Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge co-sponsored the 29th Annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in Homer, Alaska, May 6-9, 2021.
Festival Coordinator’s Wrap Up by Melanie Dufour
The annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, held on traditional Sugpiaq and Deni’ina lands in Homer, Alaska, happened in 2021 like never before. It was my first year as Festival Coordinator, we, I especially, learned a lot! I appreciate all those on the Shorebird Committee who supported me and let me lean on their years of experience.
This year the Festival was a hybrid, holding space for virtual speakers, workshops, and fun activities alongside new and old guided birding excursions, wildlife viewing, and kayaking tours– offered for people of all ages and abilities. The locations of these events ranged from the head of Kachemak Bay to Lake Clark, and along the river and ridges of our community.
And of course, the birds arrived as did the people! At least 17 different species of birds were spotted, including the Ruddy Turnstone which was chosen as this year’s bird of the festival.
The Festival Artist Oceana Wills, and our community volunteer artists who gave their time painting a 6”x6” canvas for the Art & Adventure Auction, added beauty. Every single tour operator, guide, and organization that partnered with us, as well as the generous donors and businesses in our community, ALL gave so much to ensure a welcoming, safe, and memorable experience that will no doubt draw people back when the shorebirds make their stopover next May.
This 29th Annual Festival was like no other. We are all looking forward to the 30th Annual Festival to be held May 4th -8th 2022 where along with the ‘feet on a trail, boat on the water explorations, and fun’ of this year, we hope to add sitting together in a room, applauding our speakers, sharing that perfect frame in our binocs– and our smiles!– while still livestreaming all of it across the world.
The Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges continues to be a great sponsor with continuous support of the Festival and the Coordinator role in this year of transitioning coordinators. The AK Friends work well in partnership with US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Maritime National WIldlife Refuge. We look forward to many more Festivals to come in the future.
Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge co-sponsored the 27th Annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in Homer, Alaska, May 9-12, 2019. The combination of new Coordinator Mallory Primm and outgoing Coordinator Robbi Mixon was magical! Registration was up by over 100 participants from the previous year and the Keynote speaker, Jennifer Ackerman, sold out for both talks and her workshop. Mark Omascik shared his new book on the Battle of Attu and feature presenters Raymond VanBuskirkand the Tropical Birding Crew led field trips and talks. The stunning artwork by Valisa Higman sold for a record bid, along with over 30 donated 6×6 Alaskan bird art pieces and trips. Much of our merchandise sold out quickly – stop by Islands and Ocean in Homer to see what’s left. Around 100 volunteers donated their time and talents to make this event successful along with the huge contributions of many sponsors and supporters.
Congrats to Mallory on her first year as coordinator, and to Robbi on her last! We hope you’ll save the date for next year’s event: May 7-10, 2020!
National Wildlife Refuge Week, observed the second full week of October each year, celebrates the great network of lands and waters that conserves and protects Americans’ precious wildlife heritage.
TheNational Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provides vital habitat for thousands of native species, including sandhill cranes, bison and sea turtles. Refuge Week is a wonderful time to discover the outstanding recreational opportunities available on national wildlife refuges. Tens of millions of Americans visit refuges each year to enjoy fishing, hunting, hiking and wildlife watching.
Wildlife refuges also improve Americans’ comfort and safety by curbing flood risk and wildfire damage, providing cleaner air and water, and supporting local communities. Refuges generate $2.4 billion per year and more than 35,000 jobs to regional economies.
The Refuge System includes 567 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts covering more than 100 million acres of lands.
Check out these awesome events going on around the state at Alaska’s 16 National Wildlife Refuges:
Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge 10/25 – Thursday:9am Welcome Brunch for Friends and refuge staff at Islands and Ocean. Join us to welcome Ray Hudson and his wife to Homer and enjoy an opportunity to socialize with them, refuge staff and other Homer area Friends. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
6pm Talk, Reading, Book Signing and Reception: “Fact, Fable, and Natural History; Writing about the Aleutians with Ray Hudson” – Enjoy a talk by author and long time Aleutian educator Ray Hudson. Hudson lived in Dutch Harbor for more than 20 years and knew the old generation of Aleuts documenting their culture in Moments Rightly Placed. Hudson will speak and read from his newest book, Ivory and Paper: Adventures In and Out of Time, followed by a book signing with an opportunity to purchase books and a reception hosted by Friends.
Arctic, Kanuti and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges 10/18 – Thursday 4 to 6 pm, Art Talk: A week (and More) on Beaver Creek Wild and Scenic River- Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center. Artists in Residence Margo Klass and Frank Soos will share their art and experiences from a float trip on Beaver Creek last summer. A portion of their journey was on Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge and the event celebrates both National Wildlife Refuge Week and the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Soos is a former Alaska Poet Laureate and Klass is a mixed medium artist who often incorporates fish skins in her work. A reception sponsored by Friends will follow.
10/20 – Saturday 2 to 4 pm, Super Saturday – The Fairbanks Children’s Museum. Free with museum admission ($8) Kids will make nature cards, explore furs and skulls, jump in a canoe and learn about the Arctic Refuge. Friends is funding the supplies.
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge – Events All Week 10/16 Tuesday Noon-1pm: Opening Reception. Stop by our Visitor Center to enjoy coffee and cookies, meet our Refuge managers, and check out a photography exhibit of landscapes by Jeff Jones and wildlife by the local Kodiak Camera Club.
10/17 Wednesday: 10:30 am – 11:15 pm: a special refuge themed FUN program for little nature lovers and their families. 5 pm-7 pm: Nature Journaling with Shelly – explore nature with your creative side!
10/18 Thursday: Noon-1pm: Year of the Bird: The 2018 Photo Log of a Kodiak Bird Biologist with Robin Corcoran
10/20 Saturday: 2pm-3pm Movie and popcorn! Take a visual tour through Alaska Wildlife Refuges with a series of short films.
When: Saturday, September 1 Time: 6:30-7:30pm Where: Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center – Homer
The presentation will feature biological diversity of Cuba and its high degree of endemism. With a strategic location and many natural areas and vast rural landscapes, many migratory birds pass through or overwinter on the island. Ernesto will show some of his award-winning photos and overview how natural and cultural resources are managed within Cuba’s system of protected areas.
As a biologist with Cuba’s national system of conservation, Ernesto has participated in many expeditions ranging from surveys in the famed Zapata Swamp Biosphere Preserve to search for the Cuban Ivory Billed Woodpecker in Cuba’s Humboldt National Park. His presentations are the next best thing to visiting this remarkable living landscape.
Field Report filed by Friends Member Christina Whiting
On a beautiful spring evening in May, a small group of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges members joined a handful of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employees aboard the FWS research vessel Tiglax on an overnight trip to visit the wild, remote Barren Islands. Located just 60 miles from Homer, between the tip of the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak, the Barren Islands are a part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and home to the largest seabird colony in the northern Gulf of Alaska. During this 24-hour trip, FWS employees installed bird cams on one of the islands, while Friends members rode a zodiac to another island and spent a couple of hours hiking across sand dunes, through tall grasses and up to elevation with 360 degree views of the surrounding rugged, surreal landscape.
Invited to join the ship’s crew and FWS staff to visit this seldom-visited area of the refuge, on what might typically be an evening and day of weather, we enjoyed calm seas, beautiful skies, spectacular views, tasty meals and lots of time interacting with crew and staff during this unique and special opportunity to learn about a FWS project and a little glimpse into life aboard the ship.
The r/v Tiglax, Aleut for Eagle, provides critical support for biological work, management programs, and village outreach and education. Thanks to Refuge Manager, Steve Delahanty and the ship’s crew for allowing us on board.
Joining Christina Whiting on the ship were Friends members, Brenda Dolma, James Dolma, Louise Ashmun, David Schroyer and Anthony Munter and FWS staff Arthur Kettle, Aaron Christ and Jaclyn Lucas.
(All photos by Christina Whiting; exception Bird Cam by Jaclyn Lucas)
Please join us on Tuesday, April 17th, for the Friends membership meeting. In person: Homer (Alaska Maritime) or Soldotna (Kenai NWR) Call in a few minutes before 5pm: (866) 556-2149, code :8169747#
Special Guest: Sara Straub, Student Conservation Association Intern and former Directorate Fellow Topic: “75th Battle of Attu Commemoration”
For thousands of years, the island of Attu was home to people and wildlife. Long before the war, Attu was one of the earliest Federally protected wildlife resource areas. The Battle of Attu forever changed the island, its inhabitants, and the lives of those who waged battle there, leaving behind scars and stories scattered among the national wildlife refuge that exists today. Student Conservation Association Intern and former Directorate Fellow Sara Straub will highlight the events of 75 years ago on the island of Attu and share the commemorative activities that are have been held already and those scheduled for this spring. For more details on the commemoration check out the website:Attu75.org
Seventy-five years ago, [an Alaskan] National Wildlife Refuge was invaded by a foreign power when World War II came to the Aleutians and to the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. This was the Battle of Attu.
Last week, Jeff Dickrell, retired history teacher, internationally renowned researcher and author of “The Center of the Storm: The Bombing of Dutch Harbor,” came to Homer to share photographs and stories from the Battle of Attu, when Japan attacked the Aleutians during World War II.
The Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor on June 3 to 4, 1942, and invaded the islands of Attu and Kiska on June 6, 1942.
“This was the only World War II battle fought on North American soil and is also known as the Forgotten War,” Dickrell shared during a presentation to fifth grade students at West Homer Elementary. “Why do we need to know about this? It’s important that we honor and learn from the past.”
Attu, a tiny village at the end of Alaska’s Aleutian chain, was home to 44 Aleut who lived a subsistence lifestyle and were a peaceful people. They raised foxes for the fur and were famous for the grass baskets they made. Taking the villagers by surprise, the Japanese took control of the island, and along with it, American soil in the first foreign invasion on American soil since the War of 1812.
Plans were drawn up to retake the island in 1943, known as the Aleutian Campaign. On May 11, 1943, after a lengthy air campaign, 11,000 American troops reached Attu, greeted by fog and silence.
“No one had ever fought in a place like Attu,” Dickrell shared. “It was far from the United States, cold and wet, with cliffs and rocky beaches, and no trees, and they weren’t prepared. When the Americans landed on the shores, it was like walking into a trap. The Americans didn’t know where to go and were completely blinded by the fog.”
Dickrell shared that it took the American soldiers four days to realize that they needed to leave the beaches and get to high ground if they were to find the Japanese soldiers. He shared the challenges that soldiers on both sides faced, including frostbite, hypothermia and trench foot, and that when a solider recovered a diary from a dead Japanese soldier named Nebu Tatsuguri who was a doctor, and the diary was translated, it read that the Japanese soldiers would not surrender, that they would fight to their death and commit suicide before being captured, which they did.
The battle to reclaim Attu was expected to take three days, but lasted 19. By the end of the battle, nearly 2,400 Japanese died and 549 Americans were killed in action, 1,148 were wounded in action and 2,100 had non-battle casualties, including frostbite and trench foot (foot rot). For every 100 Japanese on the island, 71 Americans were injured or killed. The village of Attu was destroyed and only 24 of the 43 Aleut who lived there survived captivity by the Japanese. The Battle of Attu was one of the deadliest battles in World War II, second only to Iwo Jima.
At the heart of Dickrell’s message was a desire to honor the men who fought this war.
“It’s surprising how little the general public knows about this war,” he said. “If you read books on World War II, the Battle of Attu gets like a half a page.”
Dickrell’s message is also about sharing the lessons learned from this chapter in American history. These lessons included learning what clothing and footwear were appropriate for the climate in order for soldiers to stay dry and to prevent hypothermia, the need for soldiers to be able to take their boots off on a regular basis in order to prevent foot rot and the knowledge that Japanese soldiers will not surrender.
“History is the story of everything that happened before now,” he shared. “It’s important that we learn what we did wrong so we don’t do it again, so we can learn from our mistakes.”
Today, Attu is abandoned, but the landscape remains littered with the debris of war.
As part of a joint venture between the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in Homer and the regional National Wildlife Refuge office in Anchorage, Dickrell was invited to Homer by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge to take part in National Wildlife Refuge Week, an event that is celebrated during the second week of October and all across the United States. There are 560 refuges nationwide and 16 refuges in Alaska. The National Wildlife Refuge existed on Attu before, during and after the Battle of Attu.
“Jeff is the guru for folks who know and understand Aleutian World War II History,” said Kara Zwickey, Visitor Center Manager at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center in Homer. “So many people don’t know that this war happened and Jeff spent years researching and corresponding directly with war veterans. He is an iconic individual who has the capacity to hear and share stories. Every year during National Wildlife Refuge week, we try to create awareness of, and promote, what’s happening on the refuge. We were delighted to be able to bring him here and have him tell this important story to the community.”
While in Homer, Dickrell gave presentations to students at West Homer Elementary School, McNeil Canyon Elementary School, the Homer High School, Homer Flex School and Kachemak Bay Campus. He also hosted a community presentation at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.
A history teacher in Unalaska for 27 years, Jeff retired from teaching last year. The author of “Center of the Storm,” photographs and interviews focused on the bombing of Dutch Harbor, Dickrell worked collaborately with individuals from all across the Aleutians, immersing himself in Aleutian history, serving as a Board Member with the Museum of the Aleutians in Unalaska and was given access to the National Archives Still Pictures Division in Washington, D.C.
Jeff’s book is currently out of print, but other books that discuss the war include “Attu Boy” by Nick Golodoff, a young Alaskan boy’s memoir of living among the Japanese soldiers, available at the Alaska Geographic Bookstore at Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, at the Homer Public Library and through the Homer Bookstore, “Last Letters of Attu”, available as an eBook at the Homer Public Library and at the Homer Bookstore, “One Thousand Mile War”, available at the Homer Bookstore and “Aleutian Echoes”, available at the library.
May 2018 is the 75th commemorative anniversary of the Battle of Attu and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge is working on plans to commemorate the anniversary at refuge areas around the state next year.
“This is a really big deal and we want to share this story with the community,” Zwickey shared.
The Voices of the Wilderness artist residency is a unique opportunity. It is modeled after traditional residencies in the national parks…with a twist. Instead of staying at a remote wilderness cabin, our participating artists are paired with a wilderness specialist and actively engaged in stewardship projects, such as research, monitoring, and education. The idea is to give artists a sense of the stewardship behind America’s public lands, fostering an artistic exploration of these natural and cultural treasures. The hoped-for result is artwork that communicates something of the meaning of these lands. (photo: Chugach & Tongass National Forests, Western Arctic National Parklands)
Residencies open to: Art professionals in all media – visual (two and three dimensional, photographers, sculptors,painters), audio (musicians, singers, composers), film (video/filmmakers), and writers (poets, fiction, essays, storytellers).
Residency period: Residency dates vary, but typically they are hosted June through September, lasting 7-9 days.
Sponsored by the US Forest Service, National Park Service & US Fish & Wildlife Service
In the summer of 2017, artists will be invited to participate in our residencies, each opportunity completely different. The purpose is to share with the community artwork that conveys the inspirational and other values of wilderness.
Each artist will be provided the same safety training as other volunteers (may include aviation and boat safety, kayak safety, use of radios and satellite phones, review of Job Hazard Analyses, etc.). The hosting federal agency will provide transportation to and from the field, camping and field gear, and in many cases, food as well.
Travel to and from Alaska is the artist’s responsibility. Participants should plan to arrive in Alaska at least one full day prior to a residency to ensure enough time for safety training. Return travel should be planned for a couple days after a residency, as weather sometimes delays the return from the field. Artists are also responsible for their personal gear, including art supplies
As an artist-in-residence, you will experience the wilderness like few others. Traveling alongside a ranger, you might kayak the calm fiords and camp on glacier-carved shores. There will be plenty of time to sit back in your camp chair and absorb the crackling ice bergs and roaring waterfalls. From the water, you might see a bear foraging among intertidal mussels, or seals hauled-out on the ice. On remote beaches, your steps will mingle with the tracks of wolves, bears, birds, maybe even a mink. The wilderness soundscape will embrace you with the screeches of eagles or the songs of whales. Along the way, you’ll get a peek at what it’s like to care for the land by sharing time with a ranger
As a volunteer, each artist will assist with some basic ranger duties, which may include boarding a tour boat to provide education, participating in research projects, such as seal counts or climate change studies, walking a beach to remove litter, or other generally light duties. However, an emphasis for the artist will be experiencing the wilderness and exploring how to communicate its inspirational qualities through their artwork.
Reminder: Friends’ Membership meeting is Tuesday, October 18th.
Please call in a few minutes before 5pm, 866-556-2149, code 8169747#
Our presenter will be Tim Plucinski, FWS contaminant specialist for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. His presentation, “Attu 2016, Steps Towards Island Restoration,” is a photo narrative of the U.S. Army Corps Engineer’s recent efforts to cleanup two contaminated sites on Attu Island, Alaska. Tim’s primary focus has been to work with the various Department of Defense agencies responsible for the addressing legacy contamination on the Refuge following World War II and the Cold War. His presentation is available here:
Watch KTVA’s report here.