By Carey Restino
While organizers may not know exactly how many birders and birdwatchers showed up over the weekend, two important things did make a guest appearance in Kachemak Bay — good weather and with it, the shorebirds.
Debbie Dauphinais, Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival coordinator said the reports from participants in the festival were largely positive, with many people commenting on the wide variety of birds in the area.
“There were a lot of people I talked to who were really jazzed,” Dauphinais said. “Many were finding life-list birds.”
While shorebirds were the focus of the event, birds of all kinds caused a stir this year. A Eurasian Hobby, a small, slim falcon, caused excitement and inspired several expeditions to the Anchor Point area, Dauphinais said.
This marked the first year the Homer Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a host of sponsors and volunteer agencies, tried to keep track of how many people were participating in festival events through an online registration system.
Dauphinais said as of Thursday night before the festival, some 800 people had signed up.
Marianne Aplin, Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center manager, as well as one of the event coordinators, said she heard some frustration with the online registration system, but moving to an online reservation platform was necessary, even if some birders will register in the future by calling in and having someone register them online over the phone.
Aplin said even though registration was required this year, lots of participants probably attended free events and talks without registering. At the visitor center, the birding events for youth drew lots of participants.
“All the folks that provided educational opportunities for families and kids did a wonderful job making them interesting,” Aplin said. “There were kids migrating from events inside to activities outside — it really was a lot of fun.”
Events that are typically popular, like the birders’ coffee on the final day of the festival, drew crowds again this year. More than 700 people swarmed through the center on Sunday, Aplin said.
The keynote speech, delivered by Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association, was sold out, as were events by author Phillip Hoose, who wrote “Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 and many other books as well. Ever-popular boat tours had to be added to accommodate all those who wanted to take to the sea over the weekend.
A virtual army of volunteers, not only from Homer, but from Anchorage and beyond, turned out again this year to help make the festival a success, organizers said.
“We could not do this without the volunteers,” Dauphinais said.
Aplin said she has asked avid birders who participate in Homer’s festival as well as others each year what makes the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival different. The answer? Kachemak Bay’s festival is a community-wide festival.
“There are many festivals that are truly birders’ festivals geared to what birders want to see and do,” Aplin said, adding that one of her friends noted that Homer’s festival is more well-rounded. “They have events for nonbirding spouses, and a lot of events that are just for fun.”
The bird-calling contest is a perfect example, she said.
“We certainly get serious and skilled birders, but we also get people who don’t know robins from sparrows, and are just out to celebrate spring,” she said. “That’s what’s so special about this festival.”
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