Story last updated at 1:38 p.m. Thursday, May 9, 2002

Bird festival helps Homer fly into life
Spring is in the air on Kachemak Bay.

Far to the south in the Lower 48 some communities mark the seasons with the rush of human snow birds to and from their wintering grounds. Here on the tidal flats along Coal Bay and Beluga Slough, our true snow birds have returned north as the last traces of snow fade from the lowlands.

Many of these shorebirds stop by to visit on their way north to summer breeding grounds.

It is a time to celebrate the end of the winter dark and the tensions of icy roads.

The dust of winter sanding still coats the streets and the roadsides to be sure, but area residents dedicated last weekend to gather the debris left naked by the melted snows.

Many people still trudge slowly around town seemingly slumped from the weight of winter or dazed by the white light of the long days, but the pace is picking up.

Scores of adults and children, Scout groups and local clubs, families and business people filled hundreds of bags with trash gathered all around Homer, Anchor Point and beyond.

It is another sign of a community that cares about itself, even as it spruces up for the thousands of bird watchers and naturalists drawn to this weekend's 30th annual shorebird festival.

It is a classic combination of what brings many people to Homer in the first place -- the wonder of the natural world blended with the opportunity to create business opportunities to house and serve the visitors who flock to the festival.

Like the return of the shorebirds, small coveys of campers and motor homes are slipping into town with little fanfare.

The human traffic is building as a few advance scouts motor down the highways seeking a weekend of birding, some music or the display of artwork in the galleries scattered throughout the community.

Like the birds, spring visitors come first in small groups, maybe a week or so ahead of the flock. They may leave after a brief sojourn, only to be replaced by a larger group gathered for the weekend events or to stay for an extended visit.

Some may grumble at the influx of visitors, the crowds in the stores or a extra wait to drive through an intersection, but such is the lifeblood of the region's economy.

Birds are by no means the only attraction this time of year. But they are the traditional theme of this weekend.

Our streams are still high with the snowmelt and mud of breakup. It is too early for the runs of determined salmon from the sea, but halibut are luring boats trailered from many points to plumb the bottom for barn-door flatfish, gourmet meals at the end a tight line and a bent rod, or the chance to win the lottery of luck that is the annual derby.

Some towns in warmer climes mark spring with festivals of flowers. For Homer that may come a bit later, but here we flower with the flocking of the shorebirds as they probe the mud on skinny legs under the magnified eyes of studious watchers seeking to tally the varieties of life along the water's edge.

Welcome to May in Homer.