gather on the lawn at the Lodge at Wakulla Springs
during last year's Swift Night Out.
gathering dusk of late summer, a crowd stares expectantly
at the skies above Wakulla Springs State Park.
miles from downtown Tallahassee, Fla., the 6,000-acre
wilderness sanctuary is home to Wakulla River and the
world’s largest, deepest freshwater spring. The place so
impressed Native Americans that they called it “Wakulla,”
meaning, “strange and mysterious waters.”
however, the park’s historic lodge and its massive
chimney hold the crowd’s attention. Cellphones aimed
skyward, they’re poised to capture a natural wonder:
more than 600 chimney swifts spiraling like autumn leaves
into their nighttime roost. Weather permitting, visitors
can watch the birds’ nightly performance early April
Not a soul
swats a mosquito, even in this thick emerald swath of
Florida forest. They may have the swifts to thank. Two
chimney swifts and their young eat more than 12,000 flying
rarely have issues with biting insects around the lodge or
springs,” says Jeffrey Hugo, park services specialist
and host of Swift Night Out, one of many events across the
country aimed at raising awareness of the threatened
neotropical avian. This year’s Swift Night Out at
Wakulla Springs is Sept. 14.
last bird enters the chimney, the watchers tally their
counts, which Hugo records on the Chimney Swift
Conservation Association website.
wintering in South America, Wakulla’s swifts return each
spring and stay until fall. Historically, swifts nested in
dead trees. As old-growth forests disappeared, they moved
to masonry chimneys; when masonry gave way to metal, their
numbers sharply declined. Except in places such as Wakulla,
part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
trail is a network of more than 500 sites that preserve
wild places, so people can experience moments that get
them hooked on nature,” says trail coordinator Liz
in Wakulla, few people spoke or moved as the spectacle
unfolded. Did they wonder: How do these swifts, who fly
over 3,000 miles, find a dark rectangle of chimney deep in
yielded to stars, the birds’ soft chittering subsided.
The watchers drifted off, but not without the memory of
dark clouds of swifts whirling through a timeless ritual
in the skies.
IF YOU GO
isn’t fabricated at the Lodge at Wakulla Springs; it
never disappeared. Built by financier Edward Ball in 1937,
the Mediterranean revival retreat recalls a time when
sipping cherry phosphates at the “world’s longest”
marble soda fountain bar was something to write home
about. An art deco elevator transports guests to rooms
outfitted with period furnishings. Several overlook the
springs, where part of “Creature From the Black
Lagoon” was filmed in 1954. When not cooling off in
70-degree spring water, visitors can enjoy boat tours,
nature trails and sampling local specialties in the Edward
Ball dining room. Rates from $119 to $269 a night.