21st Annual Shorebird Festival: birds might be bouncing back

If visitors to the 21st annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival thought they might have been skunked last Thursday with relatively few western sandpipers showing up, all they had to do was wait a day.

Last Friday on a clear and sunny day, as the peeps showed up on the high tide in the afternoon at Mud Bay on the Spit, birders counted about 5,000 western and least sandpipers and dunlins in what birder George Matz called a “pulse.” For an official shorebird monitoring session on Monday, birders counted 10,000 sandpipers at Mud Bay and the middle of the Spit.

While that’s not as high as 16,575 sandpipers counted in 2012, it’s up from 7,400 counted when the monitoring started in 2010. That could be good news for shorebird populations in general, Matz said. Homer also saw a huge influx of greater white fronted and cackling geese the week before the festival, with 500 counted one day at Beluga Slough.

“Maybe something positive is going on,” Matz said “People who have been around here a long time said they’ve never seen so many geese.”

While registration numbers were still being tallied, shorebird coordinator Debbie Dauphinais said 800 had registered by last Thursday night. Visitors came from several foreign countries and 21 states, including Alaska, and Puerto Rico.

“We have very favorable responses,” Daupinais said. “Just a lot of variety (of events). In fact, some people had problems choosing, there were so many choices.”

The announcement of a rare sighting of a Eurasian hobby in Anchor Point, a kind of falcon, almost emptied the room last Friday at a reception for keynote speaker Jeffrey Gordon.

“As soon at they heard that bird was out there, I won’t say it cleared the room, but there were considerably fewer people as they raced to Anchor Point,” she said.

There also was a credible sighting of two willets at Anchor Point by Michael Craig. Matz said a committee at e-Bird, an online bird sighting resource, will evaluate the report and determine if it can be officially entered. If so, it would be only the second sighting of willets in Alaska.

The winner of the Big Spit Plus Challenge, a three-day event challenging birders to spot as many species from Stariski River south and east to Fox River, were the Pedaling Plovers, Erick and Lori Paulsrud, who spotted 104 species.

For Liz Deluna Gordon, wife of keynote speaker and American Birding President Jeffrey Gordon, what she wanted was eight new species to reach 600 birds on her life list. By the end of the festival, she had added 10 more birds. 

“My tagline was ‘only in Homer,’” Deluna Gordon said of the birds she saw.

Number 600 came at 6:30 a.m. Sunday when she saw an Aleutian tern at Green Timbers on the Spit. That species also was the same bird that Jeffrey Gordon saw years earlier to hit 700 birds on his life list.

“It’s kind of sweet to have it be a milestone,” Deluna Gordon said. “It’s just kind of uncanny it would work that way.”

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

A flock of western sandpipers and dunlins flies over Mud Bay last Saturday.-Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

A flock of western sandpipers and dunlins flies over Mud Bay last Saturday.-Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News