Shorebird fest matures into spring tradition

The annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival has come of age. If it was a young adult, this year’s 21st festival would be celebrating full legal rights. As one of Homer’s many weekend events that draw visitors to town, the shorebird festival ranks up there with Memorial Day and the  Fourth of July.

Shorebird stands out, though, as the first big event of the season. We northerners, desperate for any sign of spring, have come to see the return of the shorebirds and the festival as welcome relief to the long winter, especially this winter. 

Only last weekend snow fell on the big track meet and Homer Cleanup Day. The Alaska Department of Public Safety commissioner even extended the studded tire deadline to May 15. Despite the cold and Beluga Lake just breaking up last week, the western sandpipers, dunlins, plovers and other shorebirds have returned on time and on schedule.

Reassurance that the migration goes on and the shorebird festival continues brings joy to our hearts. We’re glad to see visitors from as far away as Germany come to Homer and Kachemak Bay to see this rare and special event. Already, more than 670 people have registered. Shorebirders, we welcome you, whether this is your first visit or your 21st. If things look a little rough in town, we apologize. It’s been a challenging winter and we’re a little late on some projects. We hope our hospitality overcomes any deficiencies.

This year’s festival theme is “From Baja to Beaufort: Every Wingbeat Counts!” That theme reminds us how shorebirds connect the planet. Caribou may migrate hundreds of miles and salmon swim thousands of miles, but some shorebirds fly tens of thousands of miles between winter feeding grounds and summer breeding areas. Habitat lost in either area can devastate bird populations. The shorebird migration reminds us of the delicate balance of nature and how much we must do to protect wildlife and their homes.

Whether a longtime birder or someone just learning the joy of looking at birds, we hope you’ll take the festival as an opportunity to rediscover and discover these amazing animals. 

As shorebird festival keynote speak Jeffrey Gordon said, “One of the things that’s amazing for birds is they’re available to everybody just about all the time. People are always hungry to connect to nature and natural prophecies. Not everything lives and dies on the contents of your email box.”

So power down that computer, turn off the television and get out in nature this weekend. It’s going to be a blast, and the major sponsors of the festival, the Homer Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, as well as all the volunteers, deserve credit for making the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival such an awesome event — yesterday and today. Many thanks to everyone who contributes to the success of the festival — and welcome,  again, shorebirders.