a dozen great egrets, as well as roseate spoonbills, ducks and wood storks. No gators (which was fine) and no activity spotted through the primitive telescopes pointed at the bald eagle nest, but still an impressive show.
I had a close-up look at four manatees in Haulover Canal, watched a surf fisherman reel in a pompano at Canaveral National Seashore and stood inches away from beautiful painted buntings at the visitor center.
On the way home, I stopped for my customary shrimp and grits at Dixie Crossroads (dixiecrossroads.com) in Titusville, a tasty way to avoid the rain.