“It’s A Great Day To Bird!” That’s the motto of Kachemak Bay Birders (KBB), an informal group of more than 300 community members of different ages, backgrounds and birding skills who bird for fun and to help protect critical bird habitat.
Sharing their enjoyment for discovering how birds live, what they do, and where they go, KBB provides volunteer support to the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, and August through May, host monthly field trips, and hold monthly meetings open to the public where members often share photos from their personal birding trips.
Formed in 2008, this diverse group has no membership fees, is open to everyone, and is affiliated with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Many group members participate in citizen science programs — Shorebird Monitoring, Seabird Monitoring, the Christmas Bird Count, Kachemak Crane Watch, the Great Backyard Bird Count, and the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team. Data gathered is input into larger databases, including eBird, an online database of bird observations that provides scientists, researchers, and amateur naturalists with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance.
“We seek to balance the seriousness of protecting birds and habitat with the message that birding is fun,” Lani Raymond, KBB founding member and a birder for the past 30 years, said. “It is our mission to encourage the love and protection of our resident and migrant birds. Kachemak Bay provides critical habitat and the more we learn about birds, the more we learn what they need to survive and thrive here.”
For example, participants can learn about birds like Raymond’s favorite, the semipalmated plover that nest on local beaches, hidden only by camouflage blending in with the sand and rocks, and smart enough to time nesting between extreme high tides.
In addition to promoting birding as fun and important, a major goal of the group is inspiring youth to bird. Raymond is grateful for programs like Junior Birder, run locally by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service out of the Islands & Ocean Visitor Center, and would like to see more programs in place. KBB had a fledgling birding group in past years, but those youth have since graduated.
“I’d love to see more parents and kids involved in birding,” Raymond said. “During COVID, we weren’t able to meet face to face and so we couldn’t really nurture our young birder program. We’re back to normal activities now and would love to have more people join us.”
At 30 years old, Joey Hausler is part of the younger demographic of birders and one of the newest members of the group, having moved to Homer from Michigan a year and a half ago. His journey to birding began during a trip to Iceland when he hiked to a remote cliff, looked over the edge, and saw millions of seabirds nesting and flying around.
“In that moment, I decided to get involved with groups and in activities that would provide the opportunity for similar experiences and to capture and record what I saw,” Hausler shared.
He began pursuing wildlife photography, connected with KBB, and spent this past winter at an East End Road birding hot spot, photographing his favorite local bird, the willow ptarmigan.
“I’ve loved coming into a community that has such an active group with so many different monitoring activities and events going on and such easy accessibility to birds,” he said.
To record and report bird sightings, he joined eBird, the online database of bird observations developed by Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
“Through eBird, I became more of a birder, following the trends and data,” he said. “The website has ranking systems for how many species you see and there are different checklists. eBird is a very cool way to have a social media experience with other birders.”
Excited to inspire his passion with other birders, Hausler is leading a photography field trip at Anchor Point Beach and helping with Junior Birder program activities during this year’s Shorebird Festival. He encourages the use of bird song apps to help make bird identification easier and basic equipment as an affordable way to start out.
“Birding can seem daunting, but there are many apps that can help you learn birds by their sounds and a starting set of equipment might not be as expensive as you think,” he shared. “Birding is a fun activity and you become invested in helping to protect birds and their habitat.”
Among the ways birds and their habitat are protected are through programs like Shorebird Monitoring, managed locally by KBB member, George Matz.
Between mid April and late May, community members monitor the spring migration of shorebirds, tracking their history, migration and nesting, collecting data in designated areas once every five days for two hours at a time. This information helps attain a better understanding of shorebird populations in Kachemak Bay, as well as the Anchor and Kasilof Rivers. Different than a field trip, the monitors follow a national shorebird survey protocol that has been adapted locally. These monitoring programs create a long-term local database that is input into larger nationwide databases monitoring bird populations and how birds are affected by climate change.
“Birds are an indicator of a lot of things and there are many different species that have adapted to different habitats,” Matz shared. “The more you learn about birds, the more you learn how finely tuned they are to the environment.”
Occasionally, the group has to take a stand when habitat and the welfare of birds are threatened, and has received designation through the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. In 2021, data gathered was used to conserve 300 acres of estuary near the Kasilof River.
Since the creation of the Shorebird Monitoring program by George West in the 1980s, the credibility of the program has been based on utilizing skilled observers, relying on dedicated and experienced birders. Last year, 75 individuals participated in local monitoring at least one time, with Matz at the helm as a local bird expert.
Raised in the Chicago suburbs seeing mainly sparrows, Matz was introduced to bird-watching through Boy Scouts, and began honing his birding skills while wandering the pastures and woods of his grandparent’s farm in northern Wisconsin. The first bird he identified on his own as a youth was a killdeer, the same species recently spotted for the first time during a local monitoring session.
“I’m glad to see so many people involved in birding,” Matz said. “It is through the caring of citizens young and old that bird populations will survive and thrive.”
Karl Stoltzfus has been with KBB since the beginning. Until he retired last year, he ran birding trips on the bay for years throughout the year, realizing that while birders flock to Homer during the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival each spring, Kachemak Bay is a hotspot for birds and birders all year round. A common question he often received from people boarding his boat was, “Will we see any good birds?”, to which he would respond by pointing to a sign hanging in the cabin, They’re all good birds.
Kachemak Bay Birders welcomes community members of all ages, backgrounds, and birding skills, including beginners. Find them at the Festival kickoff Friday night at the Museum or their next meeting, May 22, 5:30 p.m. at the Islands & Ocean Visitor Center. Join Kachemak Bay Birders to be notified of local bird sightings and events and activities throughout the year. Visit kachemakbaybirders.org or email email@example.com.