The 25th annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival celebrates its silver anniversary with a look backward to one of the first birders to document the annual arrival of shorebirds to Homer. George West, who died in 2016, is the festival’s featured artist. His painting of five shorebirds serves as the festival’s logo this year.
The festival started yesterday, Wednesday, with a morning wildlife tour and runs through Sunday afternoon. Registration is $20 a person and $5 for each additional family member, and gets admission to events that otherwise have no charge. Register at festival headquarters at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.
It’s West who started monitoring shorebirds in April and May decades ago. With other birders, West documented first arrivals and when the migration hits its biggest pulse.
“They found for years the peak was always the weekend closest to the 8th of May,” said Carla Stanley with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a member of the shorebird organizing committee. “And with climate change … we’re finding we end up getting the birds a little earlier.”
In 2016, the festival was held the second weekend of May. Birders complained the viewing was past its peak. This year, organizers held the festival earlier in hopes the weekend would come right at the pulse. Birds have already begun to arrive. At a monitoring session last Friday, birders saw Pacific golden plovers, semipalmated sandpipers, western sandpipers — the biggest flocks of the migration — black-bellied plovers and possibly a marbled godwit.
Some shorebirds come from thousands of miles away, crossing the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii, New Zealand and South America. Some fly thousands of feet high.
“The godwits, the whimbrels, they wait for a low pressure,” Stanley said. “They fly really high up and catch the wind. It literally slingshots them to New Zealand or whichever direction they’re heading.”
Most shorebirds head elsewhere in Alaska to breed. One species, rock sandpipers, winters in Homer and then leaves right as the other shorebirds arrive to breed in the Aleutians. Semipalmated plovers stay and breed in Homer at Mariner Park and Green Timbers and Louie’s Lagoon on the Spit. Hudsonian godwits breed just up the road at the Kenai River flats.
Birders wanting to learn more about shorebirds, including where to see them, will have plenty of opportunities at the festival. Pick up the full schedule at festival headquarters, selected businesses and the Homer News.
Here are 25 fun things to do:
1) See the birds at Mud Bay. Shorebirds can best be seen as the tide comes in or goes out. Volunteers staff viewing stations on the Spit and at Lighthouse Village to help identify birds. Times are 10-11:30 a.m. today, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1-2:30 p.m. Sunday.
2) 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, Ramp 2, True North Kayak: Stand Up Paddleboard with Birds and Wildlife. Take a boat ride to Gull Island and into China Poot and Petersen Bay, and then paddleboard for birds and wildlife. $125 a person.
3) 1:30 p.m. today: Little Peeps Family Bird Walk. Junior birders get tips and look for birds at Louie’s Lagoon on the Spit; free, but limited to 20. Register.
4) 3-6 p.m. today, 7 a.m. Sunday: Birding by Fat Bike, Islands and Ocean. Join Cycle Logical and look for birds by biking on the beaches on fat bikes. $100 to rent or $75 if you bring your own bike.
5) 5-7 p.m. today, Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies: Shorebird Festival kick-off, reception and community potluck. Learn from young birder Neil Gilbert about how to grow a birder. Free, but register.
6) 5:30 p.m. today, Barley and OATS talk, Grace Ridge Brewing: Expert birder Aaron Lang shares stories about birding in wild and exotic places.
7) 6:30 p.m. today, Beluga Lake lower platform off FAA (Airport) Road. Evening at the Marsh. Birders Aaron Lang and Michael Craig help people spot birds on the shore of the lake.
8) 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, meet at Islands and Ocean. Overlook Park Hike. For the adventurous, hike to Overlook Park, an undisturbed pocket of native coastal habitat. Led by Laurie Daniels for the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society. $15.
9) 8:30-9 a.m. Friday, Calvin and Coyle Trail: Beginning Songbird Walk. Learn about songbirds of the northern boreal forest with Julie Johnson. $5 a person, limited to 15.
10) 9 a.m. Friday, Islands and Ocean: Photography Workshop with Featured Author Paul Bannick. Award winning photographer Bannick offers tips on using digital cameras to take good bird photos.
11) 12:30 p.m. Friday, Islands and Ocean. “Head to Hand to Heart: Everyone Has a Bird Story,” with keynote speaker J. Drew Lanham. Blend writing, photography and social media messaging for conservation in this workshop. Use “flash” poetry, “flood” prose, photography and field sketching as tools for communicating about nature. Bring mobile phones. $24 a person.
12) 3-4 p.m. Friday, Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, Kachemak Drive: Family Walk on Mud Bay Spit. Educator Dana Nelson leads a walk down to the Airport Beach and out to the Mud Bay Spit to look for birds. Free, for all ages. Binoculars available for the first 25 people.
13) 4 p.m. Friday, Islands and Ocean. Alaskans Know Climate Change. Photographer and wilderness adventurer Bjorn Olson shares his images and stories of climate change impacts he’s witnessed. Free.
14) 4-6 p.m. Friday, Pratt Museum: Welcome reception for keynoted speaker J. Drew Lanham, featured author Paul Bannick and Schantz Scholar Neil Gilbert.
15) 4-6 p.m. Friday, Islands and Ocean: Seabird Stomachs and Plastic Workshop. Marine biology doctoral student Veronica Padula talks about how plastic marine debris impacts sea birds.
16) 5-8 p.m. Friday, Alice’s Champagne Palace: Cook Inletkeeper’s Shorebird Social. Stop by for bird-themed drinks, live music and local art. Free appetizers for shorebird festival attendees.
17) 8 p.m. Friday, Homer Council on the Arts. On the Wing. Sunrise Sjoeberg brings together an evening of music, poetry, storytelling and bird images celebrating the beauty of birds. $15.
18) 7 a.m., Homer United Methodist Church. Birders Pancake Breakfast. Kachemak Bay State Park rangers serve breakfast in a fundraiser for the Friends of the Kachemak Bay State Park. $10 a person.
19) 8-11 a.m. Saturday, Islands and Ocean: Outdoor Photography Workshop with Paul Bannick. Head outdoors to improve photography skills. $35.
20) 9-10:30 a.m. Saturday, Islands and Ocean. Shorebird Identification with Buzz Scher.
21) 9:30-10:45 a.m. Saturday, Islands and Ocean: Birding Discovery Lab for Absolute Beginners. Tamara Zeller from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers basic birding tips.
22) 10 a.m., 1 p.m. Saturday, Islands and Ocean. Live Bird Presentation. See rescued birds from the Bird Treatment and Learning Center. $5 a person.
23) 11 a.m.-noon Saturday, Islands and Ocean. Birding Stop and Go. Walk the Beluga Slough Trail and learn about birds. For adult beginning birders.
24) 12:30-1 p.m. Saturday, Islands and Ocean. Birding Stop and Go for families and young birders. Walk the Beluga Slough Trail.
25) 2-2:50 p.m. Saturday, Islands and Ocean. 25th Anniversary Celebration: Remembering George West and Festival Origins. Learn about how George West helped start the festival and celebrate his art and contributions.