Whether youre a longtime local or an occasional visitor, organizers of the 15th annual Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival know theres something that will capture your interest on the festivals list of nearly 40 field trips, happy hour talks and workshops.
We encourage you to take this opportunity to get outdoors and experience the natural beauty of the Florida Keys. Our trip leaders are experts in their field, and theyll strive to make every event fun, engaging, and educational, festival coordinator Kristie Killam said. We guarantee a great adventure that will amaze your senses and energize your spirit. What are you waiting for? Get outside and live a little like you are on vacation.
From Key Largo to Key West and from the Everglades and Biscayne Bay to Dry Tortugas national parks, the Tuesday through Sunday festival offers guided bird and butterfly walks, happy hour talks, wildlife photography workshops, a family-friendly wildlife fair, boat and paddle trips and a birding and photography excursion to Dry Tortugas National Park.
Spending some time on the path less traveled is an excellent way to get a fresh perspective on our much-beloved chain of islands. It doesnt take a hardcore birder to appreciate that, though theyre sure have a great time, too.
Keynote speaker Rafael Galvez is leading a series of walks, workshops and talks that will spotlight the variety of birds that travel through the Keys at this time of year, from the smallest of warblers to the largest birds of prey.
Theres a reason the festivals motto is Witness the Magnificence of our Spectacular Fall Migration, said Galvez, a talented illustrator and organizer of the annual two-month-long citizen science project known as the Florida Keys Hawkwatch.
Take the migratory journey of a warbler, for example: "It weighs less than two dimes put together. Yet, flying at night, it migrates all the way from the North Atlantic to South America. In order to refuel for this journey, it stops in, of all places, the Florida Keys, he said.
Four of Galvezs walks begin before sunrise. Those morning trips are going to be special, he said, because thats when those fly-by-night songbirds plunge into the vegetation and feed like crazy.
Just hearing the sound of all that activity in the woods around you is a thrill, Galvez said. And theres always the possibility of spotting a rare species, like last years encounter with a lemon-yellow Bullocks Oriole on a Long Key State Park trail. Thats a sighting that had the birding world abuzz, said Galvez, who counts it among his favorite birding-in-the-Keys moments.
We see excellent birds, Galvez said. We see some birds that have to be reviewed by the Florida Ornithological Society because theyre not known to be in Florida.
Guided by birding, butterfly and photography experts from throughout South Florida, festival participants get a backstage pass to many of our natural gems, including a half-dozen state parks, the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden, the National Key Deer Refuge and the waters of the Upper Keys backcountry. Stuck in the 9-to-5 grind? You can join keynote speaker Galvez for one of those early morning walks in Key Largo, Long Key or Big Pine Key or attend one of three talks set for happy hour in Key Largo, Marathon and Key West.
For the past three years, the Homestead-based Galvez has organized the Florida Keys Hawkwatch, the southernmost migration monitoring project in the continental United States. From its perch at Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon, the largely volunteer effort documents as many as 25,000 birds of prey of 18 species and more than 120 species of waders, shorebirds and songbirds as they migrate through the Keys in the fall. The festival is partnering with Hawkwatch to provide festival goers with daily opportunities to participate in citizen science. Combine that with opportunities to spot migrating songbirds and rare endemic bird and wildlife species in the beautiful subtropical habitats of the Florida Keys and you have the ingredients for a fantastic adventure. Galvez kicks off his walks at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, at Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. Later in the day, he joins Audubons Pete Frezza for Wading Birds of Florida Bay, the festivals opening evening event at the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo. Friday evenings reception at the Marathon Garden Club, The Spectacular Fall Migration over the Florida Keys also features Galvez, as well as refreshments and hors doeuvres. Among other festival highlights: -- Florida State Parks biologist Janice Duquesnel leads three walks in Dagny Johnson, Windley Key and Indian Key state parks that will provide insight into our islands unique history both natural and manmade. -- Local photographer Chad Anderson and Through the Lens Gallerys Dick Fortune and Sara Lopez share their secrets with budding nature photographers during workshops and field trips. -- Joy Tatgenhorst of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary guides mangrove kayak expeditions around Curry Hammock. -- Key West birding guide Mark Hedden introduces The Magnificent Seven: Seven American Birds Youre Unlikely to See Outside the Florida Keys.
Two of the festivals perennial favorites are slated for the weekend. -- Bring the family to the Wildlife Fair from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at Curry Hammock and enjoy free park admission. The fair features folk music by Grant Livingston, dozens of booths, a scavenger hunt, hands-on kids projects and burgers and dogs benefiting Friends of Islamorada Area State Parks. Visit the traveling Sheriffs Animal Farm. Go on self-guided kayak expeditions and beach hikes. Round out your day with a free evening astronomy program with Elizabeth Moore, NASA Solar System educator. -- Birding guide Hedden and photographers Fortune and Lopez lead two groups on a daylong trip via ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park, a favored bird stopover 70 miles out from Key West. There is something for everyone at this years festival, Killam said. We encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors in the Florida Keys. Advance registration is required for many events. For the full schedule and registration details, visit www.keysbirdingfest.org. You can also register by calling Kristie Killam at 305-304-9625. The Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Festival is sponsored in part by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.