The fifth annual Wings and Wildflowers Festival, slated for Oct. 14-16, at Venetian Gardens in Leesburg, will feature numerous activities, programs, vendors, and field trips for all ages to enjoy, along with wildlife, nature, and bird experts sharing their expertise.
More than 5,000 people attended the 2015 festival, and this three-day event allows festivalgoers to become immersed in nature and learn about the county’s vast preserves, forests, and passive parklands that attract a wide array of birds, earning Lake County its claim as Florida’s premiere birding location.
Lake County Parks and Trails Specialist Gallus Quigley says the best part of the festival is there’s something for everyone.
“Whether you like wildflowers, butterflies, dragonflies or birds, the festival is simply about the outdoors. And for Lake County, it’s ‘Real Florida. Real Close,’” Gallus says, reflecting on the county’s theme.
He will be among several speakers at the event, providing four programs and four field trips, including a Nocturnal Migration tour, 6-9 p.m. Oct. 14, at Green Mountain Scenic Overlook in Clermont.
“If the weather cooperates, you can hear a lot of our migrating songbirds flying overhead at night doing their flight calls,” Gallus says. “And if we have a full moon, we can actually watch them fly across the face of the moon, and that is awesome.”
His favorite place for birding is the Ferndale Preserve in Clermont.
“It’s one of the best places I know to find a lot of warblers; they are very small, colorful, tropical migrants,” he says. “Most of the birds that migrate are from the tropics, Central and South America.”
The southern birds fly north for the summer, he says, noting October is a great month for birding in Lake County.
“Birding is big money, and bird watching is a big thing,” Gallus says. “It’s like the second biggest hobby in the U.S., and that includes people who travel for birding.”
Gallus makes it clear he’s a birder, not a birdwatcher, and he compiles data on the number and birds he finds. He has documented more than 1,000 birds.
He found 243 species in Lake County last year, and he recorded 359 birds throughout Florida in 2008.
“I put 50,000 miles on my car chasing birds across the state,” he says of the 2008 trek. “And for my Lake County big year (2015), I probably put at least 6,000 miles on the car running around, and I don’t know how many miles I hiked.”
Gallus is looking forward to sharing his passion with the festival crowd.
“Obviously, I love birding, so the opportunity to get out and show my enthusiasm for what I love to do is a big part for me,” he says.
The festival’s keynote speakers will be Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, and Janisse Ray, a naturalist and award-winning author. Both will be featured 6-8 p.m. Oct. 15, at Lakeside Inn in Mount Dora.
With a professional staff of 60, Audubon Florida says its 1,700 volunteers, 30,000 members, and chapters in 44 communities conduct extensive field research, and it relies on residents to steward bird habitats throughout the state.
Janisse’s most recent book, her sixth, is “The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food.” She lectures mostly on nature, community, and agriculture, and strives to live a simple, sustainable life on her family’s Georgia farm.
The festival will also feature plant sales, a butterfly tent, and exhibitors specializing in tourism, nature activities, landscaping, gardening, irrigation, hardscapes, horticulture, nature photography, etc.
Central Florida Zoo will allow for festivalgoers to get up close and personal with some animals they will be showing. Florida Wildflower Foundation will share wildflowers native to the area; and Lake Beautyberry Chapter of Florida Native Plant Society, will promote the preservation, conservation, and restoration of native plants.
“The festival keeps growing and the interest keeps going,” says Yvonne Powers, co-coordinator of the Wings and Wildflowers Festival. “We hear from the vendors that they always want to come back, and we have had vendors here all five years.”
One new festival attraction was a photo contest, which generated more than 100 entries of wildlife, flowers and birds photographed in Lake County that were sent in by the Aug. 1 deadline. The winning photos will be in the 2017 Wings and Wildflowers calendar.
Since the first one five years ago, the festival is now attracting visitors beyond Lake County.
“We draw people from all over the country, and we advertise in England’s Birdwatch magazine. We did that last year and had a great response,” Yvonne says. “It was not just to get people to the festival. We want to bring awareness to ‘Real Florida. Real Close,’ and to Lake County.”
“We hear praise that the festival is educational, and that we do a lot of children’s programs that are free,” she says, recalling last year some anglers provided a free fishing program and gave away 150 fishing rods and reels.
For the latest update on festival activities and field trips, visit wingsandwildflowers.com.