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2/20/24 What We Think We Know: The Deep Past of the Ancient Unangan Aleut. With Archeologist and Author Debra Corbett

Tuesday, February 20, 5-6 pm AKT

Friends Membership Meeting, ALL welcome.
The Zoom Recording of this event can be viewed below.

We ALL thank you so much Debbie for sharing your experience and knowledge with ALL of us.  It was great! 

Since then, exploring and trying to understand the ancient human history of these islands has been an all-consuming passion.  Along the way I worked with amazing people and experienced transcendently beautiful land and seascapes. The past and old ways lie close to the surface if you listen. Ever so gradually we learned about the people, the culture and the rich history tied to this place.  I will talk about my experiences working in the islands for 30 years and hit some of the highlights of our research. 

Debbie Corbett photographing a site on Hawadax in 2001. pc WAAPP

For 9000 years people flourished in the Aleutian Archipelago, a 1000-mile chain of islands stretching from mainland America nearly to Asia.  The rich marine environment supported 40,000 people before the coming of the Russians compared to a scant 8000 today.  In spite of this long human history and complex and interesting social organizations of the ancient Unangax, very little archeological work was done in the Aleutians perhaps because of the remoteness or the weather.  Debbie’s work was pioneering, and she is considered the foremost Aleutian archaeologist today.  Most all of the Aleutians are in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.  

Debbie’s hot-off-the-presses book that she coauthored with Diane Hanson, Culture and Archaeology of the Ancestral Unangax/Aleut of the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, will be available for purchase and signing at the talk in Homer.  The book is available online from multiple sources. 

Biography by Debra Corbett

At age seven I decided I would be an archaeologist; no other option ever entered my mind.  I got my BA at the University of Arizona, and worked for a few years in Idaho and Arizona before heading north in 1983, to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).  The job was investigating historic sites claimed by the newly created Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Native Corporations.

That summer BIA sent two crews to Adak Island.  Since I had actually been in a small boat, I was picked for one of the crews.  Of the 12 of us, ONE, not me, knew anything about the Aleutians and none of us had been there before.  My crew spent three months in a rat-infested cabin with an inflatable boat, in the Bay of Islands one of the most beautiful spots on earth.  I was completely enmeshed in the magic of the islands.

I worked for the BIA until 1989 then went on to get an MA in Fairbanks, studying–you guessed it–the Aleutian Islands.  One day my advisor approached me with a phone number on a scrap of paper and said “This crazy bird biologist in Kansas wants to find an Aleutian archaeologist.  Call him!” and my future was set.  After completing my degree, I went to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), largely because the agency manages the islands as part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.  Unusual for any agency, FWS allowed me to participate in a multi-year research project with the crazy biologist, Dr. Douglas Causey, and some of his colleagues.  From 1997-2003 we were the Western Aleutians Archaeological and Paleobiological Project (WAAPP).  Along the way we experienced the best and the worst the Aleutians have to offer, shipwreck, injury, laughter, frustration, fear, transcendent joy, and unbelievable archaeology.  

In December 2012 I discovered I was eligible for retirement and left the best job in the world so I could spend more time doing research and writing on the prehistory of the Aleutian Islands.  Long time friend and colleague Diane Hanson here at University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) talked me into writing a book on the prehistory of the Aleutians Islands.  We finished that book and here I am, to tell you all about 30 years in the Best Place in Alaska

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2024 Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival! May 8-12

The Homer, Alaska annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival is co-sponsored by Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge  and made possible by the staff and many volunteers!  We’ll be welcoming the 2024 Keynote Speaker Ted Floyd, editor of Birding magazine, the birds (and you) May 8 – 12, 2024!  Registration will open mid-March 2024, but it’s not too early to book your accommodations

The Red-necked Phalarope, chosen as the featured bird for the 32nd Annual! Festival, breed across the Arctic. They winter at sea in the open ocean, where they are most common in the Atlantic in the currents along the west coast of Africa from Morocco to Namibia. They’re also found in the Pacific in similar currents off California and Peru.

Kachemak Bay (near Homer, Alaska) provides miles of shoreline and intertidal habitat for migrating birds. Kachemak Bay’s unique ecology, easy accessibility to beaches, and the scenic landscapes of Homer make this a prime location to experience this annual migration. Kachemak Bay’s 320 miles of shoreline and 30-foot tidal range create the substantial intertidal areas that attract shorebirds. The shoreline of Kachemak Bay is a prime stopover to keep them fueled for the next phase in thier journey.

(if you’re interested in volunteering, providing a tour or activity or have any questions, get in touch:

See you in May, birds connect us all!

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View Recording: Birding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with Bird Guide Aaron Lang

Monday, December 4, 5:30pm, AKT.
Live in Homer at Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge’s Visitor Center or on Zoom.
You can view the recording of the live event below:


Aaron Lang will share stories and stunning photography at the Kachemak Bay Birders monthly meeting about the unique wilderness birding experiences to be found in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  All are welcome to attend or zoom in.  Aaron, widely considered one of Alaska’s top birding guides and a downright nice guy, will draw from his 21 years of exploring, birding and guiding in the Arctic Refuge.  Aaron is the co-owner of Wilderness Birding Adventures based in Homer and was the guide for the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges’ trip to the Marsh Fork of the Canning River in the Arctic Refuge last summer.  

Aaron collecting feathers from an abandoned nest cavity for Gray-headed Chickadees. No birds were found on the 2023 trip. The feathers were collected for possible DNA analysis. pc: Nancy Deschu

Approximately the size of South Carolina, the 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has no roads or facilities. The lands and waters are a critical nursery for birds who migrate and winter throughout North America and beyond and is an important home for iconic resident wildlife such as caribou, musk oxen and polar bear.  The refuge presents a unique, wilderness birding experience and contains the largest designated Wilderness within the National Wildlife Refuge System. Birds commonly found along the Arctic’s rivers include nesting shorebirds such as Wandering Tattler, Upland Sandpiper, and American Golden-Plover and Golden Eagles, Arctic Warbler and Smith’s Longspurs.

This program will be recorded and posted HERE within a few days.

Aaron began birding in southern Minnesota at age 11 when the curious behavior of a Northern Flicker caught his eye, and he’s been hopelessly addicted to birding ever since. Combining bird-related work with a passion for travel has led him to adventures in Brazil, Tibet, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bhutan. After settling in Alaska, Aaron spent several years running environmental education programs for the Prince William Sound Science Center in Cordova, all while scheming on how to turn his birding obsession into a career. In 2002, he began guiding for Wilderness Birding Adventures and, after 11 years, Aaron and his wife Robin bought the business.

Smith’s longspurs were frequently spotted on the Marsh Fork last summer. PC Jerry Britten

Aaron has served on the Alaska Bird Checklist Committee since 2009, the American Birding Association Checklist Committee (2015-2022), and the board of Audubon Alaska since 2019. He currently holds the Alaska Daydream Big Day Record for the most species of birds thought about in one 24-hour period. 

This Kachemak Bay Birder Meeting is cosponsored by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge with the zoom and recording capabilities provided by Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges.

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Art in the Arctic

Call for Submissions:
The 9th Annual Art in the Arctic Art Show

Date: March 28 – April 25, 2024

Submission Deadline:
extended to December 1, 2023



THE 2024 SHOW: The Art in the Arctic Art Show is held each year in Fairbanks, Alaska. It bridges the worlds of art, nature, and conservation, with a spotlight on three of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s northern Refuges: Arctic, Kanuti, and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges. The scale, expanse, and wildness of Alaska’s Refuges distinguish them from most other Refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System. These Refuges protect habitats for all species, as well as massive landscapes for subsistence uses and outdoor adventures. Through a tapestry of artistic expressions, Art in the Arctic unveils the narratives, beauty, and challenges these Refuges encapsulate, urging audiences to immerse themselves in their stories. 

This year, Art in the Arctic will highlight the artist, their artwork, and the artist’s connection with the stories of fish found in at least one of the three Refuges. This event is co-hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. 

photo from the 2019 exhibit at Venue Gallery

THEME: Resilience in the Refuges: Fish and Rivers of the Far North 

This year’s theme celebrates the fish of three northern Refuges and the waterways that support them. Arctic fish species like char, cisco, grayling, salmon, sheefish and dolly varden are not only beautiful, but also fundamental to the health of intact ecosystems and the cultural fabric of subsistence lifeways. Migration is a key part of many Arctic fish species’ life history, and thus habitat connectivity is essential.  

The waterways of Arctic, Kanuti and Yukon Flats Refuges provide interconnected and uninterrupted arteries where life can continue unimpeded. Since time immemorial, Indigenous Alaskans and wildlife like bears have depended on the seasonal movement of fish. Though uniquely adapted to extreme Arctic environments, Alaska’s northern fish species are facing unprecedented challenges in the streams and rivers they inhabit for sustenance, spawning and migration. Impacts from climate change and anthropogenic activities can potentially affect sensitive spawning and overwintering sites. Can these fish of the far north adapt, or are human influences testing the limits of their resiliency? 

In this year’s show, we invite artists to share their connection to fish, Refuge rivers and tributaries, and the life history of Arctic fish species. We also challenge artists to consider how fish moved through Arctic waterways in the past and provoke viewers to explore their hopes and fears for the future of these amazing creatures.


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: South of the Brooks Range, King salmon migrate almost 2000 miles up the Yukon River to major tributaries in the Arctic Refuge, one of the world’s most impressive fish migrations. Research indicates rising river temperatures in the Yukon are threatening this migration, and other salmon species are expanding their range deeper into the Arctic as climate change warms Arctic waters. On the Coastal Plain, overwintering sites for Arctic cisco, Arctic grayling, and Dolly Varden are limited to just a handful of deep lakes or springs. Habitat connectivity to reach these springs is essential. Barriers to fish movement could jeopardize an entire fish population, impairing ecosystems and putting critical subsistence resources at risk for Iñupiat and Gwich’in people. 

Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge: The Athabascan name for Kanuti is “Kk’toonootne” which translates to “well-traveled river by both man and animals.” The Refuge, home to Koyukuk Athabascans and Nunamiut Eskimos who continue to depend on its resources, supports major summer feeding and overwintering habitats for multiple species of whitefish, including spawning reaches for humpback whitefish and least cisco. Henshaw Creek is also an important spawning area for summer-run chum salmon. Upstream mineral and road developments threaten Refuge water quality and habitats, and consequently the fish residing in them. 

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge: The Refuge encompasses the section of the Yukon River that serves as a key spawning ground for Alaska’s only endemic fish, the Bering Cisco, and one of just six Yukon River spawning sites for sheefish. For thousands of years, this area has been—and continues as—a homeland for Gwich’in and Koyukon Athabascan people. Today, fish camps and smokehouses are going empty as Pacific salmon populations crash in the region. 


EXHIBIT: The Show will be held at VENUE, where contemporary architecture and an inviting ambiance make the perfect backdrop for an event that strives to transcend traditional boundaries. The casual, fun, and beautiful gallery setting acts as a disarming space, enabling diverse communities to converge, converse and connect. 

Each artist will be expected to draft a short narrative (2-4 sentences) to associate their art with the theme of the show. Selected artwork and artist biographies will be on display at VENUE from March 28 – April 25, 2024. Artwork will be available for sale to the public. Proceeds of sales will be split with VENUE (60% to artist, 40% to VENUE). 

SPACE: Each artist is invited to provide up to four pieces of artwork, or ideas for artwork. Original art will be prioritized in the selection process (prints accepted as space allows). Art that does not reflect the theme will not be exhibited. 

ELIGIBILITY: The Art in the Arctic Art Show is committed to showcasing artwork that exemplifies the story of fish and their waterways on Arctic, Kanuti and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges in northern Alaska. All work exhibited at the show must feature compositions or objects that have a nexus to:

1) fish species on Arctic, Kanuti or Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges; 2) subsistence or harvesting activities involving fish; 
2) subsistence or harvesting activities involving fish;
3) the role of Refuge waterways; 
4) Challenges to fish and/or their habitat caused by human actions or activities; 
5) any activity (i.e.: wildlife viewing, scientific research, river recreation) involving fish and their waterways. 


TO APPLY: Applicants must submit up to 10 high resolution images of examples of their artwork (300 dpi and 1,400 x 2,000 pixels) and an artist statement (1,000-character maximum). All mediums welcome, including photography, poetry, sculpture, watercolor, fiber arts, performance arts etc. 

Applicants must provide either a detailed description of each submission, or an idea for submission, including the connection it has to Arctic fish and their ecosystem. There must also be a connection to at least one of the three National Wildlife Refuges: Arctic, Kanuti or Yukon Flats. 

In addition to the above materials, please submit your 1) name; 2) mailing address; 3) phone number; 4) email address; 5) website (if you have one); and 6) a unique file name for each of your submitted images

SUBMISSIONS: Please send or postmark your submissions by December 1, 2023. Submit electronic applications to: 

Mail hard-copy applications to: 

Hanna McBrearty 
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
101 12th Avenue, Room 236 
Fairbanks, Alaska 99701 

For questions about the application process or the Show, contact us at or (612) 716-0409.  

ACCEPTANCE: All applicants will be notified whether their artwork or art concept will be accepted as part of the show by December 20, 2023.

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10/17 Membership Meeting: Waterfowl on the Yukon Delta

Tuesday, October 17, 5-6 pm AKDT, Randall Friendly, Waterfowl Biologist

This presentation was recorded; watch recording below.

Bethel – Randall, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge Waterfowl Biologist, will be speaking live at the Refuge Visitor Center (across from the hospital) with potluck to follow. Bring your favorite dish to share.
Homer – Watch Party with snacks at Alaska Maritime’s Islands & Ocean Visitor Center
Soldotna – Watch Party at Kenai Refuge Visitor Center on Ski Hill Road
Kodiak – Watch Party at Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center

The vast, watery Yukon Delta Refuge nestles between Alaska’s largest rivers, the Yukon and the Kuskokwim Rivers, where the tundra meets the Bering Sea. At 19 million acres, Yukon Delta has edged out the Arctic Refuge as the largest wildlife refuge in the country. Its diversity of habitats supports one of the largest aggregations of waterbirds in the world.  Presenter Randall Friendly was raised on this land, went off to college and has recently returned as waterfowl biologist for the Yukon Delta Refuge. Let him show you his homeland and hear from him why waterfowl has so inspired him. He will talk about how and why the refuge manages waterfowl from banding programs with Cackling geese and Brant and capture-mark-recapture with Emperor geese.

Greater White-fronted Goose, Kigigak Island, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge pc:  Kristine Sowl, USFWS

Biography by Randall Friendly.  I am from Tuntutuliak a Yupik village of about 800 people.  It is located along the Kuskokwim River on the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in western Alaska about 40 miles downriver from Bethel, the largest town on the Delta.  I grew up with a subsistence lifestyle of hunting and fishing with my family.  I found out I wanted to work with ducks and geese after my first season working as a technician for the US Fish and Wildlife Service working in remote places on the Yukon Delta. I saw how incredible it was to see the diversity of nesting birds like on Kigigak Island. Since then, I decided one day I wanted to continue working with waterfowl and learn more about them. With mentoring by ANSEP (Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program) I studied for my Bachelor’s at the University of Alaska Anchorage in biology.  I completed my Master’s from the University of Alaska Fairbanks this summer in wildlife biology.  My thesis was on threatened Spectacled Eiders and how their wintering conditions affect reproduction. While in college, I had a chance to work on Kodiak, and Arctic Refuges as well as Yukon Delta.  What I like most about my job is that I get to work with amazing people who are enthusiastic about wildlife and that I get to work outside of the office environment.

I recently moved to Bethel to work full time for the Yukon Delta Refuge as a waterfowl biologist.  I have been enjoying some family time after being away for college for quite some time. I like to spend time outdoors whether it is fishing, hunting, or gathering. Having moved to Bethel, I am looking forward to the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends.

Read an interview with Randall about how the ANSEP program welcomed a boy from the village and helped him realize his dreams. And hear from Randall in this podcast about his hopes for his work, a chance to inspire others and his masters work on spectacled eiders. 

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Walk for the Wild 2023, Across Alaska!

Let’s take a moment to celebrate the incredible Refuge Staff and Friends Volunteers that have taken action to help Wildlife Thrive in Alaska! AlaskaTeam16! held 4 LIVE events, drawing 130 participants, which were held in.

We also offered Virtual option for folks to Walk for the Wild wherever they were, along with a link to podcasts on our Refuges to be listened to while walking and folks from throughout the country did just that

We had a dream goal of $16,000… one day! We raised $1704 with help from the PLA Amplifier Fund. Our Team was 15th in the country! Those funds will be deposited into the Friends unrestricted funds for allocation to refuges in response to requests.

Walk for the Wild is a signature event of the NWRS Rebranding Campaign, a multi-year rebranding and activation campaign to invite new generations of Americans to fall in love  with America’s national wildlife refuges and increase private support for the National  Wildlife Refuge System and expand the demographics of Friends members and volunteers. PLAN on participating in 2024! 

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Journey of Landscape and Light with Photographer Taz Tally

Thursday, September 286:30 – 7:30pm
Photographer Taz Tally will share with us his stunning images, videos and stories from 9 seasons of visiting the Brooks Range in fall and winter.  Light refreshments will be provided.
Cosponsored by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges

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2021 Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival Recap

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.


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