Back to Nature (Published on - Aug. 9, 2007)
Worth waiting for
Birders get a closer look with scopes and cameras at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
As my brother stomped the snow off his boots at the front door, he’d hand over an arm load of wood for the fire to my father. My mother found winter nearly unbearable so did her best to keep busy. One of her favorite pastimes was to spread out seed catalogs upon the long smooth surface of the dining room table.

She’d wrap an afghan around her chilled shoulders to keep warm, as she made lists of “dream” plants to add to her spring and summer garden. Winter was not officially over until the jonquils bloomed and the wild violets poked their little heads up toward the warm spring sun. November to late March seemed a dreadfully long time, but we were comforted that when spring arrived on the Great Smoky Mountains it was worth waiting for.

It’s August in Florida. For Floridians, the welcome rains have come and stayed. The sky is charcoal gray for another day, whilst birds are seeking shelter again. Hurricane season is getting serious with three named storms. And although mosquitoes and no-see-ums find this their favorite season in Florida, residents are wishing instead they were sipping a mint julep beside a frigid mountain stream.

So, what do we have to look forward to in August in Florida? Storms, lightning, insects, flooding, power outages, hungry gators, West Nile virus, mold, hurricanes, tornados, temperatures in the 90s plus and Birding & Wildlife Festivals ... oh yeah and football! It won’t be long until birders are back in their canoes, kayaks and SUV’s headed down back roads and bayous. When northerners are dreading the next season of snow, ice and freezing temperatures Floridians will be out and about playing. We just need to get through the next two or three months then we’re home free.

August is a good time to check your equipment, clean your lenses, repair your tent, air out the sleeping bag and search the Internet for new bargains. Get out the guide books and life lists. Pour over the unchecked birds or animals you haven’t spotted yet. Make a new list. While the storms rage outside you can be cozy inside downloading birdy pictures, listening to birdy song recordings and learning everything you can about destinations, habitat, behavior and special identification markings. By October there are a host of festivals planned for the remaining year of 2007 and the winter and spring of 2008. Here are just a few:

• Oct. 6, 2007: The Florida Black Bear Festival is a free one-day educational event for families and folks of all ages. Cadwell Park in Umatilla from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Live music, field trips into bear habitat in the Ocala National Forest, expert speakers, Florida authors and engaging children’s activities are just some of the ways you’ll learn about Ursus americanus floridanus – the Florida black bear. Tasty foods and bear-oriented vendors fill out the bill. Call 407-323-1298 or visit

• Oct. 6, 2007: The Sixth Annual Florida Panhandle Birding and Wildflower Festival 2007. There will be field trips, boating trips, lectures, a shrimp boil and more. Organizers will post and send out the completed schedule and more general information including registration when it becomes available. St. Joseph Bay Preserves Center, 3915 County Road 30-A, Port St. Joe. Call 850-229-179. E-mail questions to Visit

• Oct. 12 through 14, 2007: The 9th Annual Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival anchored at Curry Hammock State Park, MM 56.2, Marathon. Call the Key Deer Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center at 305-872-0774 or Curry Hammock State Park at 305-289-2690. Visit

• Oct. 8 through 14, 2007: Sanibel Island, “Ding” Darling Days, Sanibel Island’s Premier Birding Festival and Eco-event. Birding, nature cruises, kayaking, and biking opportunities abound during “Ding” Darling Days birding and eco-festival. Recreational events take place at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, host of the 18th annual event, which runs concurrently this year with the 75th Federal Duck Stamp Contest. Call J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR at 239-472-1100, e-mail or visit

If Floridians can just get through to October, the Florida fall and winter are definitely worth waiting for... back to nature. For more information on Birding & Wildlife Festivals in Florida go to: and

Karen can be reached at

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