Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve hosted its 13th Annual Southwest Florida Nature Festival on January 13-15. Guests had the opportunity to partake in over 30 guided field trips to wildlife hot spots around Southwest Florida and programs at the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center (ELC).
Guided field trips, birding walks, buggy rides and boat tours were offered in conjunction with partners at dozens of locations including Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Naples Botanical Garden.
The kick off to the three-day event began Friday, January 13 at Rookery Bay’s ELC. Although it was a rainy morning, the rest of the day cleared up with a beautiful sunny sky. With various activities and locations hosting guided field trips, guests had plenty to choose from. What is unique about the nature festival is that some of the tours provided by Rookery Bay Reserve are only held once a year during the three-day event.
A volunteer photographer provided an informational session teaching both amateur and experienced photographers the best methods and settings to capture wildlife. This prepared guests for their nature safari, allowing them to get the best quality photos from their experience. They learned skills the first half of the day. Once guests became familiarized with their cameras, they would embark on the tours the following day.
There was a marine life touch tank that attracted many of the visitors when first walking into the ELC. Two volunteers, Alison Hanes and Linda, conducted informational sessions that provided insight regarding some of the critters you may encounter while walking on one of Southwest Florida’s beaches. Both kids and “big kids” at heart will be able to recognize some of the animals and learn the proper etiquette when encountering shells, starfish, and many others in the wildlife.
“It isn’t about the money.
It’s about the experiences created here.”
~ Renee Wilson, Rookery Bay Communications Coordinator
Saturday’s on-site activities resumedwith three featured lectures and a keynote speaker. The first was titled, “A 10,000-mile Journey, the Life Cycle of the Swallow-tailed Kite.” Research ecologist and coordinator at Avian Research and Conservation Institute was the guest speaker describing her results of the latest research on swallow-tailed kites. The next lecture was titled, “Seabird Banding, Revealing the Mileage.” Shorebird stewardship program coordinator for Audubon Florida, Adam DiNuovo, described how banding has helped researchers understand the amazing lives of seabirds and shorebirds. The next featured lecture, “Life of a Volunteer Bird Steward, A Photographic Journey,” which featured breathtaking images of beach nesting birds, burrowing owls and Florida’s Critical Wildlife Areas through the eyes of local award-winning nature photographer Jean Hall. Lastly, the keynote presentation that concluded the evening, “My Big Year Birding Adventure in North America,” by author Sandy Komito. It is noted that Komito is the only birder in North America who’s ever done two record-setting “Big Years,” each of which exceeded 700 bird species observed. His experience helped inspire the book and movie “The Big Year.”
Renee Wilson, communications coordinator for Rookery Bay Reserve, was seen throughout the day at the ELC. A three-day event is no easy task to organize, especially when multiple off-site locations are involved. When asked about the funding to put on an event like this: “It isn’t about the money” Wilson said. “It’s about the experiences created here.” She encourages everyone, from all walks of life, to visit the ELC and connect with some of Southwest Florida’s remarkable culture.
For many visitors, it is not their first festival nor their last. The main goal of the weekend was to provide “fun for all.” Returning locals and vacationers frequent the ELC because of its inviting atmosphere and friendly volunteers ready to answer any questions about the local environment and creatures that inhabit it.
Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center is located at 300 Tower Road, Naples. To register for future events, visit www.rookerybay.org.