Spring brings fish and fowl to Alaska

Birders and anglers flock to the shores and Vikings invade

A safe haven for birds to breed

There were times when I flew the milk run from Seattle to Juneau and stopped in at Yakutat - a place that always fascinated me. With its thick, deep green forests and rolling waves that attract international surfers, I always hoped we'd get weathered in so I could poke around, but it never happened.

Not so for Aleutian terns that make annual stops here on their way to nest at Yakutat's Situk River Flats ever since the earliest recording of their migration in 1922.

It's suspected tern population is declining worldwide, and Yakutat has become the center of research because here terns seem to be holding on well.

This year, the keynote speaker for the Yakutat Tern Festival is Julia K. Parrish, the Lowell A. and Frankie L. Wakefield Professor of Ocean Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. She will speak on "Seabirds, Citizen Science and a Warming World". Parrish has conducted field research on seabirds, focused on the natural and human-caused factors causing population decline.

Parrish is also the Executive Director of the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), a 17-year-old citizen science program responsible for training more than 4,000 participants to collect monthly data on the identity and abundance of beach-cast birds from northern California north to the Arctic Circle. If you're an Alaska birder this would be a great organization to join.

One workshop you might consider is presented by licensed bird bander Denise Turley, who will demonstrate the use of mist nets to capture, band and safely release songbirds. This would be helpful if you are considering becoming a member of COASST.

The festival runs from May 31 to June 3, and Alaska Airlines is offering a 5 percent discount code ECMZ510. The code is good when traveling between May 25 and June 7.

For more information visit: http://www.yakutatternfestival.org/.

The Copper River Shorebird Festival is another great birding event in early May, from May 3 through May 6. Held in Cordova, its keynote speaker is Stephen Kress, vice president for Bird Conservation for the National Audubon Society and Director of the Audubon Seabird Restoration Program and Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine, who will discuss "Saving Seabirds: New Lessons from Puffins."

The festival site says Kress "will also discuss insights into the changing marine climate of the Gulf of Maine as revealed by Maine seabirds such as puffins and terns. His research has shown the connections between warm water, increased rainfall and the plankton blooms that nourish forage fish, seabirds and all other coastal life. These 'drivers' of the marine ecosystem affect every stage of the seabird life cycle. He will also share the recent discovery of the previously unknown winter home for puffins- and explain how this discovery helped to establish the new Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument."

Copper River has a great line up of speakers from Alaska and internationally. See http://www.copperriverdeltashorebirdfestival.com/the-festival/ for a complete schedule.

A short four-hour car trip south of Anchorage and you're in Homer for the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival from May 10 to May 13. Keynote speaker Noel Strycker will talk about his new book, "Birds Without Borders."

If you can, go on a boat trip around Gull Island, home to a huge number of black-legged kittiwakes and common murres, as well as glaucous-winged gulls, pelagic cormorants, red-faced cormorants, puffins and pigeon guillemots. It's a very noisy place.

Visit the site at http://kachemakshorebird.org/.

This year is an appropriate time to get to as many birding conferences as possible as it's the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and is the Year of the Bird. Go grab your binoculars.

Fish on or grab a crab leg

You hardly have to move far for this one, Anchoragites, just amble to downtown's Ship Creek for the Slam'n Salm'n Derby that runs from June 9 to 16. You could win cash or prizes. For more information go to https://www.anchorage.net/events/salmon-derby/.

Like to fish deeper? There's the Valdez Halibut Derby from May 19 to Sept. 2. There's a $10,000 Grand Prize for the largest halibut; $3,000 cash for second place and $1,500 for third place, plus weekly prizes. All anglers holding a ticket have a chance to win $5,000 in a drawing at the end of the season. Tickets are $10 a day or or $50 for the entire season.

See http://www.valdezfishderbies.com for more information.

Kodiak's Crab Festival is May 24 to May 28. In addition to delicious king crab legs there's midway carnival rides, the Kodiak Balalaika Players will give a free concert, a Coast Guard rescue demonstration, a parade, a survival suit race, a "fish toss," and lots more. Pick up a free sticker and maybe win two round-trip tickets to Hawaii.

Go to http://www.kodiakchamber.org/schedule_of_events for the full schedule.

And one rogue, hairy festival

Go Viking at Petersburg's annual Little Norway Festival on May 17 for a week of festivities that celebrates Norwegian Constitution Day. This is the towns' 60th year of mounting this homage to all things Norwegian.

"This year is our 60th, so a milestone for us, and some special activities are planned," says Cindy Lagoudakis former acting mayor and recent mayoral candidate. "There are fun family races, Norwegian painting classes for traditional rosemåling, log rolling, activities for children, a Norwegian luncheon and style show, parade, and of course, marauding Vikings and Valkyries."

You can learn this style of Norwegian decorative painting on wood that uses stylized flower ornamentation, predominantly primary and secondary colors that decorate buildings about town at a workshop.

Strolling through the town you'd think you were really there - with its huge Viking ship replica complete with dragon's head, the Sons of Norway Hall, murals with Norwegian themes, and pieces of rosemåling painted on buildings.

There'll be lots of horns on hairy hats and also hairy open shirts climbing aboard the Viking boat waving swords around.

Go to http://www.petersburg.org/festivals-and-events/the-little-norway-festival for more information.

Make this summer the time to just get out of town and experience the Alaska you may never have seen before.

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