MARATHON, Florida Keys — The 16th annual Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival, now through Sunday, Sept. 28, offers birders, outdoor enthusiasts and nature photographers a backstage pass to view native wildlife and explore one of Florida's most precious ecosystems.
Anchored at Marathon's oceanfront preserve of Curry Hammock State Park, mile marker 56.2, the family-friendly event characteristically includes field trips to national, state and private natural and backcountry areas of the Florida Keys.
Participants can enjoy behind-the-scenes guided walks and boat and kayak adventures to some of the Keys' wildest places. They include Florida Bay by Everglades National Park, the National Key Deer Refuge, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock State Park and Dry Tortugas National Park, located 70 miles off Key West.
More than a dozen birding and wildlife experts, guides and writers are to lead excursions, workshops and informative presentations. Topics include how to be a better birder, radar ornithology, raptor behavior, migratory birds and more.
The popular Wildlife Fair and Family Day is set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, at Curry Hammock. Admission to the fair is free.
Sunday, Sept. 28, is the signature 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 and returns around 5 p.m. Reservations are required and space is limited to two groups of 20 people each.
Festival attendees also are welcome to join "hawkwatchers" daily as they monitor the flights of record numbers of peregrine falcons and other raptors from a perch at Curry Hammock State Park. The Florida Keys Hawkwatch team spearheads the southernmost migration count in the continental United States, documenting as many as 18 species and 25,000 diurnal birds of prey and more than 120 species of waders, shorebirds and songbirds.
Event registration fees apply for daily programs and field trips. Early registration is encouraged.
Event information: keysbirdingfest.org or Kristie Killam at 305-304-9625
Marathon visitor information: fla-keys.com/marathon or 1-800-262-7284
A broad winged hawk is among several migratory birds in the Keys.
Families can participate in several activities at the free-admission, Wildlife Fair and Family Day set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, at Curry Hammock.