It’s Shorebird Season in Alaska – What you can do

Listen for the birds. Image courtesy Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Every morning, when I step outside to fetch the newspaper from my front shrubbery, I hear them. Birds making noise. A multitude of chirps, squawks, and chortles that wake me up and remind our household that spring has indeed finally arrived again in Alaska. Our home in Anchorage sits several miles from the muddy, silty waters of Cook Inlet, but that doesn’t stop the flocks of shorebirds and other feathered friends from flitting overhead in search of a summer landing spot. 

Birds, beaches, and kids at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Between late April and mid-June, shorebirds of the Western Hemisphere use the deltas, shorelines, and rivers or streams between British Columbia and Southcentral Alaska as a stopover to refuel and rest during migrations north. In some places, like Cordova and Homer, festivals have been built around this migration pattern as a celebration of both spring and the birds (more than 5 million shorebirds visit Cordova during the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival each May). Here in Anchorage, I’m satisfied with my itty bitty slice of birding highlights, novice that I am. 

AK Dad and Kid take time to look for birds at Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Learning more

Birding isn’t always high on families’ lists for travel or recreation activities, but maybe it should be now that climate change has brought about some significant changes to shorebirds’ habits and health. In 2015 I met volunteers, scientists, and administrators of the International Bird Rescue, based in California. At the time, Alaska was only just beginning to consider the ramifications and what-ifs of shifting ocean temperature, levels, and habitat. As a non-birder, I was interested but not overly concerned. Until I was. 

Red-Necked Phalarope at SF Bay Center, courtesy International Bird Rescue.

I wrote a post about the effects of climate change on sea birds HERE

So now my family and I want to know what birds are flying around Alaska right now, and how we can protect them. Alaskans have several options to explore the life of a shorebird making its way around the nation’s largest state. 

Birding in Homer, always fun! Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Homer is getting ready for the 25th annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival May 4-7. With four full days of birding-themed events and activities, this longtime festival also has a vibrant kid-friendly theme, with walks and talks geared toward the youngest bird watcher. Stop by Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, headquarters for the festival, and explore the facility before opting in to one of the many activities. 

Homer is reached by road about 5 hours from Anchorage along the Sterling Highway, or air via a quick 30-minute flight on RavnAlaska. Either way, take note of the rugged coastal landscape of the Kenai Peninsula and the myriad ways to have fun in one of our favorite Southcentral Alaska towns. 

The Prince William Sound town of Cordova is celebrating 27 years of shorebirds with the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival, also happening May 4-7. The delta is a migrating shorebird’s favorite place, with plenty of food, shelter, and space to rest up for the remainder of a flight home; a staging area, as it were, for the 5 million birds who stop there each spring. Festival organizers like to call it an “avian aurora” and if you’ve ever seen the waves of shorebirds winging along the Copper River area, you’ll agree. Alaska Airlines and RavnAlaska both fly regular schedules to Cordova, and the Alaska Marine Highway is a great trip from either Whittier or Valdez. 

A walk on Bishop’s Beach along Homer Spit is always a family fun event, no matter the season, but especially when looking for shorebirds. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

The Kenai Peninsula Birding Festival is being held May 18-21 in the community of Soldotna, about 3 hours from Anchorage. Look for float trips, hikes, walks, and lots of cool information about Alaska’s feathered friends, and what you can do to ensure a happy and healthy life for birds. While in Soldotna, be sure to stop by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, where your entire family will enjoy several hours of excellent interpretive information, trails, and activities just for kids. With regular programs for children, this is one of the most under-utilized visitor centers I’ve ever seen, and it deserves more traffic from families. 

Little ducklings after a rescue. Image courtesy Dawn.

And, if your kids are truly passionate about Alaska’s shorebirds, I highly encourage them to start following the great work of Dawn Saves Wildlife and International Bird Rescue. Dawn (yep, the dish soap) is the only solution to oiled and soiled birds, and saved many avian lives during the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. IBR is known worldwide for its education, research, and rescue facilities at both the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area facilities

You can make a difference, but it begins with experience and education. Start here, in Alaska. 

~EK 

*sponsored content for Dawn. 

 

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