Daily Archives: December 2, 2015

Murre dieoff causing concern —  Shorebirds found inland, emaciated

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A murre, found inland in the Kasilof area last week, is one of many seabirds that have been turning up in unusual spots throughout Southcentral Alaska and along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Scientist are uncertain what is causing the strandings.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A murre, found inland in the Kasilof area last week, is one of many seabirds that have been turning up in unusual spots throughout Southcentral Alaska and along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Scientist are uncertain what is causing the strandings.

By Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter

Winter isn’t typically a busy time for bird-watching on the Kenai Peninsula, but unusual sightings have put birdwatchers on alert. Common murres are making uncommon appearances around Alaska. The seabirds are showing up inland and in poor condition.

“I got three over the weekend, spread throughout the Beaver Loop area, all at different houses, all thin and not very strong. I lost one, but I’m feeding the other two, trying to get them stronger,” said Marianne Clark, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

The medium-size birds with black heads and backs and white bellies, look like a cross between a loon and a penguin. They have long, thin beaks for feeding on fish in the saltwater where they typically spend their winters. But this year, they’re showing up inland.

“We don’t know a lot at this point, just that there is an influx of them coming in. We took in 20 from Oct. 31 through Nov. 12,” said Katie Middlebrook, an avian rehabilitation coordinator at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage.

“Most have come in from Anchorage, Wasilla, Palmer, even one as far as Talkeetna — strange places for murres. You’d usually see them washing ashore in Homer and Seward,” Middlebrook added.

And they have there, as well.

“The Alaska SeaLife Center has received about 25 common murres over the past two weeks, all from the local Seward area. Most of the birds have been found inland, which is not where you would expect to find this type of seabird,” said Tara Riemer, president and CEO of the Alaska SeaLife Center.

Riemer said that the birds have been thin but alert, so after feeding and rehabbing them back to full strength, the center has released several of the birds in appropriate waters nearby.

“We have been doing a brief exam on the birds, but no necropsies. Some of the birds have been screened for avian influenza, but laboratory results will not be available for some time,” she said.

Riemer said that murre numbers are still high.

“Even so, we are keeping in touch with regional and national U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey staff to share observations,” she said.

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Crafted for fun — Craft fair vendors, shoppers find holiday cheer

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Mandy Pieh, left, and Shaya Straw attend the Kenai Arts and Crafts Fair every year to shop for out-of-state family, and to catch up with each other.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Mandy Pieh, left, and Shaya Straw attend the Kenai Arts and Crafts Fair every year to shop for out-of-state family, and to catch up with each other.

By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

For being ostensibly about commerce, the Kenai Arts and Crafts Fair, held Black Friday weekend, no less, inspired surprisingly little talk about spending money. Far higher on the list of priorities for vendors and visitors was spending time and attention on loved ones.

“We come shopping here together every year. It’s our tradition,” said Shaya Straw, who was perusing the booths Friday at Kenai Central High School, in the annual fair put on by the Peninsula Arts Guild, with her friend, Mandy Pieh.

“We both work full time, we both have kids and we don’t get much time together, so it’s nice to have time together,” Pieh said. “… Friendship is just something to really be valued.”

For Jessica Russo, craft fair season is reunion season.

“To me, this is holidays. I see people I don’t get to see but once or twice a year. And it’s just wonderful to see everybody and see new stuff. I haven’t really gotten a chance to walk around yet but I know there’s a lot of awesome stuff out there every year. It’s a good way to start the holiday season,” Russo said.

She and her mom run a booth as an extension of their gift shop, The Peddler, in Ninilchik. For Russo, selling is a way of buying time with her family.

“I’m a stay-at-home mom,” she said. “This gives me a great side income to be able to stay at home with my son. And it’s my Mom and I that partner in the business, so family owned and operated and it really feels good to be able to do what I love and be able to make a small living at it.”

The familial focus is familiar for Ashleigh Little, of Kenai Bijoux. She started selling jewelry, wine charms and jewelry board organizers about four years ago.

“My husband told me to get a hobby, so I got a hobby,” she laughed.

These days, she’s a stay-at-home mom to her 1-year-old son, and the business generates at least a little income for her. She’s born and raised in Kenai so loves that she gets to see so many familiar faces at the fairs.

“It is fun. It is a lot of work, though — hauling and organizing. A lot of preparation goes into it,” she said.

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Glacial skate escape — Rare conditions create cool Alaska experience

Photos by Cary Restino, Homer Tribune. Daniel Perry and Sabina Morin play with a chunk of ice while skating on the frozen lake at the toe of Grewingk Glacier across Kachemak Bay from Homer last week.

Photos by Cary Restino, Homer Tribune. Daniel Perry and Sabina Morin play with a chunk of ice while skating on the frozen lake at the toe of Grewingk Glacier across Kachemak Bay from Homer last week.

By Carey Restino, Homer Tribune

Arguably the most notable feature of the view from Homer, after the Homer Spit, is the glacier that looms large in the center of the Kenai Mountains ringing Kachemak Bay. It sparkles blue in the summer sunshine and reveals deep, waving ribbons of dark rocks and debris like a child’s finger-painting. On those rare, brightly moonlight nights, it glows almost as brightly as the moon itself.

But while many have made the trek up to the glacier’s lake in the summer, far fewer, and more adventurous, have experienced the glacier up close. That’s a feat for those who know how to seize the perfect moment to visit.

Anyone who loves skating on the southern Kenai Peninsula knows the drill — catch the first deep freeze of fall, when the smaller lakes of Homer freeze first, before the inevitable slushy snow falls to ruin the ice. If you’re lucky, as many were last week, you catch the larger lakes, like Beluga, frozen solid and smooth for a few precious days. And if you are even luckier, one of your fellow skaters will mention that they are planning a trip across to Grewingk Glacier the very next day, and ask if you would like to come. The only response possible if all those stars align is to let go of whatever you were supposed to do that day and say “yes.”

Crossing Kachemak Bay to the Saddle Trail in Kachemak Bay State Park in the winter is nothing like going across in the summer, especially if it is cold enough to freeze a lake solid. Only a few water taxis operate this time of year, and with good reason. Ice quickly builds up on the windows of Gart Curtis’ boat Blue Too as waves splash across the deck. But inside, passengers are warm and dry. As the boat pulls up to the trailhead, two whales surface nearby. Eagles swoop in air currents and bright-billed seabirds paddle at the water’s edge. Hiking in the off-season is quieter and certainly less buggy, and there is still plenty going on in the park in November.

Skaters get an up-close look at the face of Grewingk Glalier skating on the frozen lake at the toe of the glacier.  The lake surface froze clear and smooth last week.

Skaters get an up-close look at the face of Grewingk Glalier skating on the frozen lake at the toe of the glacier. The lake surface froze clear and smooth last week.

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Drinking on the Last Frontier: Sharing holiday cheers

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter

We’ve survived Thanksgiving, and December is here, so now it’s time to get serious about our Christmas shopping. Once again this year, I’d like to try to help you out with some gift ideas for the craft beer lover on your list. You can always fall back on just giving them beer or brewery apparel, but here are some other ideas to consider.

  • To start with, growler technology continues to improve. I’ve written in the past about stainless, double-walled growlers, but how about a growler that you can pressurize and turn into a minikeg? The DrinkTanks insulated growler with pressurized Keg Cap dispenser gives you the convenience of a party tap for sharing beer with friends without dragging around that full-sized keg. The blow-off valve keeps you safe from over-pressurizing, and the CO2 port protects your precious beer from harmful oxidation. The growler alone will run you about $70, with the Keg Cap dispenser going for another $45, so it’s not a cheap gift, but the beer lover in your life will thank you. You can order it at www.drinktanks.com.
  • If the beer lover you’re shopping for is like me and already hip deep in growlers, how about something in the personal hygiene realm? Beer and hop-infused products are all the rage this year. Beards are omnipresent in the craft beer world, so why not give Lesher’s Beerd Balm? With seven different hop varieties available, a beard can smell like everything from old-school Saaz to new-school Citra (www.beerdedbeard.com). You can find soaps made from beer at Home Brewed Soaps, including Porter, Coffee Stout and IPA scents (www.homebrewedsoaps.com). Another option is a set of hop-infused beard oil and beer soap from the Craftsman Soap Company (www.craftsmansoap.com). Whichever company you choose, beer and/or hop-infused products are a great gift option.
  • I’ve never been a big advocate of gifting glassware. Most beer drinkers are usually very well-stocked in that department. However, there is a very nice, 16-ounce, stainless steel pint available from Hydroflask for $22. It’s stainless on the interior surface and has a powder-coated exterior that’s easy to grip. It’s also double-walled, so the beer stays at the proper temperature and the pint doesn’t sweat on warm days. It feels comfortable in your hand and has something called an Enhanced Lip to better fit your mouth. It’s a great choice for camping or boating, allowing you to pour your beer out of a can into something equally sturdy. You can choose from a variety of colors at www.hydroflask.com.

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Filed under beer, books, Drinking on the Last Frontier

Night Lights: 20 bright lights of night

Graphic courtesy of Andy Veh.

Graphic courtesy of Andy Veh.

By Andy Veh, for the Redoubt Reporter

The winter constellations are rising in the east and gaining altitude throughout the next two months. Orion is easy to spot with its seven bright stars — among them, red Betelgeuse is the 10th-brightest star we see from Earth, and blue Rigel is the seventh-brightest — and its stellar nursery, the Orion Nebula. Also look for Taurus with red Aldebaran (14th-brightest) and its prominent star cluster, the Pleiades; Auriga with yellow Capella (sixth-brightest); and Gemini with the twin stars Castor (23rd-brightest) and Pollux (17th brightest).

The head of Canis Major has the brightest star (aside from the sun) that we can see from Earth — Sirius, as well as Procyon (eighth-brightest). Look for Regulus (21th-brightest) in Leo very late in the evening.

Because this region of the sky hosts seven of the 20 brightest stars (again, not counting our sun) as seen from Earth, and because it contains quite a few easily recognizable constellations, it is my favorite region of the sky.

High in the south is the Great Square of Pegasus in the shape of a diamond. Above it, close to the zenith, is Cassiopeia. Getting close to the western horizon — but never completely setting in Alaska — are the three stars that make up the summer triangle, Deneb (20th-brightest) in Cygnus, Vega (fifth-brightest) in Lyra, and Altair (13th-brightest) in Aquila. Aquila does set, but just barely for a few hours.

In the north are Ursa Major’s Big Dipper and Ursa Minor’s Little Dipper, which is always close to 60 degrees, our latitude on the Kenai.

Keep looking for Neptune and Uranus in the evening. They appear quite low now in the south in Aquarius and Pisces (both are below Pegasus). A good finder chart is needed, though. Try here. The first-quarter moon joins Neptune on Dec. 16, and then Uranus on Dec. 19. That may make it easier to find these planets, but it also makes the sky brighter around them and diminishes the contrast.

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Plugged In: Camera on your gift list? Shop smart for value

By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

Although the Black Friday shopping frenzy has passed, some excellent digital cameras remain available for less than $500.

These are typically older models introduced within the past two years being cleared out to make way for new products in 2016. That shouldn’t deter you. All the cameras discussed this week are capable of professional-quality results and would work well for beginning and intermediate photographers, particularly students.

Cameras and lenses should be purchased as new, in-box items with at least a basic, 18- to 55-mm kit zoom lens. Avoid refurbished cameras and “international version” gray market items without a U.S. warranty.

We’ve used the prices posted at Amazon and BH Photo, ignoring “bargains” dependent on mail-in rebates. Stock goes fast, though, so there’s no guarantee these will remain available for long.

We’ll start with digital SLR cameras using moving mirrors — the larger, more traditional choice. All of these include APS-C sensors, whose size is intermediate between full-frame sensors and smaller, Micro Four-Third sensors. Continue reading

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