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Wakulla Springs News and Notes

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By Jeff Hugo

It seems like spring was holding back this year. But as I write this in mid-March, the floodgates of spring have burst their bonds. The trip down park drive early on this March morning was punctuated by the dazzling white blooms of Walter’s viburnum and plum trees. The deep pink of redbuds and golden yellow of Carolina jessamine heralded spring’s arrival. And barring a late season freeze, the floral display within the park will phase through many peaks over the next several weeks. It is as if a great party is being planned and the floral display is welcoming all to attend.

And so it is! On Saturday, April 18, Wakulla Springs State Park will host the Wakulla Wildlife Festival. The theme of this year’s festival is Wings over Wakulla in recognition of the past 50 years of Apalachee Audubon’s conservation efforts at Wakulla Springs and throughout the Big Bend. The festival boasts a family-friendly atmosphere as it celebrates the area’s wildlife and the habitats that support it.

The festival is especially inviting for children and the child in everyone. Besides the presentations and exhibits designed to captivate young minds, children can participate in a wildlife related game, craft and /or face painting at the Children’s Activity Tent.

Some of the exhibitors are wildlife rehabilitators and will have area wildlife on exhibit. Many of the creatures have become ambassadors of the natural world, unable to be released as a result of injuries which they have sustained. Together with their human caretakers, they offer a glimpse into not only what makes them special, but necessary elements of our world.

Sandy Beck, the education director at the St. Francis Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, is a master at communicating the contributions wildlife, and in particular birds of prey, make to the quality of life both we and they enjoy. She will be presenting two different and special programs on Saturday highlighting the birds of prey which live in our area.

The first program is entitled “Tigers in the Sky”. It will take place on The Green (the picnic area) from 10:30-11:30. Sandy will have four different owls – the Great Horned, Barred, Barn, and Screech – to explain the unique features which makes each a spectacular night-time predator. At 2:00pm, Sandy and six remarkable bird of prey species will have a “Talon Talk”. The birds will amaze the crowd with their beauty, strength, and little known facts regarding their relevance in the world and to our lives.

In between the bird of prey shows, festival goers can enjoy music provided by Coon Bottom Creek. The group plays both traditional bluegrass and the newer styles of acoustic music. Food is provided by the Lodge at Wakulla Springs. Both fine dining and more casual fare will be available. Guests are welcome to pack their own picnic lunches and enjoy them on the picnic tables in front of the stage.

The big event at this year’s festival is the celebration of Apalachee Audubon’s 50th anniversary. Eric Draper, the Executive Director of Audubon of Florida, will be the keynote speaker. He will highlight Apalachee Audubon’s major contributions to the area’s wildlife, water, and quality of life.

Be certain to visit Apalachee Audubon’s tent to find out about birding activities. Discover how to make your yard an oasis for your feathered friends. Or sign up to go on a short birding experience with an Audubon member. And remember, they are celebrating a birthday. There could be cake!

Guests will want to take time to visit with the many other exhibitors. Never seen a whooping crane? Find out how. Do you know how many creatures share a gopher tortoise residence? It’s amazing? Want to know some of the best trails to hike or bicycle in the area? There will be someone who can tell you. Visit the festival website, www.wakullawildlifefestival.com, and follow the links for each of the exhibitors.

The world-class wildlife viewing boat tours will be running all day. Tickets can be purchased at the Waterfront Visitors Center. The Waterfront will serve as the second venue for presentations as well. Meet Bill Boothe at 11:30 to learn about the beautiful butterflies of the region and how to attract them to your yard.

A very special guest, gifted writer Susan Cerulean, will talk about her new book Coming to Pass beginning at 12:35pm. Her beautiful photos and inspiring words will beg those present to decide how each will respond to what is valued. Her focus will be on the St. Vincent, St. Georges and Dog islands. But her theme transcends local interest and encourages all to take a good look at what is taken for granted.

Following Ms. Cerulean’s presentation, the many talented young artists of Wakulla County will be recognized. Students were challenged to create works of art around the festival’s theme of Wings over Wakulla. There are four divisions comprised of primary, intermediate, middle school and high school. We hope that everyone will take the time to appreciate their efforts and enjoy their work on display at the Waterfront. Awards will be presented by Apalachee Audubon beginning at 1:15pm.

The festival continues to offer a few special tours as well. For an extra fee, festival guests can enjoy a sunrise cruise on the Wakulla River, a rare birding walk in the park’s sanctuary, or a photo tour to capture the park’s amenable wildlife in all their digital glory. Tour spaces can be purchased on the festival’s website (www.wakullawildlifefestival.com).

The festival is also fortunate to host Meret Wilson from Tomoka State Park. For two hours Saturday morning (8:30-10:30), she will be capturing, banding, and releasing birds just behind the park’s Concession Building (restrooms located there). Her work is fascinating and offers the opportunity to witness colorful songbirds up close as rarely seen. It is a great moment for parents and grandparents to share with younger members of the family.

And so it is! A great party is planned. We celebrate the remarkable wildlife of the region. We celebrate the friendship and partnership of Apalachee Audubon. And we celebrate the talent and dedication of young and old alike as both reflect upon Wings over Wakulla.

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