Palm Coast - For New Yorkers Lon and Helen Penna, birding is a part of life. They journey south to Florida every year to attend the City of Palm Coast's annual Birds of a Feather Fest. The appeal is the outdoors, the calm and relaxing atmosphere, and the opportunity to see wildlife in different environments.

"We like that they have wonderful guides and the trips they plan are a little different each year," Helen said.

Helen has been a birder all her life - developing a love for birds at early age thanks to childhood camping trips. For Lon, his love for birds came a bit later. Inspired by Helen, he began birding while on a trip to Pakistan 20 years ago.

"It gets us outdoors and it's so relaxing and enriching," Lon said.

This year is no different. The couple plan to attend the 5th annual Birds of a Feather Fest from Feb. 7-10 while visiting Lon's parents, who have lived here for the last two decades.

The Pennas have been coming here for 20 years and have attended each festival since its inception in 2015, while also seeing the city grow in population, develop commercially, and evolve. They appreciate that the small-community feel remains strong, with sidewalks and bike paths, and rooted in nature.

This year they have their hearts set on spotting a birds on the various trips such as the Florida Scrub-Jay, Roseate Spoonbill, Painted Bunting, Sandhill Crane and the Limpkin.

"We love going out to the nature and exploring what birds are in different habitats," Helen said. "Even if we don't see any birds it's still an adventure.".

The adventure of attending the festival includes trips to unique locales in Palm Coast, Flagler County and North/Central Florida, offering sights of native and migratory birds and a chance to connect and learn from bird experts in a small setting.

"One of the most enjoyable experiences was hearing the keynote speaker Greg Miller describe the making of the movie about him 'The Big Year,'" recalled Lon. "I felt very privileged to hear that story."

Helen has standout memories, as well, including a trip to Frank Rendon Park in Daytona Beach where a birding expert pointed out the many differences between thousands of gulls. Helen has seen 60 different bird species in Flagler County during her trips.  

Now that the Pennas have been birding for so many years, they have some advice for new birders: get a good pair of binoculars, a good birding book, research birding hot spots online, join a birding club, and take some time to look outside your own home.

At the couple's Scotia, New York, home, they have 16 bird feeders and a heated bird bath. They've seen 17 different species in their own yard.

While visiting Palm Coast has become an annual tradition, the Pennas say birding also takes them to the desert and the mountains. In retirement, the couple volunteer as humanitarians through Rotary International. They've provided 600 sewing machines to girls' schools in Pakistan and have sent bicycles and medical supplies to the country. They have also been to China and made time for birding there. They also plan to go to Africa and explore birding there.

A vacation or trip that includes birds is the icing on the cake. "It's our favorite thing to do," Lon said.

Many guided birding trips, workshops, social events and the keynote lecture are still available for this year's Birds of a Feather Fest. Some activities are geared toward beginners, while others are for more experienced birders. Many are free, including National Audubon Society executive David Ringer's talk on Friday evening and four beginner bird walks on Saturday. See the schedule and register for events at www.birdingfest.com.

Media interested in interviewing the Helen and Lon Penna, please contact Kimberly Norman at knorman@palmcoastgov.com or 386-986-3717.