Monday, September 29, 2014

Got questions? Get answers at Wings & Wildflowers Festival

Have you ever noticed an unfamiliar bird in your yard and wondered what it was? Maybe you’d like to create a butterfly garden but are unsure what plants to include. Have you always wanted to explore a local waterway but don’t know where to go?

You can find the answers this weekend (Oct. 3-5) during Lake County’s 3rd Annual Wings and Wildflowers Festival based at Venetian Gardens in Leesburg.

Faithful Beauty Moth (Composia fidelissima) on Chicksaw Plum

I always look forward to the festival because it focuses attention on something I value — Lake County’s diverse and bountiful natural wonders. From kayak trips to tram rides, rare plant hikes to scrub jay sightings, there’s a field trip, lecture, outing or adventure to spark the interest of anyone with curiosity about local plants and wildlife.

Florida scrub jay

With more than 100 programs and events to choose from — most free or for a small fee — people of all ages can gain a better understanding of the world outside their door. Pre-registration has been going on for more than a month at the festival website,, but there’s still time for last-minute festival goers to sign up for a wide range of offerings.

Anyone interested in attracting hummingbirds to their yard might want to check out Naturalist Lavon Silvernell’s free Friday afternoon program, Hummingbird Habitat. Silvernell, who recently retired as director of Trout Lake Nature Center in Eustis, will explain how the right configuration of native plants, water and shelter can draw these diminutive feathered beauties to any patio garden. Her program runs from 2 -3 p.m. at the Venetian Gardens Community Building, 103 E. Dixie Ave., Leesburg.

Hummingbird drinking nectar from Wendy's Wish Salvia

Another free program presented by a local expert is apiarist Billy Fussell’s class, “Beekeeping 101,” which runs from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Friday at the community building. Fussell, owner of Bee Fussy Apiary in Leesburg and president of Lake County Beekeepers, is bringing a variety of different honeys from around the region for participants to sample. What a sweet way to learn.

Bee approaching bottlebrush bloom

Although Venetian Gardens in Leesburg is the festival’s home base this year, many of its programs, especially field trips and water adventures, take place at locations throughout the county.

There are still seats available for the a two-hour pontoonboat tour of Lake Dora and the Dora Canal for $27 a person. It is set for 2-4 p.m. Sunday, departing from the Lakeside Inn in Mount Dora. Attendees can ride in comfort while a guide from Premier Boat Tours points out 2,000-year-old cypress trees, herons, ibises, egrets, osprey, alligators, turtles and maybe even a bald eagle or two.

Bald eagle in pine tree overlooking water

For birders in need of a bit of relaxation, head over to the Birds & Beer event from 4-6 p.m. Saturday at the Leesburg Boat Club TikiBar, 31 Dozier Circle, Leesburg. JayMc & The Mountain River Band will provide a free concert of old and new country music, including many original tunes. Mingle with fellow birders while enjoying a cool brew in a shaded waterside setting.

More into butterflies than brewskis? If so, bring the kids to the Florida Scrub-Jay Trail at 11490 Monte Vista Road, Clermont, all day Saturday to observe butterflies in the garden and learn about the cycle of birth from egg to newly hatched Monarch butterfly during Cathy Brown’s continuously running program, “Butterflies are Free.”

Learn how monarch butterflies are tagged at the "Butterflies are Free" presentation

The festival’s website is the place to learn about the three keynote speakers, Birds & Blooms magazine editor Stacy Tornio;

Stacy Tornio

author, botanist, photographer and naturalist Roger L. Hammer,

Roger Hammer
and birder Greg Miller, whose 1998 cross-country quest to view 700 species of birds in a single year is the true story behind the 2011 film “The Big Year.”

Greg Miller

You can also sign up online to save your spot in any of the programs, including meet-and-greets with the keynote speakers and other presenters.

Even if you don’t have time to participate in any of the scheduled events, stop by anyway to check out the vendors and exhibits. Last year, while browsing through the vendor area, I found three new Florida-friendly plants to add to my garden.

One of my Florida-friendly plant finds:  Sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica)

This year, in addition to poking around the plants-for-sale section, I’m looking forward to seeing the ongoing exhibit of nature-inspired art by the Pastel Society of Central Florida.

With so much going on, it may be hard to decide what to do first. My suggestion: Pick one and have fun. Maybe I’ll see you there.