Wetlands’ “best friend” to be permanently remembered


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A Florida scrub jay rests on Corbeil in a lighthearted photo called “Where did that bird go?,” posted by friends to a collection of photos of the famed naturalist and photographer at pbase.com/charlie_corbeil, click In Memoriam.

Gene Wright

Government and community leaders, citizens group members, fans and friends of legendary local naturalist and photographer Charlie Corbeil of Suntree are planning ways to remember him that will peak with an April festival to celebrate his beloved wetlands.

Major naming opportunities are under consideration for the man who photographed and shared the Viera Wetlands with nature enthusiasts from across Brevard and around the world, and taught them to photograph its wildlife as well.

A special edition birding guide by expo producer and Viera Voice publisher Bluewater Creative Group was printed this month and dedicated to Corbeil featuring his wildlife photos. The Charlie Corbeil Birding Guide is available at the Viera Wetlands entrance information kiosk and at the newspaper offices at 7630 N.  Wickham Rd., Suite 105 in Viera.

The waves of condolences and expressions of Corbeil’s greatness and kindness are a healing balm, said his wife, Charlotte, author of the “Parting Shot” column in Viera Voice. The feature showcased birds and other wildlife that make their home primarily on the Space Coast alongside Charlie’s photos of them. He passed away recently after complications from a fall.

“Charlie’s friends have been a great comfort in their comments. He was a sincere and gentle man and enjoyed everyone he met,” Charlotte Corbeil said.

The wetlands have lost a best friend, according to Environmental Land Manager Raleigh T. Berry III with the Brevard County Natural Resources Management Department, which oversees the wetlands.

“He’ll be hard to replace. No, impossible,” said Berry, Brevard County liaison to the nonprofit Friends of Viera Wetlands (FOVW).

Corbeil and others started the group to help steward the wetlands that are relied upon by an astounding number of resident and migratory birds and a myriad of other wildlife species.

Harry Behret is the FOVW liaison for the production of the Birding Guide and one of Corbeil’s many converts from wetlands tourist to enthusiast.

“When I first went down to the wetlands 10 years ago, Charlie was the first person I met. He was responsible for giving the Viera Wetlands its reputation and fame. He publicized it on social media, on the Internet, and through all his many connections in the naturalist and photography circles,” Beret said. “Plus, he was one of the nicest people I have met in my life. He was so busy helping people, I’m surprised he had time to take pictures.”

Like the original Viera Wetlands Birding Guide produced two years ago and whose stocks are now depleted, 

the new Charlie Corbeil Birding Guide is a guaranteed hit with nature fans. It will now also be a permanent homage to Corbeil that is also a useful personal keepsake.

“Once we put it out, it goes so fast, you can’t keep up with the demand. It’s an amazingly popular publication,” Behret said. “It’s an invaluable resource, and the pictures are marvelous, too. Once people pick it up, they get inspired to check off all the species they can spot, and keep coming back time after time to spot more species and check off more boxes.

The guide exhorts: “Take a trip to some of the world’s greatest birding adventures right in your own backyard. The Ritch Grissom Memorial Viera Wetlands at the west end of Wickham Road is chock full of endangered and rare birds, reptiles and other wildlife that illustrate Florida living.”

The guide is just one more gift Corbeil made to the wetlands, the species that thrive there, and the people who love both, Behret said.

“Charlie sharing his images for free was a tremendous contribution. You don’t find that in the photography community at his expertise level.”

Robert Wicker is a close friend of the Corbeils and founding FOVW president. He and Behret worked closely with Corbeil as fellow volunteers with FOVW and the BRAVE program that coordinates thousands of county volunteers. They are working privately, apart from their membership in either of those groups, with Brevard County on the selection of naming opportunities.

“He was our No. 1 ambassador to the wetlands, and a great steward of them. Not only could he talk about photography and help you with your shooting skills, he could also teach you about what was out there in nature,” Wicker said of the renowned Florida naturalist.

Current president FOVW Terry Mott is heading up coordination of the April Viera Wetlands Nature Festival. She played a major role in expanding the one-day event to an entire weekend last year, with Charlie hosting popular tours and teaching nature photography. She said the festival and all FOVW events for the year will be dedicated to Corbeil.

“We will all miss Charlie so much” Mott said. “Through his brilliant photography and teachings, he inspired all of us to learn more about and appreciate the wildlife that lives in our own backyard.”   .

Charlotte Corbeil reflected on her late husband’s life with a message to his fans and friends.

“His passion was nature, especially at the wetlands with its inhabitants. There, sunrises and sunsets were most comforting to him. Thank you all for remembering Charlie.”

For information about the Charlie Corbeil Birding Guide, call 321-242-1235. To view Corbeil’s photographs and post comments or favorite photos of him, go to his website at pbase.com/charlie_corbeil. VV

 

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