Like many a human snowbird, monarch butterflies wing their way south from Canada and the northern United States as soon as the first cold front passes through. There are millions of these orange-colored flutterers, and many of them make North Florida a rest stop before continuing on to their winter homes in Mexico.
Swarms of them come in late October and November to Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge, 20 miles south of Tallahassee, which stages a major Butterfly Festival every year. This year, the 25th annual fete will be held at the refuge Oct. 26. “We’ll get 2,000 or 3,000 visitors,” said Connie Clineman, a refuge volunteer who drives one of the tour vehicles during the festival. www.fws.gov/saintmarks.
The advent of the migrating monarchs also will be celebrated at another butterfly festival, this one at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History, home of an excellent butterfly preserve called Butterfly Rainforest. This year, Butterflyfest will be held at the Gainesville museum Oct. 19 and 20. http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/butterflyfest/.
Another major butterfly facility in Florida is Butterfly World, a commercial attraction in Coconut Creek that is the world’s largest butterfly park. www.butterflyworld.com.
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Monarchs also may be seen in small butterfly gardens found in many Florida locales.
PUMPKINS AND MAZES
With Halloween coming on, it’s the season for pumpkin patches and corn mazes.
You may not see the Great Pumpkin rising above these fields, but you can buy a pumpkin to carve at dozens of Florida locales. Most popular are those patches where guests can pick a pumpkin directly out of the field. However, at most patches the pumpkins are brought in and put in piles for customers to look over.
Along with pumpkin patches, many farms at this time of year have corn mazes. These are fields of tall corn interlaced with twisting paths, and guests have fun trying to find their way out of them, especially families and small children. Some farms also offer another happy October tradition, hay rides.
For a list of these sites in Florida, go to www.pumpkinpatchesandmore.org.
You’ll be hearing a lot about this colorful, bizarre and sometimes X-rated festival that puts Key West in a state of frenzy for 10 days every year in October.
This year the fest will take place Oct. 18-27 and its theme is “Super Heroes, Villains...and Beyond.” Look for them at masquerade balls, costume contests, street fairs and parties. Festival climax comes with the grand parade on Oct. 26, with floats, bands, exotic marching groups and a lot of uninhibited exhibitionists. In past years, the latter have included folks wearing all sorts of outrageous costumes, include some wearing body paint ... and nothing else. The grand marshal will be Diane Nyad, riding on a float decorated to commemorate her marathon swim from Cuba to Key West. www.fantasyfest.com.
FREE AND FASCINATING
A week of free events awaits visitors to Florida’s most famous birding refuge, the J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island during the 24th annual Ding Darling Days celebration Oct. 20-26. Each day will offer free activities, including live wildlife presentations, naturalist tours, beach walks, tram tours, nature crafts, touch tank, snacks and other doings. Muppeteer Jim Henson’s daughter Heather will be back for a second year to perform with life-size puppets of endangered wildlife. www.dingdarlingsociety.org/dingdarlingdays.php.
• The Petanque America Open, to be held in Amelia Island Nov. 8-10, is expected to attract close to 300 players. The goal is to toss or roll hollow steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden target ball. Last year, the tourney brought together 256 players from 20 states and 11 countries. www.petanque-america-open.net.
• About 250,000 visitors are expected to flood downtown Mount Dora Oct. 26 and 27 for the 29th annual Mount Dora Craft Fair. More than 350 craftspeople will be on hand. www.mountdoracraftfair.com.
• Florida’s stone crab season opens Oct. 15 and the Florida Keys will celebrate with the third annual Stone Crab Eating Contest in Marathon Oct. 19. Entry fee: $25.
• Busch Gardens has partnered with Tampa’s International Plaza mall to create a new children’s play area in the mall. The new area features animals such as hippos, a baby elephant, baby lions and an alligator as well as a train, safari truck and 13-foot Cheetah Hunt Tower.