With the summer upon Southwest Florida, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is all a flutter with birds, birds, and more birds. To celebrate the estuary’s avian residents, Rookery Bay has marked Wednesday, June 17 as Bird Day, complete with a fun-filled schedule of feathered activities. What’s more, admission is free and open to the public, so head on over the bay for an education-packed day in Paradise. For more information, visit rookerybay.org.
Here’s a look at what’s in store on Rookery Bay’s Bird Day:
- The bird fun begins at 9:15 a.m. with a screening of the award-winning documentary, Winged Migration, at the Environmental Learning Center.
- Moms and tots can work on an artistic, bird-themed, masterpiece from 10-11 a.m. at the Art for Mom and Me art workshop (admission costs $25, registration required).
- From 11-11:45 a.m., join Rookery Bay naturalists for the Birds of Bay coastal connection program. Guests will learn the basics of bird identification, with naturalists detailing different bird plumage of the coastal water birds that frequent Rookery Bay.
From 12-1 p.m., writer, photographer, and environmental educator Kirsten Hines will host a special Lunch and Learn lecture. Selections of her most recent photography books, Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens and Birds of Fairchild, are currently on display at Rookery Bay in the exhibition, “South Florida Birds and Gardens.” With a M.S. in biology, Hine’s work is built upon a solid bedrock of biological principals, helping to show readers and viewers the oft hidden or misunderstood world of plants and birds in an entertaining, engaging, and easily understood way.
Photo by Kirsten Hines
For her Lunch and Learn lecture, “Gardening for Birds in South Florida,” Hines will lead the discussion on how gardening in South Florida, a sub-tropical locale, differs from the rest of North America, but is no less important, with nearly 300 bird species living, or migrating to our portion of the country. What’s more, more than 70 percent of Florida’s upland habitat—vital birding habitat—has been lost due to development, making site-specific gardening vital for maintaining and proliferating the region’s unique ecological landscape. Hines will discuss these issues, while giving practical ideas and uses of land to suit both bird and human. Admission to this event costs $10.
- From 12:30-1:30 p.m., guests can get a tactile lesson on the estuary inhabitants at the touch tank. Join park naturalists as they explain how horseshoe crabs, sea stars, and mollusks all play a vital role in the overall health of the unique marine habitat encompassing Rookery Bay.
- And from 2-2:45 p.m., join the naturalists as they delve into the incredibly varied collection of seashells in Southwest Florida. Find out the story behind the shell, from the animal that generated it, to the animals that scuttle around them now.
For those who cannot make it to the Rookery Bay for Bird Day, here are a few guidelines direct from the naturalists to help make this nesting season—April through August—a successful one:
- Avoid walking near dunes or beachside vegetation where eggs may be hidden.
- Keep your distance from any birds on the beach.
- Do not force birds to fly.
- Respect posted areas.
- Report violations to FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline: 888-404-3922.
- Keep pets leashed or consider leaving them at home.
- Never deploy fireworks at or near an active nesting area.
- Don’t leave any litter or food behind – this can attract nest predators.
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and tackle some of the reserve’s self-guided nature trails for some in-the-field bird watching.
Not far from the learning center, the Snail Trail and Observation Platform gives hikers and birders a chance to walk through scrubland to the Henderson Creek, catching a glimpse of some of the year-round bird species still flitting around Rookery Bay.
Farther down Henderson Creek, near Shell Island Road, Trails Through Time, a series of four quarter-mile trails, gives visitors a chance to explore deeper into Rookery Bay without fully dropping off the grid.
The Shell Mound Trail, which starts at the field center, takes hikers along the mangrove-fringed shoreline. As the name suggests, the trail borders pre-Calusa middens and historical sites, with signage discussing the historical inhabitants to this land.
The Monument Point Trail begins near the end of the Shell Mound Trail (at the Shell Island Road boat ramp), and continues to the mouth of Henderson Creek. At the end of the line sits a large stone monument dedicated to the children that helped raise the initial funds for the purchase of the Rookery Bay lands in order to preserve them for future generations. Wading and water birds can be seen along the way, sticking to the mangroves and scouring the muddy shores and flats for crustaceans and small fish.