Florida Birding and Nature Festival Takes Flight in Tampa Bay

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21 September 2016
The Florida Birding and Nature Festival returns to Tampa Bay, October 13-16, thanks to Tampa Audubon, Hillsborough County and a host of community partners. The three-day festival lands at the Hillsborough Community College, South Shore Campus in Ruskin.

Keynote speakers include Carlton Ward, Jr., the renowned founder of the Florida Wildlife Corridor campaign and a conservation photographer for Audubon, Smithsonian, and National Geographic and David H. Johnson, Director of the Global Owl Project (GLOW), a long-term, worldwide project to advance foundational aspects of science and conservation for the world’s owls.

The festival perches at the college’s LEED Gold Certified campus in Ruskin and features local and nationally known wildlife experts presenting on-campus programs and leading field trips to important conservation areas. The last time a birding festival was held in Tampa Bay was in 2004.

“The festival presents a great chance for nature lovers of all skill levels to increase their knowledge and appreciation for the spectacular wildlife right here in the Tampa Bay region,” said Ann Paul, regional coordinator for Audubon Florida.  “In addition, commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty, an international treaty, focuses our attention on the incredible diversity of the native birds of this continent and this area.”

Carlton Ward, Jr., adds: “I am excited that the Florida Birding and Nature Festival will focus attention on the conservation needs of birds, including the importance of wildlife corridors, which are equally as important for the movements of birds like red-cockaded woodpeckers and swallow-tailed kites as they are for bears and panthers.”
Three social events, including the two keynote talks, will be held October 13, 14, and 15 at the Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin.  An opening night panel, “Stewards of the Land: A History of Florida’s Largest Local Government Environmental Lands Program,” features visionaries who helped establish Hillsborough County’s popular Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP).

More than 25 on-campus seminars include offerings for bird and butterfly enthusiasts, photographers, and nature lovers.  Festival goers can dabble in alligators, turtles, and bird identification; learn how to attract bird and butterflies to their gardens with native plants; feast on the stunning imagery of renowned nature photographers, and explore the spectacular open spaces and back country of Tampa Bay and beyond.

“We are very pleased to host the relaunch of the Florida Birding and Nature Festival,” says Santiago Corrada, President and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. “We’re not just the hip, urban heart of Florida’s Gulf coast: Tampa Bay boasts some of the best natural surroundings for bird and wildlife habitat, outdoor activities and eco-tourism in the Sunshine State.”

Half-day field trips are scheduled Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to coastal and inland destinations in the six-county region – Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk and Pinellas – and include nature preserves, bird sanctuaries, state parks and national wildlife refuges. All trips depart from Hillsborough Community College’s South Shore campus.

Friday and Saturday programs offer discussions on a wide variety of birds, including kites, eagles, owls, herons, spoonbills, scrub-jays, shorebirds, warblers and bird behaviors and calls. Other topics include nature and wildlife photography, butterflies and dragonflies, panthers, bears, alligators and turtles. Native plants and native plant landscaping, basic bird watching, Birds of Cuba, and the Christmas Bird Count round out the innovative program. 

One special workshop will focus on "Making and Installing Artificial Burrows for Burrowing Owls," presented by David H. Johnson, the Global Owl Project and David Gordon, avian biologist with Quest Ecology Inc. Artificial burrows (ABs) are a tool to provide for the conservation of Burrowing Owls. In this workshop, the specifics of making, installing, and caring for your ABs and the wonderful owls who reside in them will be described.  In addition to having actual burrow components on-site, participants will receive a technical guide covering aspects of AB construction, site selection, installation, maintenance, and what-ifs. Event attendees will also have the opportunity to visit the free Nature Expo, featuring local businesses, optics, book sellers, and nature-related craft, art and gifts. 

Registration for the festival is $75.00 for two days, $40.00 for one day.  Social events are $25.00 each.  Children under 12 are free with a registered adult, and a special children’s program will be held on Saturday. For more information please visit www.FloridaBirdingandNatureFestival.org.

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