As flocks of birds settle on the central Kenai Peninsula this spring, flocks of people will be following them with cameras and binoculars this weekend.
The annual Kenai Peninsula Birding Festival kicks off Thursday, with events focused on birdwatching scattered around the central peninsula communities through Sunday. The scheduled drift boat float trips are closed for participants, but the birding walks scheduled each morning from Thursday through Sunday are open to all comers, said Ken Tarbox, one of the organizers.
“We suggest showing up about 15 minutes before the start of the scheduled walk,” he said. “Those are free and families are welcome, and kids.”
The Kenai Peninsula is a major bird migration location each spring, particularly along the coasts. The Kenai River Flats has been designated an important birding area by the Audubon Society, with more than 100 different species documented on the flats. Up to 70 have been spotted in a single 24-hour period during the Keani Peninsula Birding Festival in prior years.
The event on the central peninsula doesn’t usually attract as many attendees as the larger Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, which took place last week, Tarbox said. Instead, the organizers aim to make it more informal and welcoming to birders of all skill levels, including newcomers.
“We usually get participation between 300 and 400 people,” he said.
The scheduled includes drift boat trips on Thursday and Friday, walks in area parks from Soldotna to Nikiski, afternoon “hotspot” trips to Kenai and Kasilof on Friday, a 24-hour bird sit on the Kenai Wildlife Viewing Platform near the Kenai City Dock and the annual potluck on Sunday afternoon at Marlow’s on the Kenai in Sterling. A display featuring children’s art will be displayed at the Kenai Visitor’s Center as well, with awards for the children presented Friday night, and a presentation Saturday night from George Matz, the founder of the Kachemak Bay Birders, on bird monitoring efforts.
A mixer scheduled for Thursday night at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center will also feature bird trivia, Tarbox said.
“That’ll be fun for people to come,” he said. “There’s a lot (of trivia that people) do know but just don’t realize it.”
New this year is a presentation on how to photograph birds by Anchorage-area photographer Jamin Hunter Taylor, scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m., with a bird photography walk at the North Peninsula Recreation Area at 1 p.m.
Ken and Judy Marlow, the owners of Marlow’s on the Kenai, have been hosting the concluding potluck since the beginning of the festival. The lodge, which has been operating since 1989, hosts bird viewing packages of its own throughout the summer, taking people to see birds in the central Kenai Peninsula as well as in Homer and Seward.
Ken Marlow said one of the reasons people come to the festival may be to get advice on where to find particular bird species.
“I think a part of it is that many birders are just unsure of the area and there’s a lot of birds to be found,” he said. “It can be kind of difficult to find the birds unless you are familiar with the area … We can help birders too by just suggesting different areas to make sure they find what they’re looking for.”
The Kenai Peninsula has a lot of bird viewing opportunities and it varies based on the season — what visitors see depends on the time of year they come, Ken Marlow said.
The Kenai and Kasilof river flats are great places to see birds, as are the Anchor River, Deep Creek and Ninilchik River estuaries in the central peninsula area, Tarbox said. Most visitor centers have birding guides available for visitors who want to go looking for birds on their own all over the peninsula, too, he said.
For a full list of events, visit http://www.kenaipeninsula.org/festival-schedule.