Story last updated at 3:20 p.m. Thursday, May 16, 2002

Festival leaves birders with Bay memories
By Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: news
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Plentyof gorgeous weather made the weekend a good one to get out of the house, as festivals honoring kachemak Bay's shorebirds and wooden boats offered an array of activities.  
Waterfowl expert Frank Todd had never been to the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival before, so this year's 10th anniversary celebration opened his eyes to the remarkable birding offered by Southcentral Alaska's annual bird migrations.

Birding enthusiasts from across Alaska, the Lower 48 and abroad spotted a wide variety of bird species during the four-day event. In all, birders reported 129 different species.

Some of the star attractions were the Hudsonian and marbled godwits, red-necked phalaropes, rufous-necked stints, red knots, pomarine and long-tailed jaegers, Pacific and American plovers, gadwalls, canvasbacks, king and Stellar's eiders, Pacific and red-throated loons, Aleutian Canada Geese and Eurasian wigeons, to name just a few.

Large mixed flocks of western sandpipers, dunlins and short-billed dowitchers provided a show for onlookers as they wheeled en masse around the Bay's mudflats. The birds' arrival on Kachemak Bay was somewhat late, but by Saturday an estimated 10,000 shorebirds could be seen moving around the water's edge at Mud Bay.

photo: news
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
The 10th annual Wooden Boat Festival punctuated a busy weekend out on the Homer Spit. Sixth-graders Gus Beck and Amelia Robertson retrieve a buoy from the Homer Harbor following the kids' events during the Pedersen Classic Row Boat Race.  
Birders, armed with telescopes and binoculars of all shapes and sizes, eagerly checked species off their lifetime bird lists. Up and down the Spit, they traveled by foot, bike and in-line skates. Out on the bay, they went by boat and kayak.

Todd, who delivered the festival's keynote speech, is working on a waterfowl identification book and took advantage of some beautiful Homer weather to get photos of as many species as he could get a lens on.

He spent all day Monday boating around the Bay with his camera at the ready, snapping shots of black scoters and Stellar's eiders, among others.

"And the greater white-fronted geese. For a waterfowl guy, that is a real treat," Todd said.

photo: news
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Birders check out sea otters from the deck of the By Explorer.  
The bald eagles made excellent models as well, he said, adding with a laugh that Homer's moose watching was nearly as fascinating as its birds.

"I don't get to see too many moose when I'm in Antarctica," Todd said just before leaving town Tuesday. "The whole (Shorebird Festival) has been a real pleasure. I'm leaving with a heavy heart."

As always, the festival offered a wide variety of events, ranging from bird walks, boat rides, concerts and craft fairs.

The water taxi Beowulf delivered birders to a pair of black oystercatchers on Cohen Island. Many checked the rare species off their lifetime bird list.

photo: news
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Conrad Field shows off a variety of sea stars during his Coastal Ecology field event.  
There was a bird-calling contest and some very popular field courses that focused on birding by ear.

But not all the events were focused strictly on birds. One of the most popular was biologist Conrad Field's session on coastal ecology, taught in the neighborhood of the Otter Cove Resort on the south side of Kachemak Bay.

Field uses the site near the head of Sadie Cove when he teaches his environmental education program to school children. Complete with a look at Field's tide-pool tank, participants in the Coastal Ecology sessions were treated to in-depth look at the complex biology of the intertidal and coastal rainforest ecosystems.

"Kachemak Bay is one of the most productive and unique marine environments in the world," Field said.

photo: news
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
8-year-old Cheyla Dawson works on a toy boat at the children's boat-building workshop.  
He described the Bay as a "planktonic bowl of soup," created by oceanic mixing that pulses organic nutrients into Kachemak Bay from the North Pacific. These rich currents, which are made even more fertile by glacial sediments running out of the Kenai Range, give rise to plankton which bloom extravagantly under the extended sunlight of the Alaska summer.

The plankton, Field emphasized as he pointed to the many creatures in his simulated tide pool, are the lifeblood of the Bay. They give sustenance to salmon, whales, a host of crustaceans and mollusks and of course, ultimately birds.

And the birds bring in the birders, lifeblood of the Festival.

As he reflected on the Shorebird Festival, Todd marveled at the level of local interest in the environment.

"A lot of new people are getting sucked into nature via bird watching," he said of locals and visitors alike. "It's kind of a passion. The more you know about something, the more interesting it becomes."

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