The 31st Annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival kicked off Wednesday and welcomes back migratory birds, visitors and locals for four days of guided bird walks, boat tours, presentations and activities around the bay.
Lora Haller is the visitor center manager with the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, which is co-hosting the festival with the Friends of the Alaska Wildlife Refuges.
“So a lot of birds are migrating through. They’re coming from their wintering grounds, maybe California or even as far as South America, coming back up to the north, a lot of them heading farther north Alaska, even. Up to the Arctic and other national wildlife refuges, and public lands in Alaska. So this is just one of their many stopover points,” Haller said. “And the birds will stop here and feed and feed and feed until the weather and the wind conditions are just perfect to send them farther north. Some of the birds can add half their body weight in just a day’s feeding.”
The festival runs through Sunday, May 7. Haller says there will be a variety of birding opportunities across local habitats — from the Homer Spit, to the wetlands of Beluga Slough, to the shores of Seldovia, accessible both by paid boat tours and free viewing with local volunteer guides.
“One of the highlights for folks coming here is just going to some of our viewing stations,” she said. “We do two viewing stations out at the base of the Homer Spit, Mud Bay and Lighthouse Village, and we have volunteers out there with scopes. So you can just stop by there at high tide and have a glimpse of a lot of the different shorebirds that are around. So that’s a pretty cool event to be able to see, and it’s free.”
The Islands and Ocean Visitor Center is the headquarters of the festival. Throughout the weekend, there are birding presentations on topics like the language of crows and ravens. That’s in addition to morning bird walks on Beluga Lake, photography at Anchor Point Beach, field sketching classes and kids’ activities and games.
Haller says boat and kayak tours are another way to connect with birds across the bay.
“So if you want to get out on the water and see some of the pelagic birds or ocean birds that are here and just take a trip around parts of the bay to see some of the birds that’s always fun as well,” she said.
Another new event this year is the game Wingspan, Haller explains.
“You don’t have to know your birds to play the game,” she said. “But it talks about a lot of the different birds here in North America, and you’re collecting eggs, you’re laying eggs, you’re collecting food tokens and trying to build up your habitat with different birds living there.”
Haller says one of the priorities of this year is accessibility.
“So birders come in all ages, shapes, heights. And birding is really open to people of all different abilities,” she said. “You don’t have to go climb a mountain to go look at birds, you can literally be in a parking lot, and from your car to view birds. So we’ve offered a variety of programs for all different abilities of folks as well.”
That includes walks along gently sloped trails, she said.
And there will be an auction, first Friday art events, a teen movie night, and the fan favorite: a bird-calling competition at Homer Brewing Company, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
“People can sign up to do their own bird calls. We have some judges, we have one of our local folks as the emcee, and you can win prizes. So it’s always a very, very popular contest that occurs.”
This year’s keynote speaker is Diego Felipe-Calderon a biologist, birder and guide from Colombia, who is also active in training former paramilitary combatants to be bird guides in the landscape they once fought in. He’s featured in the documentary film “The Birders,” screening Thursday, which showcases unique birding opportunities in Colombia — a country with incredibly rich bird diversity.
The featured festival author is Julia Zarankin, a Toronto-based writer and birder, whose memoir is “Field Notes on Becoming An Unintentional Birder.” Featured birding festival artists Mattie Squire, and Schantz Scholar is Oscar Wilhelmy.
For the full Shorebird Festival schedule of events, check out kachemakshorebird.org.