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Submitted By: John Schwarz - Boreal Owl, Anchorage

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Alaska's spring ritual – birding!

After a long, cold winter throughout the United States, spring is almost upon us! In Alaska, we’re enjoying the rituals of late winter and spring like the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, which wrapped up in early February, and looking forward to the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race the first weekend in March. But after the dogs are done with their heroic quests through the frozen north, Alaskans will turn their attention to another epic quest that is perhaps even more heroic: the annual spring migration of millions of birds as they head to the arctic from as far away as South America. Communities as far-flung and diverse as Ketchikan, Wrangell, Cordova, Homer, the Mat-Su Valley, the Kenai Peninsula and Fairbanks host spring birding festivals to celebrate this annual harbinger of Alaska’s glorious summer season. Read on for more.

Several Alaska communities along what is known as the Pacific Flyway host fun festivals to recognize the annual return of birds as they head toward their final destinations in regions throughout Alaska. In Ketchikan, the annual Alaska Hummingbird Festival will be held from April 29-31, 2014, to welcome the return of the Rufous hummingbird after its long trek north from Central and South America. The festival features guided bird hikes, art shows and tons of activities for kids. Festival information is available through the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau. Just to the north, the community of Wrangell hosts the Stikine River Birding Festival from April 24-26, 2014. This festival’s highlight is the thousands of bald eagles that gather in the area, but visitors can also spot Bonaparte’s Gull, Glaucous-winged Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Thayer’s Gulls and much more. The festival’s featured artist this year, Elizabeth Kunibe of Juneau, will be offering public art classes.

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Tips from an Alaskan


Heather Lende is a nationally known writer based in Haines, Alaska – another town known for its incredible birding opportunities. Lende has lived in Haines with her husband and five children since 1984 and is the author of “If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News From Small-Town Alaska,” a National Geographic Traveler magazine Ultimate Travel Library Selection, and “Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs: A True Story of Bad Breaks and Small Miracles.” She has contributed to National Public Radio, Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch and Alaska Magazine. To read her recommendations for Haines, click here.

Sample Trip

Humming bird

Birding from Wrangell to Ketchikan
Two popular birding festivals in Alaska’s Inside Passage anchor this wildlife and outdoors-oriented itinerary. First, the Stikine River Birding Festival in Wrangell will showcase thousands of bald eagles as they gather to feast on small, oily fish known as hooligan. In Ketchikan, the Alaska Hummingbird Festival welcomes the annual return of the Rufous hummingbird after its long journey from South America to Alaska.

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