Its time to get in touch with your wild side at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve’s eleventh annual Southwest Florida Nature Festival. Designed to raise awareness about Southwest Florida’s natural surroundings and all the feathered, scaled and furry inhabitants calling it home, Rookery Bay will lead nearly 40 filed trips to 20 different wildlife hotspots, and host a series of lectures designed to educate and entertain over the three-day festival.
For those looking to get their feet wet, the guided field trips are a must. Expeditions begin on Friday, and run through Sunday with a few evening trips in the mix. There is something for every activity level and interest, from buggy rides and kayak expeditions along mangrove-fringed forests to birding for beginners and knee-deep marine life walks, the wilderness becomes your playground, with a an expert leading you on the journey to point out highlights along the way. There are quite a few intriguing treks into the wild that are not to be missed:
- For the complete field trip lineup and registration, click here.
The Big Cypress Turner River Canoe expedition (10 a.m.-2 p.m. on January 16; 5:15-6:30 p.m., January 17), takes paddlers deep into Big Cypress National Preserve in order to take stock of the ecosystem. Armed with scopes, dip nets, wildlife and plant life identification cards, pH tests and activity sheets, eco-tourists will access the health of the ecosystem with scientific study, observation and more. Limited to 10 people; admission is $10.
Get off the beaten path with the Corkscrew Backcountry Buggy tours. Scheduled for morning and afternoon on both Friday and Saturday, guests will climb aboard the off-road cruisers and explore the largely inaccessible area of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Led by Corkscrew naturalists, the tour traverses multiple habitats: pine flatwoods, wet prairie, marsh and old-growth bald cypress forest, giving those lucky few aboard a chance to see a place few ever have. Limited to nine people; cost is $60 per person.
Climb into the kayak and paddle along the mangrove-fringed creeks and bays on the Isle of Capri Kayak Trip. Scheduled for morning (10 a.m-12 p.m.) and mid-day (1-3 p.m.) on Saturday, this tour embarks from the newly completed Isle of Capri Paddle Park, and explores the wet and wild estuary habitat, catching glimpses of osprey, crabs and maybe even a dolphin or two. Groups limited to 10 people; cost is $50 per person.
For those with a thirst for knowledge, Saturday, January 17, has a full docket of hour-long presentations and lectures, designed to inform attendees about the feathered friends of Southwest Florida. Lectures are free with cost of Rookery Bay Reserve admission ($10):
- At 11 a.m., environmental educator Kristen Hines will lead a discussion about “South Florida Birds and Gardens,” teaching guests how to landowners can help maintain the ecological balance for birds by landscaping to suit their need.
- At 12 p.m., Naples Botanical Garden’s Natural Areas Manager, Eric Foht, will lead the presentation “Living Roofs: Flowers in the Sky,” aimed to teach how roofs can be transformed into a dynamic garden space that not only helps reduce those energy bills, but aids the natural habitat of Southwest Florida too.
- Naturalist Jack Berninger will lead a discussion on bird behavior at 1 p.m., delving into the adaptive actions birds pick up.
- Author and Rookery Bay Aquarist, Geoff Trager, will examine the facts and fiction of bird poaching in the Southwest Florida with his lecture, “Poachers in Paradise,” at 2 p.m.
- At 3 p.m., Teb Below will lead a lecture on smallest of the American tern family, “Least Terns.” A small, colonial nesting bird (colonies) that prefers open beach habitat, least terns currently face a plethora of problems in nesting, with habitat destruction and loss, the affects of human and pet intrusion, and sea level rise all inhibiting successful nesting.
The Southwest Florida Nature Festival’s keynote lecture will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, with Pete Frezza, Research Manager – Everglades Region of the Audubon Florida’s Everglades Science Center, leading discussion about “Roseate Spoonbills in the Everglades: A Look into the Past, Present and Future of the Flame Bird.” One of the most recognizable birds in the Everglades due to its bright pink color and its elongated, spatula-like bill, the roseate spoonbill is a fascinating wading bird that may be a key indicator to the overall health of the Everglades. The lecture will incorporate the National Audubon Society’s 75-year history of studying this add yet magnificent bird, from their historical nesting patterns to the results of a long-term banding research project. Frezza will also look ahead at some of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan projects aimed to help improve the these bird’s delicate habitat.
- Pete Frezza’s lecture will run from 5:30-7 p.m. Admission costs $15, and registration is required—click here to register.
- Registration for lecture presentations is not required but highly recommended due to limited seating.
- Registration for field trips is required and remains open until the day before each field trip is scheduled.
- For more information and to register, visit rookerybay.org.