Correction: The date has been corrected for Ballet of the Birds, a dance performance by choreographer Breezy Berryman and her students. It is 3 and 6 p.m. Saturday, May 7, at Land’s End Quarterdeck.
As a U.S. Coast Guard plane buzzed over Mariner Park Lagoon, a trio of volunteers stood bundled up against the chill of a late-April morning, searching for the spring’s newest avian arrivals. George Matz, who has organized the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Monitoring Project for the past 14 years, was quick to share his knowledge — and his scope — to offer a look at a greater yellowlegs as it foraged.
Matz is one of many guides at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, which is back with in-person events this week after two disrupted years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Running from May 4-8, it’s brimming with opportunities for birders of all abilities.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the festival, which grew out of a community-wide effort to preserve critical habitat for migratory birds, particularly shorebirds like western sandpipers, dunlins and plovers. The primordial calls of sandhill cranes stretching across quiet evenings might be the most recognizable sign of birds returning to Kachemak Bay, but you can spot dozens of year-round residents and other migratory species that nest or stop over on their journeys north. The Shorebird Festival is the perfect place to learn about them all, with a focus on the stars of the festival that give it its name.
You can register for the festival and purchase tickets for guided trips and events online at kachemakshorebird.org. An adult festival pass is $20, and $5 per additional family member. Registration fees keep the festival going year to year, and raise money for Friends of Alaska Wildlife Refuges, which support all 16 of the state’s national wildlife refuges.
For those looking to explore what the festival has to offer, the newly reopened Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, located at 95 Sterling Highway, is a great resource for getting oriented. The Visitor Center will be hosting events throughout the festival for both kids and adults, including art and photography workshops, discovery labs and guided walks.
Melanie Dufour, the festival coordinator, said that some guided tours can sell out quickly, but don’t be disappointed if something is filled — there’s fun for everyone. If you are new to Homer, she suggested checking out birding hotspots like Beluga Slough and the Homer Spit, with the best viewing just before or after high tide. Volunteers will be at viewing stations at Mud Bay on the Spit and Lighthouse Village to help people spot and identify birds.
A few of the other events with no additional cost include a shorebird-oriented First Friday at the Pratt Museum, guided walks geared toward birders of all abilities, an Audubon Alaska presentation on corvids at Alice’s Champagne Palace, and the Refuge Alaska Film Fest at Homer High School.
Two Schantz Scholars are attending the festival this year and will be giving public talks at Homer Public Library on Friday May 6. The Tim and Tom Schantz Foundation honors the two brothers who shared a passion for birding and Alaska, and died young from a genetic cardiac disease. Scholars receive a trip to the shorebird festival. Hannah Clipp’s research uses weather surveillance radar to monitor national migratory bird patterns, and Joel Such will discuss a pioneering new bird monitoring program in Colombia’s Tatamá National Natural Park.
In addition to activities around town, Homer-based tour companies are offering an array of adventures to get further afield. These include guided wildlife and birding boat tours, kayak excursions to Yukon Island and Gull Island, hikes to explore local glaciology and ecosystems, and a bear- and bird-watching trip to Lake Clark National Park across Cook Inlet.
Whatever you choose to do, “all of the guides are amazing,” Dufour said.
For families with kids, there’s the Junior Birder program — which sets kids on a year-to-year quest to learn about birds — with different activities and requirements each year. First-time and returning Junior Birders can register online or in person, and pick up new and previous years’ journals at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.
Kendra Bush, an environmental education specialist for AMNWR, said, “The whole idea behind it is to just get local kids excited about being outside and learning about birding.” She said the goal is not just to learn about the birds but also their habitats, gaining an overall appreciation for the natural ecosystems around the bay.
For the first time this year, there are also new activities for teenagers aged 12 to 18, including hiking excursions and art and photography workshops.
This family-friendly and all-ability birding approach has long been a principle of the festival, which encourages the intersection of art and the outdoors. The artist behind this year’s festival poster is Stacy Studebaker of Kodiak, whose colored pencil on black paper artwork features the bar-tailed godwit — a bird known for non-stop migratory flights of epic length.
A First Friday opening of her work is 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday at Northern Vibes Artisan Gallery, 4025 Homer Spit Road, No. 12. A showing of original 6-inch square art by various artists also is on view at the gallery, with an online auction to benefit the festival. Studebaker also does a workshop, “Creating Photo Mandalas with iPad or iPhone,” from 1-3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Homer Council on the Arts. See the website for registration information.
Taking flight on foot at 3 and 6 p.m. Saturday, May 7, for Ballet of the Birds, when dancer and choreographer Breezy Berryman and her students will be performing selections from bird-inspired ballets at Land’s End Quarterdeck.
Even after the festival is over, there are many ways people in Homer can continue to learn about the bay’s winged denizens. Matz uses the Cornell Lab eBird app to add bird-sightings during monitoring sessions to global tallies, and there are several free birding apps like Merlin Bird ID and Audubon Bird Guide that are great identification tools.
“Everybody can bird,” said Dufour, who hopes the festival’s inclusive messaging will persist long after the tours are finished. “Birding is for everybody — and every body.”