Birding festival takes flight May 18

A bufflehead duck flies between three drift boats of birders on Thursday, May 14, 2015 as the group tours the Kenai River during a long weekend of Kenai Birding Festival activities. (Clarion File Photo)

A bufflehead duck flies between three drift boats of birders on Thursday, May 14, 2015 as the group tours the Kenai River during a long weekend of Kenai Birding Festival activities. (Clarion File Photo)

Grab your binoculars, the annual Kenai Peninsula Birding Festival starts Thursday, May 18 and runs through Sunday, May 21 with different birding hot spots and events throughout Soldotna, Kenai, Kasilof and Sterling.

The free, four-day festival is designed to bring the world of peninsula birding to people of all ages and birding abilities with both field and lecture programs.

The stacked schedule of events includes a Thursday morning walk through the Kenai Wildlife Refuge and a Friday morning visit to the Kasilof River north bank mud flats. Each event is led by a seasoned birder who can help birders of all experience levels.

“We’re just out having fun, that’s basically what the festival is all about, and teaching people new tricks of how to bird and how to identify new birds. We have a lot of people that have expertise that can help,” event organizer Ken Tarbox said.

The festival opens with a walk through the Kenai Wildlife Refuge on Thursday from 8 to 10 a.m. followed by an introduction event at 6:30 p.m. at the Kenai Visitor Center.

“We love to cater to new birders and families,” Tarbox said. “Bring the kids and we’ll show them the birds.”

This year, the festival includes a talk with featured speaker Lynn Barber, who will discuss her Alaska Big Year and how she travelled across Alaska to see over 300 species of birds in one year. Her keynote address will take place on Saturday night from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Kenai Visitor Center.

“She will also be down Friday and Saturday, birding with people out on the walks. She really likes birds and interacting with people,” Tarbox said.

For the fifth year in a row, the festival will host the 24-Hour Midnight Sun Big Sit. For 24-hours straight starting at 6 a.m. on Saturday, there will be a birder manning the Kenai Wildlife Viewing Platform.

All are invited to join in a day-long birding experience that will run until 6 a.m. on Sunday morning.

“It’s a fun event and we have coverage for the whole 24 hours. The public is welcome to come up and help us see what we can see. We’ve seen up to 70 species, just from the wildlife viewing platform,” said birder Toby Burke, who is organizing the Big Sit.

“Between the cumulative list, so far we’ve seen 93 species and each year it seems we find a couple birds we haven’t seen before,” he said.

The festival is entirely run on volunteer hours and without a cost to attendees. All funds are raised through full day float trips along the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. Last year, the festival was run on less than $1,000 and with the help of over 650 volunteer hours, Tarbox said.

For a full schedule of events, visit www.kenaipeninsula.org/festival-schedule.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com

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