Unhinged Alaska

By the time you read this, the 25th Annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival will be winding down.

Over the weekend, birders have been in hot pursuit of airborne critters and endeavoring to catch a peep at some of the 236 species that have been recorded around Homer and the hinterlands of Kachemak Bay.

This year, I’ve been flummoxed by of a minor flood of gmails encompassing questions regarding the massive avian invasion and where primo viewing opportunities present themselves.

Why me?

Besides this column, I write a weekly, slightly deranged, summer fishing column for the Homer News but when it comes to birds, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a Spotted Sandpiper and a Semipalmated one — although the latter sounds as though it may have mental issues.

I’ve received inquiries such as, “Where is there a good chance of seeing a Red-necked Phalarope?”

I don’t know, I guess they could try lurking near adult emporiums featuring categorically appalling country music and buck-a-beer specials.

A couple of gentlemen were contemplating driving down from the Black Rapids area and were wondering if they should gear up for chilly conditions.

I was surprised by their communiqué because I had no idea that anyone from that part of the state would be even slightly concerned about getting a bit iced-up.

I’ve spent some serious time in their region and recall that the only way to keep warm during the winter months was to sequester oneself inside a walk-in pizza oven.

Homer should seem sub-tropical to them this time of year. Plus, we normally don’t experience delta winds that knock clueless bison on their butts either.

If they have to ask questions like that, I’d suggest they stay put, curl up on the couch and watch Animal Planet.

Don’t get me wrong. I do have a compassionate side and seriously considered proffering them something that would guarantee their protection from maniacal zephyrs, rain squalls and other annoying elements associated with our local environment.

It was a five-star waterfront room with a grandiose view, gourmet catering and limited guide service for just shy of a $999.99 a day, but my bride vehemently nixed the entrepreneurial suggestion especially since it involved our master bedroom, bathing facilities and her exceptional culinary skills.

I’m sure they will do just fine despite the setback.

Homer has first-rate accommodations featuring superior views plus Animal Planet binging is but a click away if a slight breeze comes up.

Back to the gmails:

I very politely answered each correspondence with the codicil that my expertise in ornithology was limited to being able ascertain the difference between a parakeet and a barn owl. Other than that, I was more than happy to point out eateries where they could score a respectable breakfast burrito.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I truly admire birders and bird watchers.

What’s the difference? Well, according to one close buddy who claims to be, “a friend-of-all-things-feathered-freak,” the two terms tend to bleed into each other but “bird-watchers look at birds while birders look for them.” OK.

Who am I to argue? My interest in fowl, until now, has mostly focused on the recipes associated with their preparation and complimentary side dishes.

There is no question that birders are a tough lot who roam around sporting optical gear ranging from box store specials to photography equipment and spotting scopes that cost almost as much as the rigs they’re driving.

I’ve observed enthusiasts slogging across the mud flats lugging so much paraphernalia that it took a tripod and two sympathetic bystanders to steady them as they snapped pictures.

The undisputable hard-core advocates are those out there in inclement conditions featuring everything from showers to late season sleet storms.

Nature’s mini snits are of no concern because when they hit the field they’re ensconced in enough prophylactic layers of clothing to safeguard an astronaut on a moon walk.

The way meteorological conditions fluctuate during early spring, such a conservative approach to appropriate apparel is a sound notion. Besides, once exposed to the elements, they can always begin peeling layers until comfy or arrested for indecent exposure.

Note: While working on this piece, I received a call from another friend who has been stalking the beaches for the last couple of days.

He has persuaded me to join him on a day trip into the world of serious birding and I’m looking forward to it.

I want to put to rest the rumor that the only difference between Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser Yellowlegs is about two inches in height and that a Pectoral Sandpiper is intellectually a challenged but beefy bird that can usually be found at low tide bench pressing larger members of the inert clam family. The more physically developed of this species cannot fly but struts impressively.

The truth is out there and I’m on a quest to find it.

Nick can be reached at ncvarney@gmail.com.

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