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2015 Spring Environmental Educators

We are so excited to have a wonderful crew of environmental educators set for the spring season!

Becca Mathiasbeccamathias

Becca is from New Riegel, Ohio and has a B.S. degree in Marine Biology from Bowling Green State University.  She began her science education journey in North Carolina with a summer marine biology program for middle school students and has since traveled and taught marine biology in Mississippi, was a naturalist in Montana through the Big Sky Watershed Corps, and was a teacher naturalist in Maine with Nature’s Classroom.  She’s taught people of all ages about watersheds, marine debris, water quality, terrestrial ecology, and marine biology.  She enjoys hiking, reading, painting, and sharing the wonders of the natural world with others. 

Bob Grandchamp

bob grandchampBob is from the windy city of Chicago. Bob attended Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin 2008-2012. He pursued a degree in Geography and Earth Sciences, with minor studies in Geology and Environmental Studies. He also participated in a trip to southern Louisiana to help with the cleanup efforts of the BP Oil Spill. Bob found an environmental education position at Galena Creek Park in the Reno/ Lake Tahoe area. He instantly fell in love with the idea of education in an outdoor setting. He believes people of all ages can find out about life's greatest wonders with just a short adventure in the woods.  He has worked for Americorps in Idaho managing stream and creek restoration projects, in Gig Harbor, Washington as a naturalist educator at YMCA Camp Seymore, and as an assistant camp director in Steamboat Springs Colorado.  Bob hopes to make a career out of Outdoor Education either in a summer camp or even in a residential camp.  Shooting photographs, camping, skiing, and fly fishing are all things Bob enjoys. He knows this spring in Alaska will be full of great connections, inspiring children about the outdoors, and having a whole lot of fun!

katieKatie Gavenus

Katie is from Homer, Alaska and is a graduate of Bowdoin College. Her infatuations with coastal ecology began with a fourth grade field trip to China Poot Bay.  After high school she worked as an intern at the Field Station and was immediately drawn in by the magic of the place.  Although she has dabbled as a deckhand on a salmon tender boat and a wilderness trip leader, environmental education is her true passion.  During seasons away from the Field Station, she has worked at an outdoor school in California and ecology school in Maine and created the Children of the Spills project to collect oral histories from children affected by oil spills and lead oil pollution prevention & preparedness education programs.  When she isn't chasing marine worms through the intertidal zone, she loves berry picking, fishing, and hiking.

Kim McNett

kim mcnettKim is a life­long naturalist, artist and adventurer residing in Homer. She received a bachelor of science from The Evergreen State College. As an environmental educator, she leads Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies school groups during the spring, and spends summers guiding with St. Augustine’s Kayak and Tours, always with an eye towards the bizarre and fascinating wonders of nature. With her partner Bjorn Olson, she has traversed thousands of miles of Alaskan wilderness, including kayak touring the Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords, rafting the Kuskokwim River, and biking the snowy Iditarod Trail to the Arctic Circle. Nature journaling, relief printmaking and writing are her preferred methods for artistically interpreting and sharing her experiences. Kim also volunteers with the non­profit organizations Ground Truth Trekking and the Homer Cycling Club.

Leah Thon leah thon

Leah is originally from near Syracuse, NY and got her degree in Conservation Biology from SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry. She is currently doing AmeriCorps with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies focusing on STEM education and outreach. She is doing a lot of work this winter and spring with ROVs (remote operated vehicles) and is using them to monitor invasive species in the Homer Harbor.  She loves to hike, read, crochet, and explore new places. She is loving Alaska and all the adventures it has to offer!

Leanna Spjut Ballard

leanna spjut ballardLeanna has 25 years of experience working as a botanist, ecologist and environmental educator in the western U.S. Her botanical expertise has taken her all over the country.  In fact she came to Homer in 2001 to map the plants at CACS’s Wynn Nature Center!   She set up transects that help CACS and school groups monitor the forest succession as spruce trees killed by the spruce bark beetle created openings in the forest floor that other plants could move into.  With lots of environmental education experience, she especially enjoyed teaching at the Expanding your Horizons network for girls 12-18 years of age with hands-on activities in math, science and engineering (STEM), as well as developing and directing the Outdoor Adventures in Discovering Nature Program for two school districts in Cache Valley, Utah.  Leanna will be putting her botanical knowledge to use at CACS, leading ACE programs as well as updating our botanical curriculum and re-surveying the plants of Wynn. She is excited to return to the CACS and see which early successional plant species have moved into the forest openings and teach intertidal coastal ecology to Alaska school groups at Peterson Bay Field Station.

Rebecca Siegel rebecca siegel

Rebecca hails from Massachusetts.  She began working for CACS during the 2013 school season and immediately discovered her love for convincing 5th graders to sniff the armpits of leather stars.  Her favorite intertidal animal is the clam worm.  She loves gardening and her favorite vegetable is currently chard.  She studied geology in college and loves smashing open rocks and teaching people about them.  She is excited to come back for another spring in Kachemak Bay!

Seth Spencer

seth spencerSeth is from Duluth, Minnesota. Since graduating college in central Minnesota, he has served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine, interned for the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland and worked for the National Park Service across the country. He has a Masters of Education, and his background is connecting youth with the natural world around them. He is an avid birder, and loves poking around tide pools seeing what he can find! He can’t wait to help you see the wonders of the natural world in and around Kachemak Bay.

Visiting the Stars

Last week, I was lucky enough to head over to the Peterson Bay Field Station with Americorp coastal ecology educator Leah Thon for a mid-winter overnight trip.  Our primary purpose was to check out the much-beloved sea stars that inhabit the rocky intertidal at Otter Rock, China Poot Bay, and even the tidal lagoon right in front of the Field Station.

Two summers ago, a phenomenon caan example of a true star showing wasting symptomslled Sea Star Wasting Syndrome (or Disease) emerged on the west coast.  Similar unusual mortality events among sea stars had happened before, but this one is bigger and more widespread.  Alarmed by the severity of the outbreak in the Pacific Northwest, accounts of some suspicious lesions on sea stars at the Anchorage Museum, and a few distressed sea stars observed by naturalists on the Kachemak Bay beaches earlier in the summer, the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies contacted the MARINe program (Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network) through the University of California, Santa Cruz to learn more about their sea star monitoring efforts.  Working closely with them, we determined that the threat of sea star wasting syndrome could exist in Kachemak Bay and that it would be valuable to establish a set of permanent plots for monitoring, and did so in the summer of 2014.

Unfortunately, we saw some symptoms of sea star wasting syndrome in these populations during our monitoring in the summer and fall.  It seemed to be at a low level, but we became increasingly concerned about the fate of Kachemak Bay sea stars after hearing that true star (Evasterias troschelii) and sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) populations around Sitka, Alaska had plummeted in November and December after sustaining low levels of sea star wasting through the summer and early fall. At this point, researchers have identified a densovirus that may be linked to sea star wasting, but no one is sure yet if that is the cause or whether there are additional agents or environmental factors at play.  And more frustrating, there seems to be no way to stem the spread of the disease, aside from vigilance to not carry it from location to location on our boots, hands, or equipment.  We are just waiting and watching to see what happens here in Kachemak Bay.  So as we hopped off the water taxi, last week, nightmarish images of Sitka's disintegrating sea stars flitted in the back of my brain.  The tide was high, though, and I would have to wait until after dark to see what was actually going on with the stars.

We conducted all of our surveys by headlamp as the low tides took place in the late evening and early morning,Leah surveying sea stars by headlamp devoid of any winter daylight.  We found lots of apparently healthy true stars, sunflower stars, and leather stars (Dermasterias imbricata) at both China Poot and Otter Rock with just a few individuals showing symptoms of wasting. This is similar to what we found during July and October surveys. We also spotted a number of juveniles, something that has been observed in other areas hit harder by sea star wasting and suggests a mechanism for the recovery of sea star populations.  And we saw a few less common species, all healthy, including a sun star (Solaster stimpsoni) and blood star (Henricia spp). The ghastly images vanished, at least for the time being, as we delighted in these stars and other tidpool finds, including Leah's first octopus!

At our third plot, on the beach between the PBFS stairs and dock location, we only found one juvenile true star and a little 6-rayed star (Leptasterias spp), both under a rock.  I’m not sure if this low density is due to sea star wasting, or – I think more likely – some sort of seasonal or weather-related shift in sea star distribution.  We’ll survey again this spring, paying special attention to whether or not we see a return of sea stars to the PBFS plot.  And we'll keep sanitizing our boots and marveling in the amazing diversity and tenacity of Kachemak Bay's intertidal invertebrates!  We hope to see you out in the tidepools sometime soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The products of Spring at the Wynn

It has certainly felt like summer lately, but at the Wynn we are still seeing the products of spring emerge and grow. What products, you may ask? Babies! The baby moose are on the move, seen here at the Wynn in the past few days by some of our guests. Stretching their gangly legs, navigating over roots, they follow their mother through the forests and meadows free and easy. Only rarely do they truly need to test the developing muscles in those long legs. Two weeks ago, we had the privilege to witness two calves and their mother chased across our wildflower field by a black bear – quite the exhilarating moment, and a resolute reminder that survival in Alaska’s wilderness is no easy task for any animal.

Another baby that’s out and about at the Wynn is the baby porcupine, also called the porcupette. Porcupines usually give birth to only one offspring per year, so seeing a dark-colored, short-quilled porcupette is a real honor. Earlier this week, one was spotted behind the Wynn cabin. Absorbed by the fresh fireweed it was munching, the seemingly soft ball of fast-hardening quills didn’t pay us much mind. When we got closer, however, it started to lumber off, doing its best to clear the way and part the tall grasses before it with endearing adolescent limbs.

Mammals aren’t the only ones to bring new generations into the wooded world. On a tour last week, a Townsend’s Warbler fledgling, testing its wings, awkwardly flew right across the trail to land on a branch three feet away. As it looked at the world from this new point of view, twitching its fuzzy, chubby head back and forth, up and down, we watched in awe. One of the parents soon flew up to it with some grub and shoved the food down the thin tilted throat, as birds are so efficient at doing. Refueled, the youngster took off again to revel in the feeling of the wind beneath its wings.

If you’re a lover of wildlife interactions, with creatures both big and small, the Wynn Nature Center is the place to visit. The forest is full of new life and quiet occurrences this summer. Come and see for yourself!

Spirit of Alaska Women at Fantastic Friday

Alaskan women have a lot of amazing stories to share.  As a descendant of Alaskan homesteaders myself, I can really appreciate the unique conditions and experiences that can be told by women who have spent a good amount of time in this great state, some even before it was a state.  A book about their stories became the topic of a recent Fantastic Friday event at the Wynn Nature Center on Skyline Dr.  Ladies from the Homer chapter of the Association for Family and Community Education, a former Cooperative Extension program, brought their new book filled with Alaskan tales to share with the public at this free event.  The storytelling women arrived in Alaska at various times between the 1950's and the 1970's and many had spent time living in the bush.  They told their own histories as well as read excerpts from the book on topics ranging from preparing salmon to the 1964 earthquake.  The stories were lively and well-told and through them the women exhibited why their newly published book was titled "Spirit of Alaska Women."  A special appearance was also made by long-time local, and namesake of the cabin at the Wynn Nauture Center, Daisy Lee Bitter.

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30th Anniversary Block Party!

The Wynn Nature Center staff spent a lot of time kidding around at the 30th Anniversary Block Party last Saturday.  Naturalists Adriana, Ali, and Lindsey brought kid's activities to the shin-dig to celebrate thirty successful years of Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies outdoor education efforts.  Despite a very cool July temperature, blustery wind, and even some sprinkling rain we had a great time providing activities for kids and adults alike.  The party also included wine from Bear Creek Winery (with a  special Alaskan Coastal Studies label), delicious food from Two Sisters Bakery (and from party-goers), a judged pie contest, and some hoppin' music from Burnt Down House.  But, as one of the Naturalists running the kid's activity booth, I wager that the most creative fun was being had at the face-painting table!  Check out these pictures for proof!

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Kickoff to CoastWalk Success!

A beautiful, heart-shaped bivalve we spotted on the beach! Seeing evidence of marine life reminds us of why we work so hard to keep the beaches clean.

As the days have grown shorter, and the mornings crispy, the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies has set out to tackle the trash of the beach.   The month of September kicked off our 30th annual CoastWalk beach clean-up season around Kachemak Bay. Every September and October the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies gather volunteers, teachers, students, organizations, and businesses to clean Kachemak Bay beaches.  For the past 29 years these dedicated volunteers have picked up everything off the beach from a discarded toothbrush to half a fiberglass kayak.  Over the past 29 years, volunteers have collected thousands of pieces of debris, and in the process saved many of our seabirds, marine mammals, and fish from the devastating effects of marine debris.  

The importance of marine debris clean-up has been advocated in recent years by environmental activism, many educational groups, and non-profit organizations. When non-biodegradable items such as plastic, foam, metal and glass fall into the ocean environment, the habitats and food sources of marine organisms are disrupted. Animals can be entangled and/or injured by larger debris items, while many animals mistake smaller debris items for food. Microscopic pieces of debris are filling up the ocean, outnumbering plankton and affecting normal photosynthetic activity. By cleaning up the bay and promoting a widespread attitude of conservation and sustainability among the community, we can work together to protect our marine neighbors and allow the oceans to flourish.  

On Saturday, September 6th, a group of energetic volunteers joined us with Bay Excursions Water Taxi to clean up McDonald's spit. The blue waters and beautiful skies, welcomed us to the beach.   After talking to a few spit residents, we learned that some of them regularly pick up trash along the shore.  We were able to concentrate on picking up the small polyurethane foam pieces, micro plastic pieces, and bits of rope.  These smaller pieces of debris are particularly important to clean up because they resemble fish eggs, and are small enough for most seabirds, marine mammals, and fish to ingest.  We collected roughly fifty pounds of debris from the sandy shoreline, with the help of a friendly local dog who followed and entertained us around throughout the day. We are happy to say this beach is clean, thanks to our great volunteers!

After three weeks of rain and small craft advisories, the morning of September 13th dawned sunny with the promise of clear skies throughout the day.   Red Mountain Marine Water Taxi donated a ride for us to conduct a cleanup around Aurora Lagoon.   Our group of volunteers and staff were able to fill the boat will large polyurethane blocks and bags of miscellaneous debris including clay pigeons.    Small pieces of polyurethane foam were the most common trash item found. We have noticed a trend of pieces like this being the most common item on most beach walks.  Volunteers were rewarded with a visit from a harbor seal, a sea otter, and a flock of migrating seabirds.  

We want to give a special thanks to all of the amazing volunteers that have participated thus far in the CoastWalk beach clean-ups. We could not do it without you! If you would like to schedule a cleanup for your group of business, would like to adopt your own beach zone, or are interested in other volunteer cleanup dates please stop by the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies headquarters at 708 Smokey Way Bay. You may also contact Loretta Brown at 235-6741 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Summer WILL Come!

Summer will come
Summer will come

On a magnificent sweep of oceanfront land and maritime forest, Homer is a place filled with natural wonders. The unique and picturesque surroundings provide a spectacular setting for a rewarding experience you won't soon forget.

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Fantastic Friday with Alpenglow

Susan Houlihan, owner of Alpenglow, came up to the Wynn Nature Center to demonstrate how to make her signature Cottonwood Balm for a recent Fantastic Friday event.  Her business started as a personal project to develop natural skin care products she could feel good about using.  She made some of her creations into gifts for friends who immediately requested more.  Word spread and she was soon perfecting her formulas of natural botanicals and creating a line of products she could market.  Former Park Rangers, Susan and her husband moved to Homer, Alaska, and are now raising a family and running the Alpenglow business.  The kids even help in the harvesting of local wild plants to be used in Alpenglow products.

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Wynn Nature Center Programs

This is Lindsey Shelley, Naturalist Intern, reporting from the Wynn Nature Center!

Our summer programs for kids and families are fully up and running at the Wynn and we have already seen a bunch of great people up here!  This year we have several terrific Naturalist Educators leading a variety of weekly activities, rain or shine!  Check out the website for a complete listing of these programs, or come on up to the Wynn at mile 1.5 East Skyline Drive to find out first hand.  Activities range from kids outdoor education and wilderness survival to local plant identification and local edible potlucks!  Check out our website under Youth Programs and the Events Calendar for more information.  You can also friend us on Facebook to keep up with everything going on with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies throughout Homer.

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Fungi Emerge at the Wynn

Chicken-of-the-woods/sulfur shelf fungus: an orange beacon concealed in the woods, an edible mushroom once thoroughly cooked

During the summer months there are always stunning wildflowers at the Wynn – lupine and chocolate lilies, yarrow and star gentians, pyrola and goldenrod, Indian paintbrush and fireweed, and many more that progress through their flowering cycles at different times as the summer continues. Flowers, of course, are the reproductive organs of a plant that will eventually produce seeds for dispersal. Amongst the wildflowers, all in their different summer stages, we’ve also started to notice an abundance of something relatively new to the forest: the reproductive organs of another type of organism. With all the recent rain, the fruiting bodies of fungi have emerged, aka mushrooms! The forest is full of their great variety of forms and colors, and as the summer moves into autumn, more and more will surface. Come out to the Wynn to see our great diversity of fungus: the puffball (lycoperdon), red-capped russula, deadly amanita, latex secreting lactarius, and endless shelf fungi, like our beautiful chicken-of-the-woods.

 

SulfurShelf

Spirit of Alaska Women at Fantastic Friday

Alaskan women have a lot of amazing stories to share.  As a descendant of Alaskan homesteaders myself, I can really appreciate the unique conditions and experiences that can be told by women who have spent a good amount of time in this great state, some even before it was a state.  A book about their stories became the topic of a recent Fantastic Friday event at the Wynn Nature Center on Skyline Dr.  Ladies from the Homer chapter of Alaska Community and Adult Education, a former Cooperative Extension program, brought their new book filled with Alaskan tales to share with the public at this free event.  The storytelling women arrived in Alaska at various times between the 1950's and the 1970's and many had spent time living in the bush.  They told their own histories as well as read excerpts from the book on topics ranging from preparing salmon to the 1964 earthquake.  The stories were lively and well-told and through them the women exhibited why their newly published book was titled "Spirit of Alaska Women."  A special appearance was also made by long-time local, and namesake of the cabin at the Wynn Nauture Center, Daisy Lee Bitter.

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At the Saturday Market

This is Lindsey Shelley from the Wynn Nature Center.  A couple weeks ago I got the chance to take some program materials to the Children's Garden at the Saturday Farmer's Market.  I had a great time making leaf necklaces with kids, sharing my enthusiasm for observing nature, and challenging visitors to reach inside my "Touch n Feel" boxes and guess what was inside.  I had some very observant kids who really knew how to use their senses to figure out the mystery objects.  Thank you to all those who came by to visit on that rainy day and participate in the activities!  Below are a few photos from my station.

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Wildflowers at the Wynn

The flowers are finally in bloom up on the hill above Homer.  The Wynn Nature Center abounds with a variety of habitats for wildflower viewing.  If you're looking to discover tiny woodland blossoms like Pink Pyrola or our unique Heartleafed Twayblade Orchid, now's the time!  You can also venture up to the Wynn to see the showy Nootka Lupine, Chocolate Lily, or Wild Geranium that are just entering their prime blooming period.  Cooler weather at our higher elevation means that plants are a bit slower to mature and so you can extend your flower viewing season by visiting the Wynn.

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