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April 2019
Refuge Staff Visit Sitka for Environmental Education Programs 
This March, education specialist Kendra Bush and Refuge Intern Maya Frydman visited three Sitka schools, Keet Gooshi Heen, Sitka High School and Mt. Edgecumbe High School, to share a week of educational programs about wildlife, and the nearby refuge island of St. Lazaria.

Students from 2nd grade to high school learned about topics like feather adaptions, marine debris and the work of refuge biologists. We’re grateful to collaborate with the amazing teachers who teach science in these classrooms year round!
Visitor Center Hosts New Exhibit on Scientific Illustration 
Cross the bridge between art and science at the Islands & Oceans Visitor Center this month with an exhibit centered on Scientific Illustration. This art form comes to life through technical illustrations that communicate observations of the many organisms, processes, and structures of our natural world. Our new display features works from Homer artists and scientists Kim McNett, Lee Post, and Conrad Field as well as KBC Semester by the Bay students Brooke Faulkner and Allison Kintner. Learn about this art form and the artists behind these illustrations. The exhibit will be up all month so come by the visitor center during our regular winter hours (12-5pm Tuesday-Saturday) to check out this cool new exhibit!
Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival is on its Way 

Registration remains open for the 27th annual Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival! This includes keynote addresses from Jennifer Ackerman.  Ackerman has been writing about science and nature for three decades.  Her most recent book, The Genius of Birds, explores the intelligence of birds.  A national bestseller, the book has been published in 15 languages and has been a finalist for several awards.  Jennifer’s previous books include Notes from the Shore, a book about the shorebirds and other natural life of the mid-Atlantic coast; Chance in the House of Fate:  A Natural History of Heredity; and Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream:  A Day in the Life of Your Body. She will be hosting events including Words from the Wild - Writing About Nature and How Birds Know Where They’re Going: The New Science of Bird Navigation. 

Festival participants are encouraged to register for workshops, speakers and guided trips online or by mail, or by calling the Festival offices at 907-226-4631 on Monday, Tuesday or Thursday from 1-4:30pm. The 2019 Festival Program with a complete list of event offerings is now available on the Festival Website or at Festival Headquarters (Islands & Ocean Visitor Center). Official Shorebird Festival merchandise is also available for sale at Islands & Ocean Visitor Center in Homer. 

Research Highlight: 2018 Monitoring Shows Another Mixed Year for Seabirds on St. George

Each summer Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge sends biologists to eight annual monitoring sites throughout the refuge to collect information about the seabird species that breed there. This annual data gives us a picture of the health (or status and trends) of seabirds in the refuge, which serves as an indicator of ecosystem health. St. George Island is a particularly important island because it is traditionally host to one of the largest seabird colonies in the world, including more than 80% of the world’s red-legged kittiwake population. It is also one of the biggest murre colonies in the world.

In the summer of 2018 biological technicians Sarah Guitart, Shannon Carvey and Laney White, spent three and half months on St. George collecting data on seabird reproductive success, adult survival, and diet.  It was a low productivity year for a few monitored species, including red-legged and black-legged kittiwakes.  Least auklets experienced a third year in a row of low reproductive success (compared to the long-term mean) and the number of least auklets attending monitoring plots in the islands’ main colony was low for the second year in a row. Murres were one of the few monitored species who had close to normal productivity, but similar to other species, the number of murres attending the cliffs was very low.
Marc Romano, lead biologist for the Bering Sea unit, described 2018 on St. George Island as, “the fourth year in a row of complete, or near complete, kittiwake reproductive failure. In contrast, murre reproductive success was higher than the last two years. While the increase in murre reproductive success is encouraging, low murre colony attendance likely means that total production of murre chicks was also low.”

“It seems what is happening on St. George may be part of larger story.” Romano continued, referring to the fact that poor reproductive success and low colony attendance was observed on St. Paul Island this past summer. However, Romano cautioned that it is difficult to pinpoint causes or assume trends based on these observations alone.  

Romano said that one of the difficulties of understanding seabird populations in a dynamic environment like the Bering Sea is that biologists typically can only study them during the breeding season. However, new technologies are allowing biologists to track the movements of tagged birds outside of the breeding season. These tracking studies, including a refuge collaboration with Dr. Rachael Orben from Oregon State University tracking red-legged kittiwakes at St. George, will help shed light on stressors that may be impacting seabirds during the winter. Combining the information gained from colony monitoring and tracking studies will give refuge biologists a clearer understanding of how seabirds are being affected by changes in the environment year round, including rising sea temperatures and declining winter sea ice.

Heading into the 2019 breeding season, no one can predict how the birds on St. George will do. However, because St. George is the largest colony for breeding seabirds in the region, the health of the seabirds there is very important.  A new field crew will be heading to St. George in May, to continue the monitoring work, and with any luck they will have good news to report in September when they return. 

Staff Spotlight

Andy Velsko
R/V Tiglax Engineer
We are excited to announce that Andy Velsko has been hired as the new R/V Tiglax Engineer. This is a vital role for the refuge, because it is the engineer that makes sure the Tiglax is up and running all season so that biologists and others can access the remote islands of the refuge. Andy was born and raised in Homer and started out his career on the seas working in commercial fishing while still in high school. After graduation, he joined the Navy as an engineer. Andy is taking over this role after 13 years of experience on the R/V Tiglax, starting as a deckhand and then working as the Relief/Assistant Engineer since 2013. Congratulations Andy!
Islands & Ocean Visitor Center Winter Hours
Tuesday-Saturday 12pm-5pm
Thursday, April 4th
Guest Lecture at Kachemak Bay Campus
12pm-1pm; Kachemak Bay Campus, P212
Join UAA Biological Sciences Professor, Doug Causey, for his lecture "Environmental Change and the Breeding Season Seabirds of the Aleutians and Bering Sea" Learn More.

Friday, April 5th
First Friday Shorebird Festival Art Opening at K-Bay Caffe
5pm-7pm K-Bay Caffe, Pioneer Ave in Homer
Come see this year’s 6 x 6 Art Auction pieces, done by local artists to benefit the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival.  Learn more

Tuesday, April 16th
Friends Membership Meeting
5pm-6pm; Islands & Ocean Visitor Center Seminar Room
Join the friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges for their monthly meeting. Learn More.
Thursday, April 18th & Friday, April 19th
Cooperative Volunteer Fair
3pm-6pm; Islands & Ocean Visitor Center Lobby
Come by Islands & Oceans to learn about volunteer opportunities with local organizations. Learn more.
Monday, April 22nd
KBCS' 2019 Earth Day event
5:30pm-8pm; Islands & Ocean Visitor Center Auditorium
Join Kachemak Bay Conservation Society and Cook Inlet Keeper for their Earth Day event. Learn more
Thursday, April 25th
Pre-K Puffins Early Learning Program
10-11:30am; Islands & Ocean Visitor Center Seminar Room
This educational program is designed for children ages 2-5 and focuses on the marine sciences. It will include story time, crafts and early learning centered activities. Learn more.

Monday, April 29th
Kachemak Bay Birders meeting
5pm; Islands & Ocean Visitor Center Auditorium
Join the Kachemak Bay Birders for their monthly meeting with a presentation by Steve Ebbert. Learn more.

Tuesday, April 30th
"Birds of Prey" Film Screening
5pm-6pm; Islands & Ocean Visitor Center Seminar Room
Join us for a special sneak peak of this year's featured film for the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, "Bird of Prey." Suggested donation of $5. Learn More.
Critter Corner: Ringed Seal 
Ringed seals are found in the northernmost parts of Alaska Maritime NWR where they make their home in the Arctic waters near and around the Chukchi Sea. These are some of the smallest seals found in the Arctic waters and they are not very social. Ringed seals often separate themselves from each other when they’re hauled out on sea ice. These seals are named the light colored rings on their back and sides. 
Copyright © 2019 US Fish and Wildlife Service, All rights reserved.

Photo credits (top to bottom, left to right): 
Cape Lisburne by Dave Kuehn/USFWS.
Kendra teaching about Marine Mammals by Maya Frydman/USFWS.
Assorted Scientific Illustration by Ally Kintner/USFWS. 
Sandpipers in flight by Carla Stanley/USFWS.
St George by Marc Romano/USFWS.
2018 St. George Bio Techs by USFWS. 
Cliffs on St. George by Marc Romano/USFWS.
Andy Velsko by USFWS. 
A ringed seal pup by Michael Cameron/NOAA.

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