KEY LARGOMARATHON, Florida Keys — Nature enthusiasts can get acquainted with some of the unique birds and wildlife native to the Florida Keys at the 12th annual Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival set for Wednesday through Sunday, Sept. 22–26.

The family-friendly event is to be staged at the quiet oceanfront preserve of Curry Hammock State Park, mile marker (MM) 56.2 in Marathon, with field trips scheduled throughout the Florida Keys.

Though the primary festival program starts Friday, additional field trips await early arrivals. Local biologists are to host a series of guided interpretive nature walks Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 22-23, at different sites in the Keys.

The festival’s opening reception is to be held Friday, Sept. 24, at the Marathon Garden Club, MM 50 bayside. The schedule includes hors d’oeuvres and an informative talk and book signing by world famous birder Pete Dunne.

Saturday, Sept. 25, festival participants can accompany Dunne on a morning field trip, as well as enjoy other eco-tours and activities including the popular Environmental Fair, Wildlife Art Show & Family Day at Curry Hammock. Attractions include booths manned by environmental agencies and vendors to please eco-adventure enthusiasts. Admission is free.

Back by popular demand is an all-day birding excursion to Dry Tortugas National Park Sunday, Sept. 26, to be led by the Florida Keys Audubon Society’s Dr. Mark Whiteside. The 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 fills quickly.

The entrance fee at Curry Hammock State Park is to be waived for festival registrants. Event registration is $10 per person and provides access to daytime programs and field trips. Additional fees may apply.

For more information, visit www.keysbirdingfest.org or call James Bell of the National Key Deer Refuge at 305-872-0774. To register for the festival, call Bruce Horn at 305-852-4486 or e-mail bruce@fkwbc.org.

For area accommodations, contact the Marathon Chamber of Commerce at 305-743-5417 or 800-262-7284, or visit www.fla-keys.com.

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