Listen. Do you hear that? A deep, throaty croak pops through the air over the treetops, just out of sight. The children I am walking with stop and try to recognize the animal making these unique, reverberating sounds. We offer guesses, discuss what it could be (Is it flying? Sitting in a tree?), then scan the air for visual confirmation. A raven whips overhead, theatrically dipping and twisting in the wind before disappearing over the lake.
We often think of bird watching as a visual pursuit, but often it’s our other senses that give us pause, cause us to look around with interest and recognize the diverse bird community on the Kenai Peninsula. Sound is a major one, and the upcoming 2012 Big Sit! on Oct. 13 gives us all a chance to fine tune our skills at hearing, seeing and watching birds.
Every year since the early 90s, the Big Sit event gathers participants around the world to document every bird species seen or heard within a network of 17-foot circles dotted across the globe for a 24-hour period. The Big Sit circle on the Kenai Peninsula is at the Lower Skilak Campground boat launch on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Starting at dawn, rangers and biologists from the Refuge will be on hand at the circle to help participants of all ages identify birds, spot them in binoculars and scopes, and keep the tally going until after dusk, when we’ll be listening for owls. Participants rarely stay for the entire day, so stop by for a short visit, stay as long as you want, and enjoy this special chance to experience fall birding on the Refuge.
Worried about having to learn what bird is what? Need to borrow some binoculars to get in on the fun? Well, we have all that covered. Come to the Lower Skilak boat launch anytime on Saturday and meet our biologists for an introduction to birding and the Big Sit. Thirty-three different bird species were identified last year. Fall is a challenging time to collect hundreds of different bird sightings since most migrants have already flown off, but it also makes for a great season to start learning about the species that frequent this part of Alaska. They are easier to remember than you might think. You never know, you might just see a new bird for your “life list,” an accomplishment that is made ever easier when you have local birding experts around to help you out.
Not so sure your flock is ready for the sedentary action? At 1:30pm, the tailgate party gets started! Rangers Leah and Michelle will be on hand with hands-on warm-up games and activities all about birds. There will also be warm drinks and snacks available until the ranger-led party ends at 3:30pm.
Social media has arrived at the Big Sit this year, and our rangers are excited to say that our Big Sit circle is a rare spot in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area that has cell service! Participants can “tweet” their experiences live from circles around the country using the hashtag #bigsit, so even if you can’t join us, you can follow our progress through Twitter (how aptly named that site is for this event, eh?).
Remember to dress warmly and bring blankets and chairs to make your visit to the Big Sit circle comfortable. If you can’t attend, there are many other ways to celebrate fall and the wonders of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, including these upcoming events, all free of charge:
Oct. 6 — Fall Digital Photo Safari. Meet at 1 p.m. at the Refuge Visitor Center in Soldotna to explore the Keen Eye Nature Trail and the last of the fall colors through the lens of a digital camera. Cameras are provided and participants go home with prints of their photos. Registration is required with Leah Eskelin at 260-2811.
Oct. 18 — PEEPs (Pre-school Environmental Education Programs). Bring your preschoolers and find out about curious crows and rascally ravens. Stories, activities, crafts and snacks round out a fun-filled hour for little ones ages 2–5. There are two sessions to choose from: 9–10 a.m. or 10:30–11:30 a.m.
Oct. 27 — Spooky Seasons Family Event. Join us from 3–7:30 p.m. at the Refuge Environmental Education Center to find out about some amazing and often misunderstood creatures — bugs, bats, owls and a few surprise critters as well! Take a dusk time walk with our staff and find out how night time creatures are not-so-scary after all. For more information contact Michelle Ostrowski at 260-2839.
Remember, you are always welcome to come out on your own, with your family or friends to enjoy a walk on the Keen Eye Nature Trail or Centennial Trail at Refuge Headquarters or any of the trails elsewhere on the Refuge. It’s a great way to get outdoors, enjoy the fall season and experience the natural world!
Candace Ward has worked as a Park Ranger at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge for 28 years and leads the Refuge’s Information/Education Program. Leah Eskelin is an interpretive Park Ranger at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. You can find more information about the Refuge at http://kenai.fws.gov or http://www.facebook.com/kenainationalwildliferefuge.