I want to inform you that VENT will be attending the 18th Annual Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival at Eastern Florida State College in Titusville, Florida, January 21-26, 2015.
This premier event offers opportunities for participants to explore world-renowned natural areas of Florida’s Space Coast in the vicinity of Cape Canaveral, home to the largest collection of endangered wildlife and plants in the continental United States. Festival activities include field trips and outdoor workshops; an offshore pelagic boat trip; paddling and water adventures; a nature-based trade show; the Raptor Project; art show and competition; classroom presentations; and informal opportunities to meet national authorities on birds, plants, photography, optics, and technology. Swarovski Optik presents the World Digiscopers Meeting with presentations and field workshops to learn and experience new opportunities to photograph birds and wildlife. Among the keynote presenters this year are Bill Thompson III of Bird Watcher’s Digest; Jeff Bouton of Leica Sport Optics; Elsa Alvear, Chief of Resource Management, Biscayne National Park; and artist/naturalist Julie Zickefoose.
Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis will represent VENT on field trips and at a booth in the convention hall. If you are in the area, or would like to experience one of the country’s top birding festivals, I encourage you to come to Titusville this winter and participate on a field trip, or stop by our booth and say hello to Michael and Louise!
Although VENT has attended bird festivals around the country for many years, we have a special affection for the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. On one level, it is one of the most significant events in North American birding each year for the number of people and high profile personalities it attracts, but on another level it is the story of the festival’s birth that I find so compelling.
I have always taken a keen interest in the lives of those who have built successful businesses or other organizations from scratch, and such is the case with Laurilee Thompson, the person most responsible for the festival that in 2015 will operate for the 18th time.
Laurilee is a fifth generation Floridian who can trace her ancestry in the state to before the Civil War when her great-great-grandfather came up the St. John’s River and settled. Laurilee’s family has been in the region ever since, and her own youth was spent on the Indian River in Titusville fishing, playing, and working. With a love of fishing and the sea, she became a commercial fisherwoman after college and spent the next stage of her life working the offshore waters from North Carolina’s Outer Banks to the Gulf of Mexico.
After ten years at sea, Laurilee returned to Titusville to help her family run the family restaurant, Dixie Crossroads. Upon her return, however, she found the places of her childhood, principally the Indian River, almost totally despoiled. The clear waters of her youth that once teemed with fishes, corals, and bioluminescent phosphorus were all gone. In their place was only murky, polluted water and algal slime.
Appalled, Laurilee and a small group of volunteers were inspired to act. They met at the Dixie Crossroads 18 years ago and literally invented the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. The whole notion of a nature festival along Florida’s Space Coast, which is named for nearby Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center, was to build a community-based event in Titusville in which nature-based tourism served as the primary means of promoting and protecting the environment of Central Florida. Specifically, it is the use of science and technology to benefit wildlife that has emerged as the festival’s central theme.
Through the hard work and dedication of Laurilee, Neta Harris, Rhonda Harris, and many other people, as well as members of the Brevard Nature Alliance, the festival is firmly established as one of the country’s best-organized and best-attended birding and nature events. The people and businesses of the city of Titusville and Brevard County are immensely supportive of the event organizers and their goals of showing the importance of preserving natural areas and native habitats. However, the event is far more than a regional attraction, as evidenced by the fact that each year the festival sees visitors from the majority of states, as well as from several foreign countries.
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours is a proud sponsor of the festival and believes firmly in its purpose.