The Snow geese have arrived and the Sandhill cranes are getting settled in. Migratory birds are making their way back to the Kenai Peninsula. And the birders are not far behind. Each year, thousands of birds return to the Kenai Peninsula. Not long after, hundreds of birders flock to the peninsula for the Kenai Birding Festival for a chance to revel in the springtime glory. Many birders come from in state, while others, like the migratory birds they seek, journey from as far away as the lower 48 and international locales.
Regardless of place of origin, all share an enthusiasm for our feathered friends. Take it from Jim Williams, a nationally known birding expert and Kenai Peninsula advocate, "I like birds. I like birding in Alaska. I love birding on the Kenai Peninsula."
Whether drafting a beginning birding life list or seeking a first glimpse of an elusive Great gray owl, the Kenai Birding Festival has a variety of opportunities to suit any interest and ability. Many of the festival activities are free with a few opportunities incurring a fee. The festival is intended to showcase the beautiful landscape and the majestic birds for all birding levels.
The Festival now in its seventh year has grown from fifty or sixty people to over three hundred last year, "We kept it small to keep it informal but this year we're kicking it up and expect over five hundred who will be coming from all over the country. We have guest speakers from back east with a guide for the Festival this year, but the majority are still locals here that help out and love to bird in their backyard of the Kenai Peninsula," said Ken Tarbox, and event organizer and president of the Keen Eye birders.
For birders looking to get off the beaten path there are guided float trips, self-guided hot spot tours, and suggested hikes from the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail Guide. With over 65 viewing sites ranging in accessibility, the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail Guide provides detailed directions on many birding locations not often accessed by the general public. Local experts are available at all activities to discuss sightings and tips. Those looking for a more casual birding experience may attend the opening reception to learn more about the unexpected emotional capacity of birds with Julie Zickefoose, discuss bird sightings over a "Blue Bird Special" at a local restaurant, or share a laugh with Bill Thompson III as he divulges his most embarrassing birding moments and how to prevent them. Beginning birders will enjoy mixing with local experts while taking a short, hands-on hike to explore bird habitat, using staged scopes at the staffed viewing platforms or picking the brains of long-time birders at the Backyard Birding BBQ at Marlow's on the Kenai.
For young birders there's a variety of activities from crafts and art shows to hikes and games. The PEEPS art show consists of local children's artwork and is continually a festival favorite. Regardless of the initial draw to the festival one thing can be for certain; a good time will be had by all May 17th through May 20th. For more information including a detailed schedule, visit www.KenaiWatershed.org and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge headquarters.