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Nature festival comes home to roost soon

A four-day feast of nature comes to Eckerd College on Oct. 7-10.

The seventh annual Florida Birding and Nature Festival offers more than two dozen field trips, a series of experts' talks on campus, nature photography, an expo and an array of children's activities.

The festival itself is free. Seminars are $7; field trips cost $40 to $60, and often include lunch and transportation.

Organizers encourage online registration for field trips and seminars. It's available at Eckerd College is at 4200 54th Ave. S. Costs, times and days for events vary; check the Web site for specifics.

Participants have a chance to spy seasonal migratory birds traveling the Tampa Bay area and are invited to the 2004 Florida State Audubon Assembly at the St. Petersburg Hilton, which will offer more speakers on birding and insights on issues shaping environmental policy at the national and state levels.

Transportation will be provided between Eckerd and the Hilton St. Petersburg, 333 First St. S.

But the festival is not just for inveterate birdwatchers.

Native plants will be for sale and a butterfly tent will be set up. A rehabilitated bald eagle will be on display, as will several raptors from the Avian Reconditioning Center in Apopka. Busch Gardens will bring a gopher tortoise and an alligator _ said to be auditorium-friendly.

The field trips also will include a chance to learn about natural history and how humans have interacted with the environment.

"There's lots of cool wandering around to be done," said Mary Kelley Hoppe, festival coordinator.

One of the more spectacular trips travels to Emerson Point in Manatee County, Hoppe said. It contains one of the largest pre-Columbian temple mounds in the Tampa Bay area, in addition to bird habitat and a a variety of ecosystems.

Some of the other trips include Honeymoon Island, Oscar Scherer State Park, Dunedin Hammock, Shell Key and kayak excursions.

The keynote speaker is ocean and sea bird conservationist Carl Safina, president of the Blue Ocean Institute and author of the acclaimed books Eye of the Albatross and Song for the Blue Ocean.

Also on the agenda are birder and butterfly enthusiast Kenn Kaufman, nature photographers Arthur Morris and James Shadle, and St. Petersburg Times writer Jeff Klinkenberg, author of Real Florida.

Proceeds from the festival benefit the Pinellas County Environmental Fund, a program of Pinellas County and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Money will help support Tampa Bay restoration and protection projects.