This past weekend, I attended the Kenai Birding Festival which took place mostly in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge as well just along the Kenai River and Cook Inlet.
It was my first real introduction to Alaska and the folks that choose to make this place their home. I was floored.
The festival was the weekend after the birding festival in Homer (which I missed) and draws (so I’m told) a much smaller crowd. There was a full 4-day schedule of walks, river floats, and lectures, as well as a 24-hour big sit and closing potluck. I attended several walks, a lecture, the potluck, and part of the sit (I missed the floats due to my work schedule). My experience was of small groups that consisted mostly of locals. I’ve never been to a birding festival that was so intimate! It was really great to get to know some local folks and make connections in the Kenai Peninsula region since it’s my new summer home. I’ve found that, while the terrain here can be intimidating and feel frustratingly inaccessible, the people are hardly so – they are warm and friendly and welcoming.
The sit was probably the most interesting part of it all. 24 hours of daylight (with a bit of dusk in the mix) is a lot of birding time – and the birds were active throughout. At 6AM on Saturday, a couple of hardy folks (myself included) showed up at the designated viewing platform on the Kenai River with binoculars and spotting scopes. The mudflat was already alive with gulls, eagles, and terns. There was a breezy drizzling rain falling (with clear skies to come as the day wore on). I came and went several times (once to deal with a car issue that’s a whole other story and other times to skip off to walks and talks). It was a really neat experience to just sit and watch what came by – especially with a bunch of seasoned local birders to use as ID resources – and with a really strong spotting scope (which is now on my wish list).
And I haven’t even gotten to the actual birds yet. Oh, the birds! I tend to group the birds here into three personal categories:
- Bird I’m intimately familiar with. Yellow-rumped warblers, robins, ravens. My usual suspects that seem to show up wherever I’m living or visiting.
- Birds I recognize. Bald eagles and black-billed magpies. Those two especially are quickly escalating from being recognizable to familiar friends. As an aside, my roommate informed me that magpies look like flying oreos and that’s now what they are to me. I’m grateful that I’m back to the lifestyle of being an hour from grocery stores or I probably would’ve already stocked up on oreos since I now see birds that make me think of them every day.
- Birds I have to scramble in my bird book to confirm. Sometimes, it’s a bird I recognize from hours nerding out with my field guide – like a Harlequin duck with it’s incredibly distinct and crisp blue and white pattern. And sometimes it’s one that I’m completely baffled by until I happen upon it while ravenously flipping pages – like a red-necked grebe with its classic grebe shape in surprising colors.
My summer bird list is looking pretty respectable so far and I’m just getting started…