SEBASTIAN – The Barrier Island is home to the first national wildlife refuge, Pelican Island. Yesterday afternoon, the 19th annual Pelican Island Wildlife Festival took place at Riverside Park in Sebastian.
The festival, sponsored by the Pelican Island Preservation Society, attracted nature lovers and others looking to spend a relaxing afternoon under the oaks.
Because of the perfect weather, the festival was crowded, especially in the afternoon, when parking was scarce. Spring fever was contagious as the good-natured crowds ambled along on leafy paths, lined with food vendors and artists selling their crafts.
“We did have a beautiful day. The kids loved the animals,” said Steve Massey, President of the society. “It takes a year to plan and we couldn’t do it without the City of Sebastian. They been instrumental in making this work, along with all of our dedicated volunteers. Our volunteers are amazing. We couldn’t do this without them.”
Shaw Frederick, a fourth grader at St. Mark’s Episcopal Academy, and an amateur photographer, won second place in the photography contest, with his vivid photograph of an Indian Blanket flower.
In addition to the photography contest, there were appearances by Harp & Harmony, an acoustic folk duo from Shawangunk Preserve, New York, along with Good Gravy and Old Barber Bridge, both playing their own brand of bluesy rock. A rehabilitated pelican release was followed by exhibitions by Treasure Coast Wildlife Center, Treasure Coast Herpetological Society.
The peaceful nature of the crowd could be attributed to the fact that it was made up of birders, lots of them. Live birds of prey performed for the crowd and there were all types of interesting diversions, including fish printing, a make-and-take a manatee, stump the biologist, fish casting demonstrations, pontoon boat tours to the Pelican Island Preserve by Sunshine Wildlife Tours, as well as kayak tours.
Over 30 species of birds use Pelican Island as a rookery, roost, feeding ground, or loafing area. Sixteen different species of birds nest on Pelican Island, including the Brown Pelican, Wood Stork, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Reddish Egret, Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green-backed Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, White Ibis, American Oystercatcher, and the Common Moorhen.
Joe Wiegand, who was channeling President and conservationist Theodore Roosevelt for the day, remarked on the knowledgeable crowd. “These people know their history,” he said, breaking away from a group of history and nature buffs.
President Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1903 that permanently set aside the three-acre island as a wildlife sanctuary, and made Pelican Island the first National Wildlife Refuge. Since then, the National Wildlife Refuge system has grown to become the world’s largest network of lands managed for wildlife with over 500 refuges totaling over 93 million acres.
Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge is located on A1A, just south of the Sebastian Inlet Bridge, on historic Jungle Trail.
The Pelican Island Preservation Society meets at 7 p.m. at the North Indian River County Library. There is no cost and everyone is welcome to attend.