Call it Nature-palooza 2015.
Next weekend — Jan. 16-18 — Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Big Cypress National Preserve and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida will join forces to host the 2015 Southwest Florida Nature Festival. In its 11th year, the three-day event is packed with some 40 guided field trips to 20 wildlife hotspots around Southwest Florida, as well as a number of lectures and workshops at the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center.
The festival kicks off Friday, Jan. 16, with buy-one-get-one free $5 admission to Rookery Bay, along with a host field trips around Southwest Florida. The highlight of this day for Marco Islanders will be one of two burrowing owl tours guided by Marco Island City Environmental Specialist Nancy Richie. Marco Island is habitat for approximately 65 pairs of burrowing owls, a state of Florida “Species of Special Concern.” From City Hall, attendees will drive (carpool if possible) to two nearby locations to view the burrows and owls. Onsite information will be providedabout the biology, history, habitat, behavior, etiquette in maintaining/viewing and the human impacts of the burrowing owls in the urban environment.
There will be two burrowing owl tours: one from 7-9 AM and the second from 3-5 PM. The cost is $10, and there is a group size limit of 20 people. Richie encourages folks to bring binoculars so they can get a closer look at some of Marco Island’s most loved wildlife.
If nature enthusiasts are looking for total immersion on Friday, they should head to the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve for a tromp in the swamp with Biologist Mike Owen. The interior of the Fakahatchee Strand supports a rich growth of tropical plants, as well as many bird and animal species, including Red-shouldered Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Barred Owl, Common Ground Dove, Great Egret, White Ibis, Limpkin, Florida black bear, river otter, Everglades mink and the endangered Florida Panther. Since there is no path, participants wade through cypress forest and popash-pondapple sloughs in water from 1-3 feet deep.Long pants and lace-up boots are suggested for the four-hour tour, which runs from 9 AM-1 PM and costs $10. Maximum group size is 15.
Other Friday field trips include taking a plant walk or a canoe ride down the Turner River at Big Cypress National Preserve. Backcountry buggy rides are available at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and a special sundown swamp buggy ride is available at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, which is part of the northern extension of the Fakahatchee Strand. Those who want to try their hand at birding will have the chance at Eagle Lakes Park, Sand Dollar Spit or in the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Rookery Bay also will host a cultural history walk and a morning kayak trip, while the Conservancy is offering a sunset cruise around the Rookery Bay on the Good Fortune pontoon boat.
On Saturday, Jan. 17, Rookery Bay will host a series of five nature lectures. Admission to Rookery bay that day is $10, and includes entry to all lectures. The festival’sSaturday lecture series includes:
- “South Florida Birds & Garden” by writer, photographer and environmental educator Kirsten Hines at 11 AM
- “Living Roofs, Flowers in the Sky” by Eric Foht, natural areas manager at Naples Botanical Gardens, at 12 PM
- “Bird Behavior” by retired biology teacher and naturalist Jack Berninger at 1 PM
- “Poachers in Paradise” by Geoff Trager, a marine biologist, aquarist at Rookery Bay Reserve, naturalist and educational kayak tour guide, and environmental fiction writer, at 2 PM
- “Least Terns” by longtime Rookery Bay volunteer Ted Below at 3PM
Additionally, Rookery Bay also will host the festival’s keynote lecture Saturday, Jan. 17, 5:30-7:00 PM. “Roseate Spoonbills in the Everglades: A Look into the Past, Present and Future of the Flame Bird” will be given by Pete Frezza, research manager-Everglades Region for Audubon Florida’s Everglades Science Center. He will discuss findings from Audubon’s 75-year history of monitoring roseate spoonbill populations in southern Florida, and will include a look into historical nesting patterns in Florida Bay and factors that have led to changes in population over time alongwith results from long-term banding and satellite telemetry projects with these birds. He also will give a brief overview of Everglades Restoration projects that are expected to improve conditions for these birds throughout the ecosystem.
Saturday and Sunday also bring new menus of field trips from which to choose. Birding walks, swamp buggy tours, cultural history walks and canoe rides will be available. There also be a gopher tortoise walk on Barefoot Beach, a special view of the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker at Big Cypress Nature Preserve, island kayak tours around Goodland and Isles of Capri, a scrub tour at Naples Botanical Garden, a tour of Tigertail Beach and Sand Dollar Lagoon, a 12-mile bike ride at Big Cypress and shelling on Marco Island’s South Beach.
Go to rookerybay.org/learn/swfl-nature-festival/nature-festival-2015-field-trips.html for a full listing of the field trips offered during the 2015 Southwest Florida Nature Festival and to register and pay for field trips. Registration is required to participate in the field, and is open until the day before the field trip.
To register by phone or for more information, call 239-530-5972.