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Flock to Everglades Birding Festival

Go on a five-day lark, spying hundreds of rare and exotic birds at South Florida hot spots, swamps and prairies during the Everglades Birding Festival on Jan. 15-19.

The feathered fest features a team of ornithology experts leading expeditions, photo tours and workshops to Plantation Preserve, Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach, Stormwater Treatment Area 5 near Lake Okeechobee, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, and Everglades National Park in Miami-Dade County, among others.

The festival is spearheaded and sponsored by Fort Lauderdale expert Paddy Cunningham of Birding Adventures. Other sponsors include Colombia Wild Ecotours, Florida Wild Ecotours and South Florida Audubon Society

"This is one of the best places in the country to see birds in the winter," said Cunningham, 55, a Fort Lauderdale native who teaches middle-school science and also was a longtime naturalist for Broward County parks.

"South Florida has birds that can only be found here in the United States, such as the snail kite, limpkin and short-tailed hawk," she said. "Broward County is the best place to view exotics like the Egyptian goose and purple swamp hen. If you want to see the painted bunting, be sure to go on the Palm Beach County wetland trip."

Registration is $30, which includes workshops, snacks, water and handouts. Individual trips are an additional $30 to $95 each. An 8 a.m. Jan. 15 workshop in Plantation is free.

The festival is for all skill levels, Cunningham said, with three guides, one each for beginners, intermediate and advanced bird-watchers.

Participants can mix and match events. "A big emphasis is on how to gain advanced birding skills," she added. "We teach field techniques, how to identify them, how to recognize habitat, behaviors and how to bird by ear."

Other ornithology guides include David Simpson of Birding With David Simpson, Jim Eager and Ernest Leupin of Colombia Wild Ecotours.

Cunningham, who regularly teaches birding classes at Bonnet House in Fort Lauderdale and Flamingo Gardens in Davie, said the fest is a "Top 10" birding event in the United States.

"It's an amazing weekend to get a close look at the Everglades and our unique South Florida environment and the incredible array and diversity of birds that visit this area in the winter," Cunningham said. "Become one with the River of Grass."

For a schedule of events and ticket prices, go to BirdAdventure.com, call 754-201-1141, or email birdpaddy@yahoo.com.

dchristensen@tribpub.com

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