Registration opens for Birding and Nature Festival

Now that we’ve all survived the long Fourth of July holiday, it’s time to start looking forward to the best month of all in Florida – October. The kids are back in school and the temperatures are starting to drop so outdoors is enjoyable again and birds are migrating through Tampa Bay on their way back to places as far away as Paraguay and Chile.

“You can see birds in this region during spring and fall migration that you’d have to travel half-way around the world if you wanted to add them to your list,” said Mary Keith, president of the Tampa Audubon Society and organizer of the second annual Florida Birding and Nature Festival. “Although birders from around the world recognize the importance of the region for migrating birds, many local residents don’t know how many species of birds depend upon ecosystems in Tampa Bay.”

Scheduled for October 13 to 15, participants can expect to see up to 180 species of birds on field trips led by some of the region’s most experienced birders and naturalists. The trips – priced at about $30 to $65 – also include participation in that day’s seminars on topics ranging from ethical wildlife photography to marine life in Tampa Bay.

“I think the most important thing about this event is the quality of the leaders,” Keith said. “We have the region’s top people who know where to look for the birds and can identify them by both sight and sound.”

Some of the trips are to local preserves – including the newly restored Perico Bay in Manatee County and a photography workshop at the ever-popular Lettuce Lake Park on the Hillsborough River – while others offer an inside peek at islands in the bay that support both wading and shorebirds.

Trips cater to both beginning birders and veterans who are game for “extreme” birding trips to Fort DeSoto Park where more than 250 species of birds of have recorded. There’s even a kids’ wagon tour of the Lower Green Swamp County Preserve, the largest parcel ever purchased through the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program.

Bird lovers aren’t the only ones that will enjoy the festivities.  It also features a series of workshops at Hillsborough Community College’s South Shore Campus in Ruskin (the festival hub), with different “tracks” such as reptiles, insects, restoration and photography. Featured speakers include author Marc Minno (Florida Butterfly Caterpillars and Their Host Plants, the classic guide to butterfly gardening in Florida) and Jerry Jackson, a national expert on woodpeckers and author of In Search of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.

Evening keynote programs feature experts including James “Buddy” Powell, executive director and co-founder of Sea to Shore Alliance, and Resee Collins, regional eagle coordinator for the Florida Migratory Bird Program Field Office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Sunday’s lunchtime keynote is a panel discussion on the economic value of conservation lands in Tampa Bay.

Learn more and sign up for field trips at http://floridabirdingandnaturefestival.org.

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