The 13th annual Kenai Peninsula Birding Festival is in full swing with tons of stuff going on throughout the weekend. Ken Tarbox is a long-time organizer for the event.
“And I think what festivals do, besides awareness of the outdoors and the fun you can have in birding, it’s a social event, too. People get together, they get a chance to talk about their birding experiences in the past year, they share stories from other areas.”
The festival in particular and birding in general seem to get more popular year after year. Tarbox says the first event brought out maybe 30 people. Now it’s more like 300 and they come from all over. He says the Kenai Peninsula is unique in that it’s fairly accessible, but not as developed as other places. Plus, there isn’t an overwhelming number of different birds to be on the lookout for — maybe 30 to 40, which helps flatten the learning curve a bit for newcomers.
Toby Burke has also earned himself a reputation as a high-level birder. He says the diversity of birds that can be observed on the Kenai has changed over the years.
“We’re definitely getting more temperate breeders that are making it farther north. We mentioned red-breasted nut hatch or brown creeper, those are relatively (new). This generation now sees it as a common bird, a previous generation would say they were not common. They were not breeders, they were newcomers. The northwestern crow ... only the last 15 years have they been up breeding by us (in Kenai).”
Chock that up to changes in both climate and habitat, as the Kenai isn’t quite as rural and wild as it used to be. Tarbox says that’s something to be mindful of. The areas around the Kasilof and Kenai rivers, for instance, are estuaries, and they’re important for the birds that live here, breed here or just pass through.
Tarbox: “These migratory birds, the reason we have a lot of our observations and the viewing platform down on the Kenai flats is because we can observe this migration and this use pattern and thousands and thousands of birds are coming through. Not only are there 20,000-30,000 gulls on the Kenai flats that are actually breeding, we have tens of thousands of shorebirds that are migrating through, and water fowl.”
So, get out and see them while you can. Guided tours are happening around the central peninsula tomorrow and you can get a full rundown of the schedule here.
Tarbox and Burke made their comments on The Kenai Conversation, which aired Wednesday, May 17, 2017.