By Wendy Toner
Among the many seminars, guided tours and other activities during the annual Florida Keys Birding Wildlife Festival that runs through Sunday, Sept. 28, is one particularly important event — the count. A festival presenter and director of Florida Keys Hawkwatch, Rafael Galvez and his team of volunteers set up their “watch” each morning at the bath house located in the Curry Hammock State Park, MM 56.
The Keys offer the last vantage point before migrating birds head over the open sea to their southern destination. The team keeps their binoculars pointed upward as they identify and count, not only hawks, but each and every bird that crosses the sky as they migrate south. They collect the data which not only includes the count and information about the birds, but the temperature, wind speed and everything else that might influence the birds’ mission to head south. At the end of each day, this information is entered into a database to be used for conservation efforts as well as made available to parks and the general public (www.hawkcount.org and www.rpi-project.org).
“It takes a community to track the birds,” Galvez said. “If we didn’t have the volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to do this. Citizen scientists have played a large and invaluable role in the conservation measures.”
Galvez said there’s a very simple reason for the hawk watch: raptors sit at the top of the food chain, so their numbers reflect what is happening with the species below.
“After WWII they saw a major decline in raptors such as bald eagles and osprey. And they nearly lost the species,” he said, “but because of projects like this, they were able to influence change and keep that from happening.”
Having been involved for five years, Rafael says, “The Festival is a great opportunity to celebrate the natural phenomenon of bird migration. It’s open to every one of all ages from beginners to professionals who are interested in everything from birding to plants to butterflies. It’s a chance to share and enjoy all these birds with experts who love sharing.”
Schedule of birding events
- Saturday, Sept. 27: Wildlife Fair and Family Day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Curry Hammock State Park, MM 56. Admission to the fair is free.
- Saturday, Sept. 27: Guided butterfly tour (1 p.m.), guided bird tour (4:30 p.m.), and garden reception (5:30 p.m. at Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden. Reservations required.
- Saturday, Sept. 27: Stellar orientation of migratory birds seminar at 7 p.m. at Curry Hammock State Park, MM 56.
- Sunday, Sept. 28: All-day birding excursion to Dry Tortugas National Park. A ferry to the remote birders’ paradise boards at 7:30 a.m. in Key West. Reservations are required.