Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 11:29 PM on Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Humans flock to peep birds and, oh, so much more during shorebird fest Welcome Shorebirders!

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Sharon Baur

Birders look for shorebirds and other spring birds on a bird tour at a past Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival. Whether at viewing stations or on guided tours, bird watchers of all experience levels will have numerous opportunities to see spring birds. Loaner binoculars and spotting scopes also are available.

To a fisherman or early-season tourist driving by on the Homer Spit, people in rain parkas, hats and gloves peering off at the distance through ginormous spotting scopes might seem bizarre.

Peepers, some call them. Anoraks, the Brits might say. Birders, if you're being polite.

To the thousands of birders and other visitors coming to Homer this weekend, the annual migration of a possible 38 species of shorebirds through Kachemak Bay is more than the ultimate in bird geekdom. It's a heck of a lot of fun.

While the 19th annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival centers around an amazing annual natural event, it's not just for the birds. You can have a great time even if you don't know the difference between Hudsonian, bar-tailed and marbled godwits,

Try music, art, kayaking, fine dining, photography, writing, sports and a lot of family fun. The festival started yesterday with a junior birder discovery lab and runs through Sunday evening with a tour on the classic Danny J to Gull Island. This year's theme is "Wild Birds, Wild Places," with Blue Ocean Institute cofounder Carl Safina the keynote speaker.

Want to do more than birding? Here are 10 cool things to do, many of them free.

1) Well, start with birding. After all, it's the raison d'etre of the festival. The festival revolves around the peak of the shorebird migration that usually is May 8-9. Get tips from experts and spot distant birds with spotting scopes loaned by sponsor Eagle Optics at viewing stations at the base of the Homer Spit.

"The best thing is to go to the viewing stations," advised shorebird coordinator Christina Whiting. "You can go to these stations and see what's being spotted."

Like mariners, birders also follow the tides. On the Mud Bay side, birds feed on the edge of the incoming and outgoing tides. The closer the tide to the Spit, the better the viewing.

On the deck at Lighthouse Village, check out ducks, yellowlegs and yellowlegs. Both stations are 4-5:30 p.m. today, 5-6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 5:30-6:30 a.m. Sunday. Free.

2) The popular Junior Birder program has returned. Kids can learn about birding at events like the Family Bird Walk at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Mariner Park. Young birders who participate in activities get a badge.

3) See Seldovia. Take a trip across the bay on the Kachemak Voyager and get the inside tour of Seldovia. Authors and explorers Bret Higman and Erin McKittrick take visitors on a tour of the Otterbahn Trail to the Outside Beach. Even if you're not into birding, it's a great walk through a historic town. The boat leaves at 9:15 a.m. Sunday; the fee is $150 a person. Water taxis also offer trips on the bay throughout the weekend.

4) Do an art stroll. Many art shows opening Friday have shows with bird themes. Don't miss shows at local schools, too. See the schedule on pages 14 and 15.

5) Hang with artists. Spend some quality, up-close time with local artists. This year's featured artist and the creator of the shorebird T-shirt design, Lynn Marie Naden, offers "Field Casting for Beginners" from 12:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday at her studio. Learn how to take casts of natural textures. The fee is $85 a person.

Aurora Firth, whose family has a show at Ptarmigan Arts, teaches "Family Field Drawing" from 10:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday at Alaska Islands and Oceans Visitor Center for a fee of $3 a person.

Do you paint with light? Get tips on photographing nature with photographer Keith Ramos from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday at Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. The class is free, but registration is required.

Or, do an all-day event with "Birding Through Art," 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. today. Learn techniques from four different artists; choose among eight artists in photography, painting, carving and etching. The fee is $80 a person.

6) Write away. Miranda Weiss, author of "Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska," teaches a writer's workshop, "Hope is the Thing With Feathers" from 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Friday at Kachemak Bay Campus. The fee is $3.

7) Get inspired. Welcome Safina in an opening reception from 3:30-5:30 pm. Friday at the Pratt Museum. A birder, naturalist and writer, Safina helped found the Blue Ocean Institute. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday he speaks about his book, "The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World." At 9 a.m. Sunday, Safina also talks about his latest book, "A Sea in Flames," about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"He talks about how important it is for man and nature to coexist," Whiting said of Safina. "It's to be a message of hope," she said of his talk on the oil spill. "The intention is people will walk away educated."

8) Get loud. Have you perfected that greater yellowlegs alert call? Can you imitate the sawhet owl? Join the Shorebirds Sing at 7 p.m. Friday at the landmark Spit bar, the Salty Dawg Saloon — now smoke free. Compete for awards and prizes or just listen. Registration is at 6:30 p.m.

9) Get stuff. Cruise the popular Arts, Crafts, Gifts and Education Fair 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at Homer High School. Nonprofit groups offer information on activities, and arts and crafts vendors sell their works. Also check out the Eagle Optics display. Food vendors keep hungry birders fueled.

10) Get out of town. In addition to boat and kayak tours on the bay, if you're heading north on Sunday, take one last bird tour in Anchor Point. John Wenger does a birding tour at the mouth of the river from 5-6 p.m.

There's lots more, like the Smokey Bay Music Festival 3-8 p.m. for families and 8 p.m.-midnight Saturday for adults at Alice's Champagne Palace, On Wings of Song at 8 p.m. tonight at the Homer Theatre, and workshops almost hourly on Saturday at the high school. For a full schedule, pick up the flyer at the Homer Chamber of Commerce or visit online at www.homeralaska.org/shorebird.htm. Some events are sold out.

"There are a ton of activities still available," Whiting said. "There's tons to do that don't require registration. There are plenty of things people can show up and enjoy."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.