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Birds, birders flock to Kenai

Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Visitors have started flocking to the central Peninsula for the annual Kenai Birding Festival this weekend.

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Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
A pair of sandhill cranes forage on the Kenai River flats near Bridge Access Road recently. They were part of a much larger flock that has been lingering near the bridge for several weeks.

Most of the visitors here so far are of the feathered variety.

Todd Eskelin, a biologist from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, said festival-goers will be on the lookout for both migratory birds, and those that spend more of their time here.

"It's really about how many different kinds," Eskelin said.

Eskelin said that there are a lot of waterfowl to be seen, including Canada geese and mallard ducks, and quite a few shorebirds that travel a long way each year.

"So there's a lot of neat stuff," he said.

The festival starts Thursday with an opening reception at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge's visitor center on Ski Hill Road in Soldotna, and runs through Sunday.

That opening reception will start at 4:30 p.m., and feature bird-themed art by local youth.

Bird-spotting isn't a sedentary event at festival.

Attendees will be keeping their eyes out for birds on Friday while floating the Kenai, driving up the road and even during a backyard barbecue.

Josselyn O'Connor, from the Kenai Watershed Forum, one of the entities organizing the festival, said anyone is welcome to join the birding by car trips on Friday. Those go through the Kenai Flats and along Skilak Loop Road, and are among the most popular events.

"Folks meet at the visitor's center at 7 a.m.," she said.

On Saturday, there will be opportunities to learn about bird banding and get help from experts sighting birds at viewing stations on the Kenai Birding Platform. The day also includes a number of children's activities, including crafts and songs. Anchorage's well-known personality Mr. Whitekeys, who happens to be the president of the Anchorage Audobon Society, will deliver the keynote that night at 7 p.m. at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

Sunday's workshops include sessions and a chance to try out digiscoping, which is digital photography through spotting scopes, and a lesson on an online bird sighting program called eBird, O'Connor said. Participants also have the option to carpool to Kasilof for another bird sighting session, she said.

"People just love, love, love, love all of the field trips," O'Connor said.

Similar to the birds, festival participants are usually a mix of Peninsula residents and visitors from elsewhere in the state, and even those from elsewhere in the country, O'Connor said.

The festival usually has about 200 to 300 participants throughout the weekend, she said.

While attendees might still be arriving for the May 19 to May 22 festival, local restaurants have already started the festivities.

"We call it the blue bird specials," O'Connor said. "A portion of the sales for the next two weeks come back to support the festival."

Area eateries have bird-themed specials, with part of the proceeds benefitting the festival, O'Connor said. The participating restaurants are Funky Monkey, Veronica's, Charlotte's, Fine Thyme Cafe and Odie's Deli.

For the complete schedule of events, visit the festival website at http://kenaibirdfest.com/ or the watershed forum's site at http://www.kenaiwatershed.org/.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@peninsulaclarion.com.



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