The Kenai Peninsula Birding Festival is for more than just the elite birder, Todd Eskelin said.
“I just have a blast looking with my bird hunting buddies and my elite birding friends,” said Eskelin, a biological technician for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
The three day event, which starts Thursday, is a festival for children, families, seniors and even the avid birders who know all the calls, he said.
“There’s a lot of people who say, ‘Oh, I’m not a birder,’” he said. “But all you have to do is drive down Bridge Access this spring when the geese fly in … and the entire road is a traffic jam.”
Keen Eye Birders President Ken Tarbox said the festival sports a new event — a 24-hour big sit, where birders will man the wildlife viewing platform off Boat Launch Road from 6 a.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Sunday. Participants can stop by at any time, he said.
“That’s what this festival is all about, helping people get involved with this activity,” Tarbox said.
He said he expects between 200 and 500 participants. Last year’s festival drummed up 200 to 300, he said.
And the festival has a national and international draw, he said. He has met people from Taiwan, Texas and Hawaii.
The festival’s opening reception is 6 p.m., Thursday at the Kenai Visitor Center and Chamber of Commerce. The keynote speaker, Bill Larned, will speak about Peninsula loon populations. Admission is $5; children and teenagers younger than 18 enter free.
“We’ll kick off the festival hopefully in good fashion,” Tarbox said.
Keynote speaker Michelle Michaud will speak about sandhill cranes 7 p.m., Saturday at the Kenai visitor center. Her speech will be $5 for participants older than 18, also.
Events for the festival include a Kenai fjords national park wildlife tour in Seward. Two seabird experts and one wildlife guide will facilitate the 6-hour tour. Pre-registration is required. To register, call 1-877-777-4051.
Aside from the completely booked $150 Kenai River float trip slated for Friday, all other festival events are free. They include a live owl viewing, a guided photography hike and a slide show showing how to arrange living spaces to support neighborhood wildlife.
A full event listing will be available at the Kenai visitor center 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Friday to Saturday. The events are also listed at www.kenaibirdfest.com.
Tarbox said the Kenai River Flats is home to more than 180 bird species and, this spring, more than 12,000 geese. He often sees drivers on the roadside looking at the geese.
“They may not call themselves birders, but they’re gaining an appreciation of the environment they live in,” he said.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.