Birders will delight in the many opportunities to spot rare and repeat avian visitors to Alaska in the coming weeks. April and May bring some of the best birding opportunities of the year, and the season even extends into June for specific birding pursuits such as terns. (The Yakutat Tern Festival is June 1-4, www.yakutatternfestival.org.)
First on the calendar is the annual Gunsight Mountain Hawk Watch Weekend, April 15-17. This festival celebrates the return of spring migrating raptors and is a longtime tradition among birders. Check the Anchorage Audubon Society’s website, www.anchorageaudubon.org/?p=1766, for details.
On the Kenai Peninsula, birding options are heating up by late April. The first-ever Seward Migration Festival is April 22-24, giving birders an option in and around Resurrection Bay. The festival celebrates migrations made by the diverse marine animals found in the waters of Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park. Several guest speakers will present on birding topics of interest. To see the full schedule and register, go to https://majormarine.com/2016/03/seward-migration-festival-april-22-24/.
Out in Wrangell is the impressive Stikine River Birding Festival, set for April 27-30. This festival includes art, fowl food and photo contests. The guest presenters this year include Dan Ruthrauff, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center; Bob Armstrong, who has written about and photographed nature in Alaska since 1960; and Gwen Baluss, bird-watcher in Alaska since 1988 after working throughout the western United States and Hawaii. For details, check out the festival schedule at www.wrangell.com/birdingfestival/birding-festival-schedule. No registration necessary.
Next comes the monthlong Ketchikan Hummingbird Festival, designed to welcome the Rufous hummingbirds back from the southern United States and Central America. The festival is throughout the month of April in Ketchikan. Activities include guided bird hikes, art contests, film presentations, and art and crafts workshops.
One of the most well-known birding festivals in Alaska is the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, which will be held May 4-7 in Homer. This year marks the 25th anniversary event, which is the occasion to see “all the people coming in from all over the world, enjoying a sustainable and low impact activity,” said Robbi Mixon, Shorebird Festival coordinator.
Usual activities will return, such as Birding Hot Spots, the Junior Birder Program and the Live Bird Presentations. What’s new this year is a birding trip to Anchor River, photography and writing workshops with Paul Bannick and the film screening “China: Between Clouds and Dreams.”
This year’s keynote speaker is J. Drew Lanham. He is a master teacher and distinguished alumni professor of Wildlife Ecology at Clemson University. Lanham has had a passion for birds since a young age and has been part of several conservation boards including South Carolina Audubon, the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, American Birding Association, BirdNote, and the Aldo Leopold Foundation. He is also a co-host of an award-winning radio show. Lanham is a published writer and poet. His recent works include “Sparrow Envy, The Home Place – Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature.”
The festival schedule is available at kachemakshorebird.org. Registration for events can be made online as well.
Also being held that same weekend is the popular Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival, May 4-7 in Cordova. This year’s keynote speaker is David Sibley, the son of a Yale ornithologist and bird lover since childhood. He is an artist and writer, who has published “The Sibley Field Guide to Birds,” a New York Times bestseller. See the schedule and register online, www.copperriverdeltashorebirdfestival.com/.
The Kenai Birding Festival is May 18-21 in Soldotna, Kenai, Kasilof and Sterling. The festival showcases Peninsula birds for everyone and all levels. It includes informative sessions, social gatherings and birding field excursions. The featured speaker is Lynn Barber, who will talk about her adventures of travelling all over Alaska and seeing 300 species of Alaska birds. Participants must register by calling 907-262-7767. Also, check out the website for more details, www.kenaipeninsula.org/kenai-peninsula-birding-festival.
Finally, there is the Upper Tanana Migratory Bird Festival, a day festival happening May 20 in Tok. The festival includes birding tours, a junior duck stamp art competition and a live bird presentation. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.