Seventh annual Big O Birding Festival in 2008; Keynote features birding in ancient Florida

December 5, 2007

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Many of the same birds that are the subject of birders life lists today were popular among Florida’s first inhabitants, according to Dr. Ryan Wheeler, State Archaeologist with the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research. Dr. Wheeler will give the keynote presentation during the 2008 Big O Birding Festival, Saturday, Jan. 26 in the clubhouse at Glades Resort RV Park and Marina.

According to Dr. Wheeler, bird remains found at archaeology sites throughout South Florida, once home to the Ais, Calusa, Tequesta, Timucua and Apalachee people, included those which would be familiar to birders today, among them the Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Ruddy Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Turkey Vulture, Limp-kin and Royal Tern, as well as the more unusual, like Great Black backed Gull, Great Auk and Razorbill.

But while many of these birds, like fossils recovered from the Boca Weir site in
Palm Beach County, were food to early Native Floridians, they were just as often subjects of the artwork crafted by Florida’s First People. Portrayals of animals in Native American art crafted some 2,000 years ago include an elaborate collection of wooden mammals and birds that served as markers or guardians of a funeral mound excavated at the Fort Center site on Fisheating Creek in Glades County.

The bird carvings were included in human burials in a shallow pond. The carvings depicted vultures, owls, raptors, ducks, egrets or herons and a woodpecker. A graduate of the
University of Florida, Dr. Wheeler has been working with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation staff on the text for a series of interpretative kiosks planned for a trailblazing project at Fisheating Creek that will enable hikers to explore the area of Cow bone Marsh and the Indian burial mounds near Ft. Center.

Glades County Economic Development Council Executive Director Tracy Whirls said she is excited about having Dr. Wheeler speak.

“A lot of the artifacts Dr. Wheeler will talk about were discovered at Fisheating Creek or elsewhere on Lake Okeechobee,” she said. “Many of them make up the permanent collection at the University of Florida. This could be seen as a ‘homecoming,’ perhaps the first step toward someday having some of these artifacts brought back for local display at either the Cypress Knee Museum at Fisheating Creek or the Westergaard House Museum in Moore Haven.”

The Clubhouse at Glades Resort off SR 80 near LaBelle will host a reception at
6 p.m., followed by the keynote dinner Dr. Wheeler’s keynote address is the centerpiece of a weekend planned to please birders, naturalists and art lovers alike.

Kicking off the lecture series at the
Doyle Conner Building in Moore Haven Friday, Jan. 25, Mark Kiser, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, will give a presentation on the Great Florida Birding Trail.

The Birding Trail is an exercise in conservation fueled by the growing interest in bird watching. More than 440 premier bird watching sites are now designated, based on their quality of experience and resilience. These are made into guides to each of four geographic regions around the state. Mr. Kiser will give those attending the welcoming reception a preview of the areas in Glades and
Hendry County that will be featured during tours Saturday and Sunday during the seventh annual Big O Birding Festival.

On Saturday, at
noon, birders can choose one of two lectures featuring Tom and Debbie Misotti of Pioneer Plantation and The Talking Monkeys Project or attend a workshop on nature photography by Dr. Robert Fulton.

After years of working as volunteers for many primate projects, sanctuaries and commercial enterprises, Tom and Debbie Misotti wanted to form a volunteer project that would tell the public about the perils of extinction for non-human primates. Volunteers with the Talking Monkeys Project not only help to care for the primates, they also learn practical recycling, methods of gardening and landscaping to help the primates of world and people themselves.

Growing up in
South Florida in the ‘50s, Dr. Robert Fulton Jr. was able to fish from and camp on the local public beach, roam the open Everglades and what is now the Big Cypress Preserve. Loving the outdoors led him to become an outdoor writer, nature photographer, and avid birder. On Saturday at noon, he will use some of his prize winning art photography to show future nature photographers some tips of the trade.

On Sunday at
noon, festival goers will return to the Doyle Conner Building where Dr. Fulton, also author of “Swamp Drifter,” which details his work with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s research team in the Cache River section of Arkansas will speak on the continued search for the Ivory billed Woodpecker, during a special “mini keynote” presentation.

As an alternative, festival goers can attend a lecture by local historian Nancy Dale who will speak on her latest work, a collection of interviews with Glades County’s pioneer ranching families titled: “Would Do, Could Do and Made Do: The Florida Pioneer "Cow Hunters" Who Tamed the Last Frontier.”

This stellar cast of speakers will augment a series of tours built to showcase the real stars of the Big O Birding Festival: more than 300 species of birds that flock to Hendry and
Glades County each spring. Several popular tours, including the Friday night "Owl Hoot" and a “Regional Birds” Tour led by Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray, as well as a Tour of Diner Island Wildlife Management Area remain on tap, along with a tour of the Hendry County STA-5 with Hendry-Glades Audubon and a Bird by Canoe on Fisheating Creek.

An early bird tour of the newly restored wetlands at Florida Rock’s Witherspoon Mine has been added for Friday, Jan. 25 beginning at
2 p.m. Transportation will be provided to each of the tours, as well as the keynote dinner on Saturday. Admission to the arts and crafts festival and the lectures at the Doyle Conner Building is free. Tours are $25 per person and tickets to the Keynote Dinner Saturday, Jan. 26 are $25. For more information or to register, visit our website at www.bigobirdingfestival.com.