Leaves rustling on a light breeze in harmony with twittering songbirds. A mullet splashing out of a brackish bay. Slivers of sunlight dappling the leafy ground. There are many sights and sounds to enjoy in Southwest Florida.
Throughout the seasons residents and visitors can enjoy nature hikes, paddling, birding and photography on hundreds of thousands of acres that are protected as conservation lands. As temperatures drop, the environment welcomes new arrivals from the north, many of which have flown here on their own two wings.
Now in its 12th year, the SouthwestFlorida Nature Festival at Rookery Bay invites human snowbirds – and residents – to get out and experience wildlife across many habitats. Almost 40 guided field trips to 20 wildlife hot spots are offered in conjunction with partners such as Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Area and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
Whether you wish to explore a swamp, marsh, scrub or beach, the Nature Festival has a field trip for you. Trips meet at sunrise, sunset and many times in between. If you’d prefer not to walk, youcan tour on a bike, buggy, boat or kayak. Each trip is led by an expert, and all trips have a limited number of spaces to ensure a quality learning and viewing experience for all involved. Trips are reasonably priced, starting from just $10, and online registration is easy at www.rookerybay.org/learn/swfl-nature-festival.html.
One new experience this year is Get Fire-flyed Up, an evening firefly walk at Big Cypress National Preserve. Ranger Luke will unveil the mysteries surrounding nature’s flashing beacons and engage participants in recording their backyard observations to help scientists studying fireflypopulation trends across North America.
Another exciting addition is the Nature Photography Workshop. This two-session workshop is designed as a skill-building class for relative newcomers to digital SLR photography. The first session will address nature photography techniques in the classroom, and the second day begins “in the field” at sunrise.
Many field trips are recurring favorites that never get old, such as the swamp buggy tour at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Even with options for morning and evening, this unique experience sells out early each year. Members of the Friends of Rookery Bay canaccess registration for field trips one week before it is open to the public.
The Southwest Florida Nature Festival is more than just field trips. The three-day event includes BOGO admission on Friday, January 15. On-site activities at the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center on Saturday January 16 include three afternoon lectures for $10. The keynote presentation features Blair and Dawn Witherington’s “Florida’s Living Beaches.” Cost is $15. Learn more at www.rookerybay.org.
Renee Wilson is Communications Coordinator at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. She has been a Florida resident since 1986 has joined the staff at the reserve in 2000.