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Yakutat to celebrate return of the terns

An Aleutian tern nests near a Yakutat beach. Image from www.yakutatternfestival.org.

An Aleutian tern nests near a Yakutat beach. Image from www.yakutatternfestival.org.

Yakutat is gearing up for an influx of birders.

They’re coming to the northern Southeast Alaska community to celebrate the return of the Aleutian tern, a somewhat rare seabird.

There’s a lot yet to learn about its migration patterns. But what Yakutat residents do know is that the seabirds return every spring.

“We have one of the southernmost known and one of the largest known breeding colonies of Aleutian tern,” says Susan Oehlers, a Forest Service biologist and one of the Yakutat Tern Festival’s organizers.

“So we decided we wanted to have a birding festival highlighting the Aleutian terns as well as the other natural and cultural resources here in Yakutat,” she says.

The tern festival began in 2011. This year’s event runs May 30th to June 2nd.

It attracts bird-watchers from around the state and the Lower 48.

But Oehlers says it’s not all about birds.

“It’s a very family-friendly festival. It’s for birders and non birders. So we have field trips looking at birds, but also all the great scenery we have here like the Hubbard Glacier and Russell Fjord and getting out into the bay,” she says.

Bird-banding and calling sessions are among events planned for kids.

The festival has a focus on Alaska Native culture and will include performances by Yakutat’s Mount Saint Elias Dancers.

Tlingit carver Doug Chilton is the festival’s featured artist. Authors and language experts Richard and Nora Marks Dauenhauer are the keynote speakers.

Festival field trips will take birders to the Aleutian tern’s breeding grounds. But they won’t get too close.

“They are sensitive to disturbance. So we keep a distance from where they’re nesting. But you can still get a pretty close-up view of them and possibly even see one on a nest,” she says.

The Aleutian tern lives in Alaska and eastern Siberia. Researchers are studying Yakutat’s colony to learn more population trends, nesting and migration patterns.

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