Correction: Carol Harding is the chair of the Kachemak Bay Birders. Also, her correct email address is email@example.com.
Homer, in addition to being a well-known fishing village and artist colony, is also a community of birds and the birders who love them.
The Kachemak Bay Birders, formed in 2008 by Lani Raymond and Michelle Micheau, are an informal but tightly knit flock of some 266 birders whose primary organizing tool is the email list they use to communicate upcoming monthly meetings (held at Islands and Oceans starting at 6 p.m.) field trips, and other events. They have no membership fees, and they like to keep the paperwork and organizational chores to a minimum so they can focus on enjoying the outdoors and birding.
But, don’t confuse this lack of formal organization with a deficit of passion. The K-Bay Birders, who are sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, host year-round field trips, programs, lectures and presentations, all free of charge and open to the public. Their programs, which often include presentations on international birding locales, are frequently offered by one of their well-traveled members, and are routinely attended by 50-plus people.
One of the most celebrated and high-local-participation birding programs is the Annual Homer Christmas Bird Count Census, a week-long “count week” that includes the highlight “count day,” which this year takes place on Saturday, Dec. 14, and is part of the annual hemisphere-wide National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. This year’s Bird Count marks the 120th year of the count, making it the longest running citizen science survey in the world. The count engages tens of thousands of volunteers (over 75,000 participants in 2018) at 2,500-plus bird count areas, including counters from all 50 states, and Canadian provinces as well as events in Central and South America, Bermuda, the West Indies and the Pacific Islands. Last year, nearly 60 million birds were counted as part of the Christmas Count representing over 2,600 species.
Every month the Kachemak Bay Birders gather to go on a birding field trip, which is guided by one of the many bird-knowledgeable members, including group motto author Gary Lyons, co-founder Micheau and many others, to one of the many bird-friendly locations on the Southern Kenai Peninsula. Raymond, the group’s spark plug, glue and keeper-of-the-email list, sends out monthly email announcements about field trip locations, who’s leading them and usually some tasty nugget of information about the birding treasures just waiting to be enjoyed. These monthly field trips are open to anyone who would like to participate, no formal bird knowledge is required, and you’re just-about guaranteed to enjoy a beautiful field trip location, engage in some easy conversation and camaraderie with some nice people, and learn some fascinating things about birds and bird ecology.
Jim Herbert, a local birding expert and legend, informs birders that there are many wintertime feathered residents to enjoy including: loons, which typically nest on freshwater lakes during the spring and summer and who migrate over to the salt water to feed during the winter, and long-tailed ducks who have summer nests up on the North Slope, and who winter on Kachemak Bay. You can also find wintertime flocks of Rock Sandpipers who reverse the general North-to-South autumn migration exhibited by most migrating bird species, who instead migrate south to north and over-winter here on Kachemak Bay.
Additionally, there is the internationally known Kachemak Bay Shore Bird Festival that each spring attracts thousands of birders who flock to Homer from all over Alaska, the nation and from across the world to enjoy the many thousands of shore birds who gather on the shores of Kachemak Bay for a respite on their annual pilgrimage to their even more northern breeding grounds.
Homer’s birding community members also participate in a variety of survey and data collection programs, including the west-coast-of-the-United-States focused COASST survey which locally include multiple survey teams, and, the annual Shorebird Monitoring Project, organized and lead by local birding guru George Matz, who monitor spring migrations along the Pacific Flyway. Nina Faust renowned Sand Hill Crane specialist, operates the Kachemak Crane Watch, a research and educational organization that tracks the sightings, nesting and behavior of our beloved Sand Hill Crane populations. Another Homer specialty birder is Jason Sodergren, a certified owl researcher, who conducts ongoing banding-based research on the migration, longevity and abundance of our thriving community of Northern Saw Whet owls, 1,800 of which Jason has banded to date.
This year’s Dec. 14 Count Day in Homer begins pre-sunrise at 8:30 a.m. at the Islands & Ocean Visitor Center, where participants will be divided up into “count teams” as they enjoy coffee, tea and other breakfast goodies, and continues for all day. The main daytime counting concludes at 4:30 p.m. with all participants gathering back at Islands & Ocean Visitor Center for a preliminary tallying of count results while everyone enjoys a hot potluck meal. There are also evening owl counts and even counts provided by skiers.
If you’re not physically capable of participating in the outdoor bird counting, you can engage in the Christmas Bird Count by being a “Feeder Watcher” whereby you can monitor birdfeeders and report the various species and numbers of birds. The entire day is fascinating, fun and educational. No prior experience is required – even if you’re an absolute newbie. If you’re not quite sure how to spell curlew, you’ll be welcomed and paired with folks who do. This year, as he has for the past 42 years, local birding legend Dave Erickson is serving as feather-master for the event.
Nearly every year there’s excitement generated when birds species that are “not supposed to be here” show up anyway to the enchantment of all. These delightfully unexpected appearances of species is a reminder that mother nature does what she wants, when she wants, irrespective of our expectations – and how great is that. If you’d like to participate in the Christmas Bird Count, please contact Dave Erikson (907-441-7931 or firstname.lastname@example.org) or Raymond at 907-399-9477 or email@example.com.
For more information about the Kachemak Bay Birders and information about upcoming monthly trips, research programs and other activities, visit their website at kachemakbaybirders.org/
If you have any questions and/or you are interested in participating with the Kachemak Bay Birders, contact Raymond via text or email at and ask to be placed on the mailing list. Carol Harding is the chair of the Kachemak Bay Birders and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more info on bird banding project visit owls.taiga.com, and for info on the annual Kachemak Bay Shore Bird Festival visit: https://kachemakshorebird.org/
For more info on Crane Watch, visit cranewatch.org. For more information on the Shorebird Monitoring Project, contact Matz at email@example.com or call him at 907-235-9344.