Every autumn, more than twenty thousand raptors hover in an exciting display above the narrow stretch of land that comprises Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon, Florida. Just a few among the winged mix are Peregrine falcons, American kestrels and ospreys— all seeking to escape winter and head towards more reliable food sources.

With the 11th Annual Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival set for September 23 – 27, birds will not be the only ones migrating south. Birding and wildlife enthusiasts from around the globe will make their own way to the Florida Keys to witness the mass migration and immerse themselves in the diverse abundance found nearby. www.keysbirdingfest.com

The Florida Keys are a geography unique unto itself, made up of an archipelago of about 1,700 islands, stretching out over two hundred miles south and west. Curry Hammock, where the festival is anchored because of its central location, is one among many locations surrounding the birding bonanza.

Bonanza indeed, for in addition to the incredible spectacle of migratory birds in winged trajectory are four wildlife refuges that protect habitat for more than 285 species of birds, making the Florida Keys a steady eco-haven for anyone with wildlife or avian interests.

The five-day festival offers an array of activities, events, lectures, field trips and family fun set to illuminate and celebrate the rare and unique migrating and indigenous bird species and other fascinating creatures of the Florida Keys.

Some of the events include ecology walks, hawk-watching and kayaking at Curry Hammock State Park; biking the Overseas Heritage Trail; snorkeling the Looe Key Marine Sanctuary; boating the Gulf stream from the middle Keys to see pelagic birds and visit the Dry Tortugas with professional birder Larry Manfredi; and walks through the Key West Botanical Garden.

During these events, one can anticipate sighting some of the region’s most unique flora and fauna.  Great white herons, snowy egrets, white ibis, magnificent frigate bird and double crested cormorants are some of the oft-seen creatures, as are bottlenose dolphins, Key deer, the Miami blue butterfly, lower keys marsh rabbit, and hawks billed turtles.

If you’re lucky, you might see an Antillean nighthawk, a gray kingbird, the black-whiskered vireo, a white-crowned pigeon, the American crocodile, spotted eagle rays, the endangered West Indian manatee or maybe even the ever-elusive mangrove cuckoo.

The Festival itself kicks off on Friday with an opening reception and dinner at the Marathon Garden Club, featuring a silent auction and keynote speakers Dick Fortune and Sara Lopez, whose images promote conservation and awareness of our delicate natural resources by focusing on wading birds and their habitats.

Saturday features the Curry Hammock State Park environmental fair, with daylong activities for the whole family.

The diversity and abundance of habitat in the Florida Keys are an essential for anyone wishing to be enriched and immersed in nature. Whether you are a serious birder, a novice or someone who simply loves exploring and discovering the natural wonders of wildlife, this festival is a must.

Visit www.keysbirdingfest.org for more information and registration.

Where do the migrating birds come from and where are they going?

One of the most common questions bird rehabilitator Kelly Grinter is asked is “Where are the birds coming from and where are they going?” She admits that unfortunately, it is not a question she is often able to answer, so she graciously shared her “bird bible” with The Weekly Newspapers to do a little research.

Grinter said Peregrine falcons, turkey vultures and chuck-will’s-widow are some of the most commonly spotted migratory birds seen each September.

The chuck-will’s-widow, commonly mistaken for a whip-poor-will, is similar in build and has a similar call. According to The Audobon Society’s Encyclopedia of North American Birds, this bird’s range is as far north as Long Island, NY and New Jersey to Florida and the Gulf Coast and into Central Texas. The chuck-will’s-widow winters along the Gulf Coast through eastern Mexico and Central America to Colombia. Like many migratory species, these birds basically make a left turn at Grassy Key and head for the Bahamas and Greater Antilles.

Peregrine falcons also nest on the northern edges of North America, including Greenland, south to South America and the Falkland Islands.

The turkey vulture also migrates from south Canada to South America each fall. Grinter said these birds are quite lazy in their migration, and as evidenced with last year’s incident when more than 100 turkey vultures “fell from the sky”. Instead of exerting the energy to flap their wings, they travel on wind shears.

Grinter also said several people have asked her common places to spot some of the migratory birds out and about in their own neighborhoods. Excessive rains as of late have left great pools for bird watching at the Marathon Airport and low-lying plots around town.


Images courtesy of Dick Fortune and Sara Lopez, www.throughthelensgallery.com.

Great White Flight w Fish MzarekGreat White Flight w Fish Mzarek



Green HeronGreen Heron



Ibis in flightIbis in flight



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