Birders flock to Kenai festival

Posted: Sunday, May 23, 2010

Todd Eskelin was able to check one more bird off of his lifetime bird list Friday during the Kenai Birding Festival's birding float trip of the Kenai River: a blue-winged teal.

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Photo By Scott Moon
Photo By Scott Moon
Avid birder Ken Marlow and Toby Burke of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge were on hand at the bird viewing platform off Bridge Access Road to point out species of interest and to answer birding questions.

With some 260 bird species that can be found across the Kenai Peninsula, seeing that kind of duck was quite a feat for Eskelin, who is a biological technician at the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, local birding expert and festival organizer.

"I'm at 218 now for the Kenai. It's hard for me to get a new one so I was really excited," Eskelin said.

Participants on a daylong float trip were able to spot about 69 species of birds.

"The area below Skilak Lake is so rich with birds right now," Eskelin said.

The Kenai Birding Festival has become an annual event on the central Peninsula with workshops and activities geared toward all ages and levels of skill.

"We want it to grow and expand and develop an event people will come down here for," said Natasha Ala of the Kenai Convention and Visitors Bureau.

According to Ala, some 200 people will have participated in the festival this year.

"It's just really blossomed," Eskelin said.

The Kenai Birding Festival is the younger and more laid back sibling of the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival.

"Homer can be intimidating," said Eskelin, explaining that it's such a big festival with lots of serious birders. "We started off just trying to give people an avenue to learn more about birds down here."

"It's bigger than this one but I don't know if it's any more interesting," Ralph Van Dusseldorp said about the festival in Homer.

Van Dusseldorp, of Kenai, said that he looks forward to the Kenai Birding festival every year.

"Isn't that nice the way they hover?" he said, while watching an arctic tern fly above the flats. "I think they're so pretty."

On Saturday afternoon, the Kenai birding platform was set up for spotting and observing species with viewing equipment, literature and expert knowledge.

"We've got the scopes here and the bird book here and anyone who wants to come see birds can scope things out here," said Ken Marlow, a birder and organizer of the festival.

Marlow, in his camouflage jacket and hat, looks pretty serious about bird watching, but he'll tell you he's not as serious as some.

One friend of his has a whole list of bird sounds that were misplaced in films, "like the sound of a loon in the desert," he said.

While Marlow doesn't have a list quite like that one, he has always loved birds and to observe their behavior.

"I just enjoy the intelligence of the birds. If someone calls you a bird brain it's a tremendous compliment," he said.

He said he hopes the birding festival encourages families to take part and get people into the lifelong hobby.

"All you need is good pair of binoculars and a bird book and you can go birding anywhere," he said. "The more we learn about birds the more we know we have yet to learn."

For Kellie Kelso of Kenai, birding is more of a social event.

"I've met some wonderful people," she said. "It just brings people together."

As a new birder, she said she likes the festival because it's more fun for her to learn about the species from experts on the viewing platform than from a book.

"You might get hooked, you never know," Eskelin said.

The Kenai Birding Festival continues today with a several programs in the afternoon and at backyard birding barbecue at Marlow's on the Kenai. The Kenai birding platform will have local bird experts Eskelin, Marlow and Toby Burke on hand from 1 to 4 p.m.

For more information, visit the Kenai Watershed Forum website at

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at

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