Yakutat Tern Festival
Speakers, Presenters, and Support
General Information and 2023 Speakers and Presenters
The Yakutat Tern Festival has historically included speakers and presenters for educational entertainment for all ages. Presentations have been composed of author readings, book signings, writing and photography workshops, interactive bird banding events, and more!
We are still finalizing the 2023 schedule of presenters. In the meantime, check out the bios of previous presenters to get an idea of what to expect this coming year!
2023 Yakutat Tern Festival Presenters
Don began pursuing photography at the age of 14, when he was introduced to film photography and dark room development in a school course. He ended up working with the yearbook club as a photographer in high school. Later, in the early 2000’s, he began to seriously pursue his passion for landscape, wildlife and aviation photography and created a photography business “Sitka Scenes Photography” to share the images of the wilderness that he loves. The images he choose to capture are inspired by his family and influential life experiences.
His mother’s grandfather came to Sitka, Alaska as a wooden fishing boat builder in the early 1900’s and their family has resided in Sitka ever since. Don loves to capture the drama and beauty in the work of the fishing boats that work in this area. He grew up boating, hiking and exploring this damp, rugged and scenic country and is passionate about sharing the beauty of our landscapes and wildlife with others.
As director/captain of Sitka Mountain Rescue for over two decades, Don developed a deep respect for the men and women from USCG Air Station Sitka, who provided our primary air resource over the years. He strives to show his respect and admiration for their work through his photographs of their training exercises and rescues.
Don’s son, Logan, aspires to one day become a commercial pilot, and has caused him to appreciate the beauty of the different aircraft approaching our landing strip stretched across open water. Don purchased Logan his first camera when he turned 8 years old, and their “father and son” outings frequently involve taking the boat out for a good vantage of the many aircraft landings.
Lastly, Don has included travel photography and bird photography through the influence of his lovely bride, Denise, as he has joined her in her travels and work as a bird biologist over the years.
Don retired from the City of Sitka in 2021, after managing the convention/visitor center for 29 years. Don and Denise are currently pursuing their love of wilderness alpine ridge and beach hikes, travel, birding, photography and guiding. He is grateful for the beauty of the wilderness and individuals in his life who inspire him on a daily basis, and hopes that his photos are able to bring a portion of that beauty and appreciation into others’ lives.
Don will be leading a Photography Workshop on Saturday, June 3rd from 3:30 - 5PM. Visit our Workshops page to learn more.
Kristie moved to Alaska in 2015 and currently resides in Anchorage. She is a self-taught artist working in acrylics, watercolor, clay, and woodburning. Her art is inspired by the wildlife and the wild places she has lived and visited. She particularly loves turning beach trash into beach treasures by creating with items found on Alaska’s coastlines, such as fishing buoys and wood pallets. Her original art, prints, and stickers can be found online at her website www.artbykmt.com.
Kristie will be leading a Buoy Painting Workshop on Thursday, June 1st from 2:30PM - 4PM. Visit our Workshops page to learn more.
Martin Perrow is currently an Honorary Professor at University College London following a 30-year career heading one of the UK’s foremost ecological consultancies. Martin has produced a number of
seminal books including the two-volume Handbook of Ecological Restoration, the four-volumeWildlife and Wind Farms: Conflicts and Solutions and most recently Seabirds: the new identification guide. This is amongst more than 130 scientific papers, articles, book chapters and published reports.An avid birder with an innate love of water, Martin has a particular passion for terns and is currently gathering information for another book that aims to promote their conservation.
Friday June 2nd Presentation: The Adventures of Tern Boy: Insights into the foraging ecology of the UK Camp; Ireland’s 5 breeding terns. 630 PM at ANB Hall.
A personal journey recounting research experiences with Little, Sandwich, Arctic, Roseate and Common Terns, driven by the needs of conservation and the potential interactions of some species with offshore wind farms. Key aspects covered include foraging ecology around breeding colonies, how different terns forage, what adults consume at sea versus chick provisions and how information from breeding movements can be used to derive protected areas.
Kristina Tirman works as the Alaska Marine Debris Manager for Ocean Conservancy. In this role, she gets to support individuals, communities, organizations, and Tribes across the state in their marine debris efforts. Prior to this, she spent 7 years working as the Education and Marine Debris Coordinator at the Sitka Sound Science Center where she planned and led marine debris removal projects and education programs in Sitka. Kristina is passionate about reusing marine debris and has a small business making and selling jewelry made from ocean plastic and uses this as a platform to raise awareness of the issue.
National Park Service
Carrie Wittmer is the Public Affairs Officer and Team Lead for Interpretation and Education at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Her career spans 20 years of dedication to the fields of interpretation and education, working both within and alongside National Park Service units across the country such as Crater Lake National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park. She holds a BS in Biology and an MS in Environmental Education.
Prior to taking a permanent NPS job in 2017, she worked in academia, teaching Interpretation, Environmental Education, Environmental Science, and Sustainability to undergraduate and graduate students. At Wrangell-St. Elias, she leads a team of interpreters and educators focused on engaging local and visiting audiences in shared park stewardship.
Bird Banders and Field Trip Leaders
Denise grew up in rural areas in the western states and always had a great interest in wildlife and nature. She went to school at Brigham Young University and obtained a BS degree in Zoology in 1994. Denise became especially interested in birds when she met her first mother in law who was an avid birder and introduced her to the pastime. She spent the next 16 years raising and homeschooling her two daughters in rural Alaska 6 months of the year and traveling for the remaining 6 months of each year. Seven of those winters were aboard their personal sailboat exploring the Bahamas and Central America. Throughout that time she "birded" for her personal pleasure and loved getting to see new species from new locations, but also grew very fond of the species she found every summer in Alaska.
In 2010 Denise began volunteering for Fish and Game and Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) near the Canadian border doing Rusty Blackbird, Waterfowl and Passerine Surveys. She was trained to mist net birds by Hank Timm and Bud Johnson who had been running the Tetlin NWR banding station for about 20 years (the second longest running mist netting station in Alaska). This was the year she began memorizing bird calls so that she'd be able to perform point counts in addition to other surveys.
Denise spent the next five summers working for Tetlin NWR as a biotech doing bird surveys (waterfowl, passerine and peregrine falcon) and eventually becoming a lead bander at the banding station. During the winters, she continued to travel, but also looked for bird work/volunteer opportunities during that time. She was fortunate enough to mist net birds on Maui and Kuaui and perform mammal surveys in Mojave National Preserve during some of this time.
In late 2014 Denise moved to Sitka so that she could be near her youngest daughter who wanted to attend Mt. Edgecumbe High School (boarding school). Since she has moved to Sitka, she still travels to Tetlin NWR for a few weeks every summer to conduct bird surveys and occasionally does contract biology work when it is available.
Denise travels at every opportunity, and has branched out to expand her skills to include emergency medicine, working as a naturalist and "guide" in various capacities, and volunteering with the Sitka Fire Department Dive Team. She recently married and has been having a wonderful time exploring the wild areas around Sitka with her husband Don Kluting.
Bird Treatment and Learning Center (TLC)
Marissa moved to Alaska in the fall of 2022 after graduating from Northern Michigan University in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where she studied black-capped chickadee foraging ecology and conducted avian conservation fieldwork. Marissa now serves as the Education Assistant at Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage where she develops conservation curriculum, provides care and training for Bird TLC's education ambassador birds, and educates the community on the importance of avian conservation. In her free time, Marissa enjoys birding, gardening, hiking, and camping.
U.S. Forest Service Support
Sam Lobdell grew up in Northern Michigan where her love of the outdoors began. She obtained a bachelor's degree in Biology and Outdoor Recreation from Central Michigan University. To finish her degree, Sam found herself in Yakutat, AK for an Student Conservation Association internship with the US Forest Service in 2019. After falling in love with the forest and community, she returned for several seasons to work for the Forest Service as a Recreation Technician.
In the winter of 2021 she ventured down to Sitka to complete a Resource Assistantship with the Special Uses Permitting Program on the Tongass National Forest and returned to Yakutat to accept a permanent position as the Yakutat Ranger District permit administrator. Sam enjoys learning more about birds in Southeast Alaska and helping provide fun, engaging opportunities to the community through the Tern Festival.
U.S. Forest Service Support
Brady Skidmore is from western Washington, where from a young age he was introduced to hiking and spending time in nature. Initially he earned a BS in Network and Communications Management, followed by working in the IT field for 10 years. His passion for the outdoors however drew him back to school, where he obtained an AAS in Forestry.
This will be the seventh summer Brady has spent in Yakutat, serving as the River Ranger for the U.S. Forest Service. He hopes to continue learning about this unique area and it's wildlife along with passing that information and message of conservation along to visitors.
Past Tern Festival Presenters
Bird Treatment and Learning Center (TLC)
John retired to Alaska from upstate NY State where he had been an educator for 34 years. Schooled in Wildlife ecology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, John ended up teaching high school science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Earth Science and Environmental Science) and Wildlife Ecology and Wildlife Management at Southern Vermont College.
John has been actively involved with Bird Treatment and Learning Center for the last six years. He volunteers Thursdays at the clinic doing rehabilitation on sick, injured and orphaned birds. In the Tern Fest, John presents two of our education birds, Hoot, a Great-horned owl, and Flame, a Short-eared owl. He is also the caretaker of Flame at his home.
John is a member of the Education Committee seeking new ways to implement the part of Bird TLC's mission to impart the importance of birds in our lives to public audiences. He also serves on the board of FAR - Friends of Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, an organization that helps protect the refuge on Anchorage's doorstep from being misused by recreationists and developers.
John is an avid fisherman, hiker and wildlife photographer. In 2016, he enjoyed a three week trip to southern Africa, mostly comprised of safaris in pursuit of viewing Africa's unique wildlife. In 2017 he visited Southeast Alaska for two weeks primarily to study the native cultures of the region.
Flame, the owl, was a seriously injured juvenile found on the side of a road in Valdez in 2006, likely the victim of a strike by an automobile. She was immediately sent to Bird TLC for treatment. X-rays revealed fractures of her upper wing and lower right wing. Bird TLC veterinarians pinned the humerus, positioned the wrist and stabilized the wing. After a period of healing, the fractures mended, but she was dragging her wing. A decision was made that she was not going to be releasable and that she would become part of Bird TLC's fleet of education birds. She is named Flame after the specific part of her scientific name, Asio flammeus. She has been entertaining Bird TLC audiences of all ages for nearly 11 years throughout Alaska.
Mary Bethe Wright
Although not an Alaskan by birth (I arrived in Alaska in 1970 from Seattle), I consider this state my first love. After teaching in Fairbanks and the bush village of St. Mary's, marrying my bush pilot husband and raising two boys here, I can't imagine living anywhere else.
I've been a volunteer with Bird TLC for 25 years. During most of those years I have worked with non-releasable education birds of several species doing presentations, have spent 12 years on a clinic crew and served several years on the education committee and the board of directors. Being a teacher by profession, my main emphasis is to bring the natural history and conservation of wild birds to classrooms of students and busloads of tourists. The best way to do that is with a wild bird on the fist to capture people's full attention.
Denali and I have traveled all over the state in the seventeen years that I have been his caretaker and sole presenter and I consider it a privilege to share him with so many people.
Alaska Sealife Center
Laura grew up in Conway, Arkansas with her outdoorsy family. After earning a Bachelor's degree from Hendrix College in Environmental Studies, she moved around the country working at eight different locations in five states in less than ten years. She fell in love with birding while working for an Audubon Center in Billings, Montana. She's excited to be back in Alaska and ready for spring bird migration!
Amy Beich is an aviculturist at the Alaska SeaLife Center where she works with puffins, eiders and other seabirds. Before coming to Alaska, she spent summers monitoring tern colonies in the Gulf of Maine, banding song birds in Oregon, and surveying Piping Plovers in North Dakota. She loves seabirds of all sorts and is excited to share her knowledge and experience with others.
Juneau Audubon Society
Based in Juneau, Gwen Baluss has been bird-watching for work and fun in Southeast Alaska since 1998. Before that she worked throughout the Western United states and Hawaii focusing on bird work ranging from forest habitat studies, to wildlife rehabilitation and endangered species recovery. She is most interested in songbirds, especially those that migrate south, and likes to travel where when she can observe them on their winter range. She is a certified bird bander and enjoys recruiting new birders by showing the public birds up close.