Thousands of shorebirds made their stopover in Cordova over the weekend, providing an awe-inspiring show for visitors, birders and photographers at the 28th annual Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival.
This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Stephen Kress, executive director of the seabird Restoration Program and vice president for bird conservation of the National Audubon Society. Kress, who is also a laboratory associate at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., spoke about the restoration of Maine seabirds and discussed the changing marine climate of the Gulf of Maine which was revealed by puffins and terns who frequent their waters.
People lined Whitshed Road at Hartney Bay with cameras and binoculars in hand as shorebirds flew rapidly overhead, zooming along the mudflats during their annual migration north for the summer.
Meanwhile in town, hand-made birds rested on tree branches in the Copper River Gallery alongside bird-themed hors d’oeuvres during the opening of Bird-in-Hand and The Painted Bird gallery on May 3.
Birding By Bus
The annual festival attracts hundreds of people from all walks of life.
Eliana Ardila Ardila and Marc Kramer began their 9,000-mile journey to Cordova, via a 1978 Volkswagen bus named Valentina, from Miami, FL.
Over the course of their seven-week adventure, they have seen 345 species of birds, 57 of those for the first time.
“I get a little bit emotional,” Eliana said. “If it weren’t for the birds, we would have never have met the people that we met.”
Marc proposed to Eliana last year in Cordova while hiking the Power Creek Trail. It was during that visit that they heard about the festival.
“There’s Eric right there,” Eliana said pointing to a friend on the mudflats at Hartney Bay. “Through social media, because of birds, he started following us on Facebook. We met him here and we’re here birding with him. I felt like him and his wife…they’re like old friends that we’re reconnecting with.”
Eliana is originally from Columbia where they have nearly 2,000 species of birds. Through her love of birding, she was able to see more of Columbia.
“Because of the birds we’ve made so many friends and just seen so many places that we would never have thought about going to visit if it weren’t because of the birds,” Eliana said. “Learning to appreciate the birds makes you appreciate a lot of other things that are connected to the birds.”
Their birding journey will continue to Homer, Adak, Attu Island, and eventually back to Anchorage and Girdwood where they plan to wed in June.
“Birds have definitely added a certain element of fun and adventure to my life and to our lives together,” Marc said. “We do a lot of traveling and birds sort of give us direction to our travels.”
Follow Marc and Eliana’s journey on Instagram and Facebook at birdingbybus.
From Baja California, Mexico to Cordova, Alaska
For Mirna Borrego, education and community outreach officer at Terra Peninsular, a Mexican non-profit committed to protecting ecosystems and wildlife in Baja, California, the festival sparked inspiration.
Baja California, Mexico is part of the flyway for the shorebird migratory species.
Borrego coordinates their two-part festival, Festival de las Aves Bahía de San Quintín, every March and November.
She came to Cordova on March 28 from Ensenada, Mexico, through the Copper River International Migratory Bird Initiative, established in 2001 as a way to exchange knowledge by creating partnerships with people in countries along the flyway. “This idea was to work north and south of the U.S. border to try and make sure the birds came back (here) every year,” said James Chu, the natural resource specialist of international programs for the U.S. Forest Service.
While in Cordova, Borrego learned about the festival and its impact on the community, and hopes to bring ideas back for her festival and offer ideas for Cordova’s festival.
“It’s very important to see how all these people worked together for this successful festival,” Borrego said, who applauded the Birder’s Bucks passed out during the festival. Visiting birders receive a Birder’s Buck for every $20 they spend, giving the Cordova Chamber of Commerce a tangible way to track the festival’s economic impact.
Last year, the festival brought in $10,000 in three days, not including lodging, transportation, gas or non-Chamber business members. This year, that number is $15,000.
The festival continues to grow and has seen its highest number of registrants at 220, with visitors from all over the United States.
Borrego will be in Cordova until the end of May. During her time here, she also volunteered with the Copper River Watershed Project on salmon restoration projects, hiked on U.S. Forest Service trails, learned about ecotourism in Cordova and created a blog for people in Ensenada to follow her journey.
“People in my community…now that they see me here in Alaska, they say like, ‘Oh my lord, so this is serious, this is huge.’,” Borrego said. “I mean the shorebird festival it’s…a big deal now that they see me here.”
She also helps manage the website, http://shorebirdsfestivals.com/ , providing information for shorebird festivals along the flyway; from Argentina to Cordova.
“(Shorebirds) are so important for us because they can say to us, ‘Hey, the weather is changing (and) all these problems with the climate change,’,” she said. “I think we need this species a lot and they need us too.”
Borrego hopes that people will begin to associate Ensenada with the shorebird festival and that it will grow to the same level of other popular ecotourism events and products.
“I really admire their respect that (Cordovans) have to the nature,” she said. “They know the value of the resources that they have here. Not just only shorebirds…the forests, the rain, the water, the salmon. It’s going to be so hard to get over Cordova.”