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Bird festival takes flight in Homer

Posted: Sunday, May 01, 2005

 

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  Birds and people will gather in Homer for next weekend's Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival. Photo by M. Scott Moon

An oyster catcher rests on rocks. The brightly colored birds are a welcome sight on a bird-watching trip.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Southcentral Alaska in the springtime is a magnet for huge flocks of shore-dwelling creatures that spend their time here traveling from beach to beach, meticulously scanning the sand for signs of life.

They're bird watchers, and they're back.

Beginning Thursday, the Homer Chamber of Commerce's 13th annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival will take flight, with an expected 4,000 people in town ready to head out and scan the sandy beaches and marshy areas that surround town. There, they'll be looking for rock sandpipers and surfbirds, whimbrels and red-necked stints — maybe even a bar-tailed godwit or two.

According to Christina Whiting with the chamber, the Homer festival has become a primary destination for birders from not only the Kenai Peninsula, but elsewhere in Alaska and even Outside. She said visitors from as far away as Germany and Japan have signed up for the festival.

"It goes up a couple hundred each year," Whiting said last week while making final preparations for the festival, which includes numerous activities ranging from seminars on shorebirds to sea kayak trips into Kachemak Bay.

 

A puffin gets a running start on a flight. Birders who opt to take Kachemak Bay boat tours stand a good chance at witnessing the comical fowl.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Whiting said registration for many of the festival's events has already closed due to high demand. However, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of opportunities for people to get out and enjoy the fun. In fact, Whiting said most of the places birders who participate in the festival will visit are easily-accessible public places where anyone can go and look for their favorite dowitcher or yellowlegs (both the greater and lesser varieties are common in Homer this time of year).

"People can just come down and do the viewing stations," she said.

Whiting said the festival is about birds, but even more, it's a celebration of the return of sunshine, long days and nice weather to the Homer area.

"It's a celebration of birds, but it's also a celebration of spring," Whiting said.

Of the 4,000-plus visitors expected to hit town for the shorebird festival, Whiting said most simply want to congregate with their fellow bird watchers and look for some of the thousands of unique shorebirds that either nest in the area or are passing through on annual migrations.

Homer is a special area, she said, because of its perfect location nestled in Kachemak Bay, tucked away in the northern edge of the Gulf of Alaska.

 

A young birder watches a young eagle on the Homer Spit several years ago.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"There are just a lot of areas for birds to settle here," she said. "It's a really conducive area for nesting."

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska is home to more breeding shorebirds than anywhere else in the United States. In fact, it's estimated that fully one third of the world's species of shorebirds can be found somewhere in the state during the summertime. Which means birders in Homer will have a nearly unlimited opportunity to cross some rare and interesting birds off their lists.

The featured bird at this year's festival is the godwit, of which there are three varieties — the marbled, the bar-tailed and the Hudsonian. All are rare birds and seeing any is a special treat for the experienced birder. In case you happen to be on the lookout, watch for a large, long-billed bird with long legs. They prefer to feed near the shoreline and can often be seen traveling in flocks.

 

Birds and people will gather in Homer for next weekend's Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Although godwits are relatively uncommon, even inexperienced birders should have no trouble finding such common peninsula dwellers as sandpipers and killdeers, which make their homes here and are a familiar sight to anyone who's spent much time near the water.

In addition to bird-watching opportunities, the festival also offers a number of cultural and recreational events. This year's featured speaker will be Scott Weidensaul, who has authored more than a dozen books on natural history, including the Pulitzer Prize-nominated "Living in the Wind," which is about migratory birds and their habitats.

The festival also offers a host of activities that includes cruises, kayaking, beach walks, a fun run and several musical acts, including a concert Thursday by legendary singer-songwriter Richie Havens (see story, this page). For more information on the schedule of events, see the shorebird insert included with today's paper or visit the festival's Web site at www.bird inghomeralaska.org.

 

Bird watchers will be on the lookout for arctic terns and other birds during next weekend's 13th Annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in Homer.

Clarion file photo

Whiting said people don't have to necessarily be festival participants to enjoy the sights and sounds of Homer. In fact, she encouraged anyone — especially families — to simply stop in town for a while and check out all the interesting things going on around the town's bustling waterfront.

"Its' a great time for birders and non-birders alike," she said. "We try to keep it really family oriented."

Even if people don't have their minds set on spying a ruddy turnstone or wandering tattler, she said they're more than welcome to come down to the festival and simply enjoy a day or two.

"We want people just to come and explore all of Homer," she said.



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