Whooping it up at the 2015 Wakulla Wildlife Festival

For a second year, Operation Migration was invited by Wakulla Springs State Park to join in the 2015 Wakulla Wildlife Festival southwest of Tallahassee, Florida – – an annual celebration of the area’s wildlife and habitat, featuring birding and photography tours, a children’s art show, wildlife exhibits, bird-banding, and many other hands-on special events all day.

You never knew when the music would begin to play, and the traditional Parade of Animals would dance its way through the exhibits!

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The theme of this year’s festival was “Wings Over Wakulla” to honor Apalachee Audubon Society’s 50th Anniversary of conservation efforts in the Big Bend of Florida.

Telling the tale of reintroduced Whooping Cranes, who’ve soared over Wakulla County on their 7-foot wingspan since a frosty morning in January 2009, seemed a perfect fit – – especially because the National Audubon Society has staunchly supported research and habitat protection for the endangered Whooping Crane for over a century. Apalachee Audubon has brought that tradition into the 21st century, becoming an OM Milemaker and sharing whooper news on Facebook and its electronic newsletter.

Stoked up with a tasty “Savannah’s” breakfast before sunrise, our band of OM volunteers dodged the early morning mist to set up and meet our friendly neighboring exhibitors from the Florida Native Plant Society, Florida Trail Association and Apalachee Audubon.  By 9 a.m. the sun peeked out and dried the spanish moss overhead, as costumed Jim Young began to lure visitors with the puppet head.

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Volunteer Karen Willes shared important lessons honed through experience with visitors to Leon County’s wintering “cowpond whoopers” – – keeping a safe distance from the cranes, speaking quietly, and educating people about how reintroduction efforts provide a backup to the Western population and help ensure survival of the species.

Marsha Lynn “Maxgreenwing” Walsh, newly minted craniac Ellie Arman, and I explained how the various methods of reintroduction are accomplished, how to recognize a whooping crane and distinguish it from other species, how and why to report a whooping crane sighting, and where to find more information.  Visitors found International Crane Foundation’s excellent poster “Large Water Birds: An Identification Guide” very helpful.

Some of the most rewarding moments occur when kids overcome their shyness, don the child-sized costume, and begin to “feed” the model crane chick plastic insects, frogs, and crabs.  Somehow that simple gesture lights their imagination and a sense of caring, and questions bubble forth.

OM-3_ChildFeedsModelChick_WakullaWildlifeFestival-2015-04-18_cmb-DSC06500It was heartening to see how the exhibit drew in visitors and made them think.  Many stopped by two or three times with more questions during the day, collected printed information and Whooping Crane Activity Books, then posed proudly for family pictures next to the life-size whooper.

Thanks to Jeff Hugo of Wakulla Springs State Park for inviting Operation Migration to this year’s Festival, the Park’s Friends group for a yummy lunch, St. Marks NWR for lending us the canopy and interpretive materials,  Nick Baldwin for sharing his photos, Claire Timm for lending her educational collages, and to our volunteers who, after a full day speaking with visitors, stayed to help pack up OM’s displays as the afternoon storm clouds drenched us all with a powerful dose of Florida’s “liquid sunshine.”

We had a blast!  And next year we hope to see you at the Wakulla Wildlife Festival!

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7 Comments

  1. Christy April 29, 2015 3:40 pm

    Three cheers for the OM Volunteers!!!

  2. Margie Tomlinson April 29, 2015 1:57 pm

    Heather, who are all the people in the last photo – left to right? Good job done by all who participated in the Wakula Wildlife Festival!

  3. Mindy April 29, 2015 11:39 am

    It is so nice of you and all the volunteer “craniacs” who go and give of their time and travel to educate more people about Whooping Cranes! You can read about cranes all day long but when you actually see someone in costume and observe the next generation learning and taking part to see how babies are raised by humans and why, it makes a lasting impression. Thank you all for being there to tell the story!

  4. Dorothy N April 29, 2015 10:23 am

    What a great opportunity to educate, educate, educate!!! Some of those folks will likely become craniacs after their introduction to OM and the fabulous cranes. The other day a cashier at our local deli asked me “What is Operation Migration?” when she saw my OM patch with the whooper standing tall. No customers in the line, so she got the 3 minute summary of OM.

    • Heather Ray April 29, 2015 11:58 am

      That’s great Dorothy!

      • Mollie Cook April 29, 2015 3:37 pm

        Yes, it’s really amazing how many people ask when they see an OM tee or hoodie or the OM decal on the car. I love sharing the story & I keep OM brochures in my car………gotta spread the word!
        Hope I get to attend a festival one of these days.

  5. thunder402 April 29, 2015 9:16 am

    Nicely done OM! It looked like a fun and learning day for everyone of all ages. Thanks to all the volunteers. They make it happen.