Watershed forum celebrates birds

Posted: Friday, May 02, 2008

From the chirping of song birds in the forest, to the quacks of ducks on the rivers, and the honking of geese flying over head, it's obvious that the spring migration of birds is well under way.

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Bob Thraves and his daughter Trish Coffman glass for birds on the Kenai River flats last week. Photo by M. Scott Moon

This weekend there will be several opportunities to celebrate the awesome avian fauna that make their home here for a portion of the year.

"This is our fourth year, and the event just keeps on growing," said Josselyn O'Connor, of the Kenai Watershed Forum, in regard to the conservation group's Kenai Bird Celebration, which begins today.

The three-day event is designed to showcase and celebrate the more than 237 species of birds that inhabit the pristine beaches, spectacular state parks and thousands of acres of wildlife refuges on the Kenai Peninsula, in a way that is appealing for beginning birders and advanced aviculturalists alike.

"This year we added several new components," O'Connor said, adding the first of which begins today.

Participants that had sign up weeks ago will take part in a five- to six-hour boat trip that floats from the Lower Skilak Boat Launch down to Bing's Landing in Sterling early this morning. Even with four drift boats seating several people on each (including one expert birder as a guide on each boat), O'Connor said interest in the trip exceeded their expectations.

"It filled up within a matter of hours, and there was still a long waiting list," she said.

O'Connor speculated the reason for the fast fill up was due to how serene the area being floated is at this time of year, as well as the fact that now is the good time to see some species that are harder to sport at other times or locations.

"It's super quiet there right now, so if we time it just right there should be a ton of birds there," she said.

Todd Eskelin, a biological technician at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and one of the instructors for the Kenai Bird Celebration, agreed that weather permitting the float trip may offer some good viewing opportunities, particularly for waterfowl.

"I've been up there a couple of times at this time of year and seen lots of swans, diving ducks and long-tailed ducks which are uncommon inland," he said.

Eskelin said mergansers and goldeneyes frequent the area too, and less common species such as canvasbacks and harlequins may also be there and paired up with mates.

"And you can see them closer up than if you they were on the flats," he said.

On Saturday the feathered festivities continue. After a brief morning meet and greet with donuts and coffee, Toby Burke, a wildlife technician with the KNWR and an active birder with more than 10 years experience birding in Alaska, will be teaching an "Introduction to Birding" class, to get everyone ready for the remainder of the weekend activities.

"Everyone is sure to take away a few pointers," O'Connor said.

Following the introduction class, a newly created program will hatch with the intention of drawing in younger birders.

"We added a children's component to reach out to kids. We had a lot come last year, but it was a little above their level, so this year we decided to tailor something directly to them," O'Connor said.

The children's program will be a workshop where youngsters will learn the concepts of listening, observing behavior and noting the habits of birds. They will also take part in making puppets and singing birding songs. All children participating must be pre-registered and children under 6 must be accompanied by an adult.

Later in the day, Eskelin will giving a presentation on some of the effects a changing climate could have on local bird populations. Birders will also practice what they have learned by moving to field stations set up in the Kenai area two at the Kenai City Dock and another at the end of Cannery Road. The day will draw down with a back yard birding barbecue at Marlow's on the Kenai.

On Sunday, the festivities continue with presentation on birding hot spots by Ken and Connie Tarbox, avid birders and major contributors to the development of the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Guide.

Birders will also return to the field stations from the previous day before ending the weekend with a wildlife slide show.

"Mossy Kilcher will be presenting a slide show of her photography," O'Connor said.

Kilcher, of Homer, is an artist and passionate birder, specializing in wild bird photography, original art, music and digital nature videos, and sound recordings.

In conjunction with this presentation there will be a reception and awards presentation for the Peeps Art and Photo Contest. This is a free event and all are invited to attend.

For more information or to pre-register the Kenai Birding Celebration call 907-260-5449, or to see a detailed schedule of this weekend's events, visit the Kenai Watershed Forum's Web site at www.kenaiwatershed.org.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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