Spring migration draws birders to the shore
When Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival-goers last year heard there was a bristle-thighed curlew lurking in Anchor Point, they dropped everything to go see if they could spot it. While more common to such far-off locales as the Pribilofs and Seward Peninsula, it’s not unheard of to see such a species on the Kenai, but definitely a rare treat.
That’s one of the reasons the annual festival’s Big Spit Plus Bird Challenge has extended its hours. Once a half-day event, the challenge now spreads over three days, said festival coordinator Debbie Dauphinais.
“They’ve expanded their (birding) boundaries and now start at 12:01 a.m. Thursday (May 9) and end at 1 p.m. on Saturday (May 11),” Dauphinais said. “I think what they were running into with the shorter event was that a lot of people were having a hard time with wanting to go to festival events and only have so many daylight hours to do their birding,” she said. “This way, they will have more time and still get to do the other things we have at the festival.”
The Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival features more than a birding contest, though. There will be birding experts from across the country — including Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association, and Phillip Hoose, author of several books, including “Moonbird: A Year on the Wind With the Great Survivor B95.” Workshops and field presentations will be available, as well as guided bird outings and three photography classes.
“Some of the more popular events are the boat tours,” Dauphinais said. “They sell out quickly.”
Also new to this year’s event are sack lunches for purchase from area cafes and restaurants, Shorebird Festival clothing, such as T-shirts and sweatshirts, and an online registration system that will allow birders to secure spots in their favorite events.
Across Prince William Sound, the community of Cordova also is gearing up for its annual festival. The Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival celebrates its 23rd year with a weekend of activity, including birding outings, workshops, a quilt show, birders challenge and other educational programs. In early May, the tidal flats of the Copper River Delta pulse with the activity of hundreds of thousands of shorebirds. As many as 5 million shorebirds rest and feed there each spring, and May 2-5 is one of the best times to watch the frenzy.
“Most of them are out the road, not in Cordova, but it’s phenomenal when you see that many birds,” said Darrel Olsen, with the Cordova Chamber of Commerce.
The Keynote Speaker this year is Guido Berguido from the Panama Audubon Society. Other Audubon speakers include Nils Warnock and Melanie Smith from the Alaska Audubon Society, all organized by longtime event coordinator Mimi Briggs. Olsen said Briggs has worked with not only the Chamber, but the U.S. Forest Service-Cordova Ranger District, the Prince William Sound Science Center and many of our local service oriented businesses to help insure the festival’s success year.
“The Shorebird Festival has really grown,” Olsen said. “I grew up here and I didn’t even realize we had such an asset until the shorebird festival started happening.”
The Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival is May 9-12, with a pre-festival Junior Birder event on May 8. Keynote speaker is Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association. For details, visit www.homeralaska.org or contact 907-235-7740.
The 23rd annual Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival is May 2-5 in Cordova with keynote speaker Guido Berguido, from the Panama Audubon Society. For details, visit cordovachamber.com or call 907-424-7260.
Alaska women get a kick out of Gold Nugget
On March 5, women across Southcentral stopped whatever they were doing to rush to their computers. They needed to be online at precisely 8 p.m. because that’s when registration officially opened for the coveted 1,500 spots available in the 31st annual Gold Nugget Triathlon.
“It took 16 minutes to fill up,” said race director Claire Norton-Cruz. “Our web master sets this thing so that it instantaneously changes once you hit 1,500 signed up, to switch over and say you’re in the lottery pool.”
The Gold Nugget has become the premier triathlon for female athletes, and it kicks off a season of racing that has women and girls from ages 8 to 88 out swimming, biking and running their way to fitness. This year’s event is scheduled for May 19, beginning with the swim portion at Bartlett High School. Norton-Cruz said the bike and run portions will be on a course that has been run in previous years, off base.
“People want to have a permanent course,” Norton-Cruz said, “and we want to provide it. We have to do what is safest and consider costs.”
In 2011, the course was moved onto the military base, allowing bikes to be returned to Bartlett for the beginning of the run portion. But military regulations limited race planners last year, so they’ve added a more remote course, which requires U-Haul shuttling of bikes back to the school.
The Gold Nugget includes a 500-yard swim, 12-mile bike ride, and 4.1-mile run. Once the swim portion is over, competitors race onto their bikes, taking to the bike path along the Glenn Highway, north toward Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson. After ditching their bikes, they race along the Tank Trail on Fort Rich property that loops them back to the school.
Last year’s winner, Amber Stull, completed the race in a blistering 1 hour, 8 minutes, 49 seconds. But that doesn’t mean this is a fierce-competitors-only event. Mother-daughter teams are frequent, and groups name themselves and race as a pack. There will probably even be a few costumes out there, although the triathlon format is not too conducive to such antics. For some, the race will take more than 4 hours, but in the end, everyone can celebrate their success in completing.
“The Gold Nugget mission is to ‘improve the lives of women and girls through athletics,’ ” Norton-Cruz said. “So other than setting aside seeded slots to the top 50, that’s the only thing we do to cater to the elite racers. Every year we have 500 newbies, so we’re really proud that ours is the safe, the supportive, the fun one.”
An awards banquet is set for 6 p.m. May 20 at Begich Middle School, 7740 Creekside Center Drive. For more details on the race — or to help volunteer — go to www.goldnuggettriathlon.com.
Get Cracking at the Kodiak Crab Festival
Kodiak is bustling with preparations for the 2013 Crab Festival, a favorite event in this community of just over 6,000 residents. Scheduled for May 23-27, the festival is five days of feasting, frivolity, and seafaring fun on the Emerald Isle, centering around a theme of “Powered by Nature.” Known as Kodiak’s signature celebration, the Crab Festival has been a springtime staple since the first event held in 1958, drawing thousands of visitors from across the state and around the world.
Created to honor a booming king crab fishery discovered in the 1940s and 50s, the Kodiak Crab Festival continues despite the fishery’s closure after the 1982 season. Even though king crab are no longer harvested commercially in the area, plenty of opportunities exist during the Crab Festival for delving into the history of this sea-born delicacy. Find multiple vendor booths featuring a variety of seafood samples, including crab, then take time to visit local museums that offer tours of the waterfront area and boat harbor. Athletes can take part in the U.S. Coast Guard-endorsed survival suit races or Pillar Mountain Race, both rugged examples of fitness in this lush wilderness paradise.
Kids will enjoy the Golden Wheel Amusements carnival and Grand Parade, and everyone can take a moment to honor local fishermen and women during the annual Blessing of the Fleet and Veterans’ Memorial Service, including performances by the Kodiak Island Drummers.
Alaska Airlines (www.alaskaair.com) and Era Aviation (www.flyera.com) both offer daily air service to Kodiak, and the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries travel to Kodiak from Homer (www.ferryalaska.com). Accommodations are limited during Crab Festival weekend, so advance booking is a must. Try the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau for information about lodging, dining, and other Crab Festival events (www.kodiak.org).
– Erin Kirkland
Sea Kayaking Symposium takes to a lake
The Alaska Sea Kayaking Symposium this year takes place at one of the most scenic locales in Southcentral – Eklutna Lake. The event will be June 1 and 2 at the lake, and includes such classes as Cold Water Immersion; Wind, Weather and Waves; Trip Planning; and Leave No Trace, among other topics. The event also coincides with the annual June 2 Eklutna Lake Challenge, a bike and run duathlon that will have a third option this year – kayaking. Symposium participants get a $10 discount for the race. Symposium – and race – space is limited. Go to aksks.org for more details on the symposium, or visit the group’s Facebook page. Registration is $100 for adults, $50 for children younger than 14. Registration closes May 31. For details on the Eklutna Lake Challenge, visit Lifetime Adventures website at www.lifetimeadventures.net or its Facebook page.