The second annual Outdoor Fest—a full week of action-packed days filled with family-friendly, mostly free outdoor adventures and hands-on activities—has arrived. There’s no better time than now to get outside for a close-up take on the great outdoors as US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex and their Friends group FAVOR provide us with many ways to help celebrate the beautiful Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges.
Created to remind people of the unique natural resources available in the Florida Keys, the Outdoor Fest encourages us to immerse ourselves in nature with hopes that it will promote an understanding and appreciation of the refuges—home to some of the world’s most endangered habitats, plants, and wildlife species. This year’s fest kicks off in Key Largo at Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge with a Saturday wildlife fair and nature-oriented field trips and presentations, progressing to the Lower Keys events later in the week, allowing those interested the option of enjoying all of the events offered in National Key Deer, Crocodile Lake, Great White Heron, and Key West National Wildlife Refuges.
To help get pique your interest, we’ve got some fun facts below that we hope will help drive you “wild.”
- THE COMEBACK CRITTER. Though the endangered Key deer are the cousins of the ubiquitous white-tailed deer, these tiny creatures are found nowhere else in the world but the Lower Keys, having migrated here when sea levels were much lower thousands of years ago. (They are great swimmers, able to move freely between the islands!). One of the world’s most endangered species, when the National Key Deer Refuge was established in 1957, there were only 25-50 deer alive. Today there are over 800.
SAY CHEESE! South Florida and the Florida Keys are the only places where the American alligator and crocodile populations overlap. The mangrove wetlands of Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge provide habitat, solitude, and one of only a few known nesting areas for threatened American crocodile. Both creatures are found throughout the lower Keys in salt and fresh water, though gators prefer fresh water. Not sure how to tell their difference? Look to their teeth: a croc’s will protrude from the bottom upward from its v-shaped snout while the alligator’s will protrude from the top down on its u-shaped snout. You might be able to catch a close-up of the gator’s smile at the Blue Hole in National Key Deer Refuge.
- FLYING HORNSWAGGLERS. The pirates of the sea, Magnificent frigatebirds are kleptoparasitic, meaning they get most of their food by stealing it from other birds. Although they spend most of their lives flying over the ocean, they rarely- if ever- land on the water. In a group, they are known as a “fleet” or a “flotilla.”
- WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE. Two of the four Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges— Key West National Wildlife Refuge and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge— are only accessible by boat. Among the oldest refuges in the nation, they consist of more than 200,000 acres of open water and over 8,000 acres of land on 49 islands, known affectionately as “the backcountry.” In addition to being refuges, they are also part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, providing protected habitat for a wide variety of birds, the endangered Loggerhead, Atlantic green, and Hawksbill turtles, and the endangered Miami blue butterfly.
- FISHING AFFICIANADOS. The Osprey, or Fish Hawk, is found on all continents except Antarctica, and live year-round in and around the subtropical Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges. Excellent anglers with powerful talons, they have closable nostrils to keep out water after the 50 to 100 foot dives they take while hunting their prey. These magnificent raptors are committed groomers, spending hours preening and cleaning fish remnants from their feet off in freshwater areas of the refuges, like Blue Hole. They also construct tremendous nests, often on utility poles and other man-made platforms, and typically mate for life.
But don’t just read about it: discover it in “real time” during this week’s Outdoor Fest. Whether you are new to the wildlife ways of the Florida Keys or are an eco-tourist, nature-lover, birding enthusiast, nature photographer, artist, runner, outdoor adventure-inclined family, you’ll find much to explore in the week-long outdoor extravaganza. Events include expert-guided birding, nature walks, and backcounty boat trips; evening wildlife programs; nature sketching, nature photography workshops and a photo contest; two family-fun wildlife fairs; kayak excursions, a natural history bike ride, and the 3nd Annual Run with Deer 5K on Big Pine Key.
For more information about the refuges, FAVOR, and the list of events, visit www.favorfloridakeys.org/outdoor-fest or contact Kristie Killam at 305.304.9625 or email Nancy or Jan at email@example.com. The Outdoor Fest is brought to you in part by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.