Saturday, March 28, 2015

Birds in Alaska: A Birdwatcher's Paradise

Hello there, birdwatcher! 

Does the thought of flying aloft on high currents strike your romantic side? Does a quick call and flutter of wings have you looking for the culprit? Do you maintain a bird bath or bird feeder? 

Welcome to the ranks of over 60 million 'birders' who actively watch birds, and the millions more who enjoy seeing them from day-to-day who never think of themselves as avid “birdwatchers”!

Birds delight through their beautiful plumage, amusing songs, and their ability to fly. It’s no wonder humans have such an interest! It may be that birding is the least expensive hobby a person can get into. Aside from your eyes and ears, all that you need to bird watch is paper and pencil to track your finds. From there, like many other hobbies and sports, it depends on what you want to make of it. Binoculars and field guides are the next logical step to help you see and identify bird species better. Some go as far as high-powered scopes and sound amplification devises to make sure they can catch sight of the birds they seek. Whether you are an active birdwatcher for sport, or simply love the sight and sounds of birds going about their daily routine, member inns of the AABBA invite you to enjoy a bird watching vacation with us.

In Alaska,  wide-open spaces and expansive natural habitat provide the perfect setting for bird watching. And when you choose a bed and breakfast lodging option, the setting is even more perfect, as most are set away from the more populated areas. Really, are you more likely to spot birds in downtown areas where the hotels are, or the outlying communities that are home to our bed and breakfasts, where the lakes and nature are only a short walk away? Do hotels provide porches and gardens from which to actively watch area birds? Isn’t the ability to step outside your cozy inn, straight into the natural surroundings more supportive of birding than stepping outside a hotel into the urban bustle? Try Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary, on the south side of Anchorage en route to the Kenai for a viewing adventure!

Imagine waking to a delicious breakfast at your chosen bed and breakfast, stepping outside to observe the bird activities of the morning, attending the local birding festival, and then returning to your chosen inn to walk the grounds or the area to find even more species that are native to Alaska. No matter what time of day or year, a B & B lodging option is the perfect place from which to enjoy your bird-watching activities.

Alaska is also home to some great Bird Festivals for all bird-watching interests. Whether you enjoy the sport in general, or have interest in a single species, we have a gathering for you. Each festival is located close to some of our member inns. Whether you come for the festival only, or extend your Alaskan vacation to view birds native to the area, a bed and breakfast is the ideal lodging option to support your bird watching fun!

We offer the following list of birding events to help you coordinate your Alaskan birding vacation. We invite you to select your lodging from the Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association's inspected and approved inns.

April, 2015 (all month):  Alaska Hummingbird Festival -Ketchikan, AK

April heralds the return of Hummingbirds to Alaska. This celebration at the Southeast Alaska Discover Center includes kid’s activities, hikes, art, and more.

April 30 - May 3, 2015:  Stikine River Birding Festival -Wrangell, AK
Celebrating the birds (including bald eagles) that come to the River each year to feed on the ‘hooligan’. Take part in seminars and activities for the whole family.

May, 2015 (TBA):  Upper Tanana Migratory Bird Festival - Tok, AK
A single day of celebration at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge including activities, art competition, live bird presentation, and a morning bird tour.

May 7-10, 2015:  Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival - Cordova, AK
A week-long celebration during the migratory birds' stopover in Cordova.  Enjoy seeing the birds, hiking, talks, and more.

May, 2015 (TBA):  Spring Migration Celebration - Fairbanks, AK (Call 907-459-7301)
Another celebration of the spring migration at the Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge.  A free event with games, crafts, birding, and more for the whole family, sponsored by five Alaskan and US birding and wildlife organizations.

May 7-10, 2015:  
Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival -Homer, AK

Celebrating of the avian stopover to Kachemak Bay. See a wide variety of bird species including puffins, terns, curlew, stint, and more. Activities for the whole family will be available.

May 14-17, 2015:  Kenai Birding Festival - Kenai, AK
A family-friendly event to celebrate the migration. Kids’ activities, guided tours, and more.

May 28- 31, 2015:  Yakutat Tern Festival - Yakutat, AK
See one of the most populous Aleutian Tern breeding colonies in the US and enjoy guided tours, cultural events, art, talks, and kids’ activities.

August 28-30, 2015:  Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane Festival - Fairbanks, AK
Celebrating the fall migration of the Sandhill Crane. A family-friendly event featuring seminars, nature walks, photography workshops, banding demonstration, and more.

November 9-15, 2015:  Alaska Bald Eagle Festival - Haines, AK near Glacier Bay
This time of year sees thousands of Bald Eagles feeding on late-running salmon at the Alaska Bald Eagle Preserve.  Activities include photography workshops, cultural tours, demonstrations, speakers, entertainment, banquets, and more!

Reposted and edited courtesy of the statewide Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association. Events updated for 2015
On behalf of the Innkeepers o  Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association

Monday, July 14, 2014

Seasons of Change

We are in a changing world and we have to reinvest ourselves to succeed in a world of change.  The Swiss Efficiency and other members of the AABBA  offer accommodations that range from classic Bed & Breakfast to modern...the signs of change!  With the growing demand of the traveling public, we like to grow and accommodate the guests needs.  As one of the world's great philosophers of change once said:  Survival belongs not to the strongest, or to the smartest, but to the most adaptable.

In today's world, it is important to do research about the reputation of the place you will stay.  Are they licensed? Do they participate in a peer inspection and review program? Are they solid, intending to stay in business? Is the place known to the local community (and in a positive light?)

Having organizational membership such as in the AABBA is important to our B&Bs. It indicates that we uphold a code of ethics, maintain hygienic, safe standards for guests, and we accept inspections both scheduled and impromptu. We meet with other B&B owners to share new strategies for improving our hospitality. We are accountable to one another....not just to the office of business licensing!

Why ask? Because you want to know the B&B will be in business when you arrive, and that it will be safe, clean, and enjoyable. You want to know the breakfast will meet your needs and maybe even thrill you with locally grown specialties. And you want to know you are experiencing Alaska in a way franchises can't offer: with the personal conversation of a local resident/host. 

So how will you set your standards? What research will you do? How will you know you have positioned yourself for a glorious trip? Start with the Hotline at 907-272-5909 or visit the website, checking the information on 'inspected and improved'. It will help your decision making anywhere you go!

Verena Kaeppele of Swiss Efficiency is one of the Innkeepers in  Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Day Trips North of Anchorage

Get outta town!  A short 10 mile drive north of Anchorage allows you to sample what Chugiak-Eagle River has to offer. 

FIREWORKS, ANYONE? Watch fantastic fireworks in the Land of the Midnight Sun!  Eagle River Lions host the Fourth of July event at Lions Park.  It begins at 6pm on July 3rd 2014 and features a full evening of festivities, concessions, and entertainment; and ends with a fabulous fireworks display at midnight.

4th of JULY PARADE!  The Chugiak Area Business Association with support from the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department hosts an old fashioned 4th of July Parade!  The  parade begins at 2:00 pm at Latimer Fire Station and ends at Chugiak Elementary on Friday, July 4th, 2014.  Bring your bags for candy and enjoy one of our community”s oldest traditions!  Come early and park along the parade route--the road starts closing at 1:00.

More JULY FUN!  Bear Paw Festival is the second week in July (July 9 - 13th, 2014) with events covering five days. Bear Paw features a large community parade, great hometown entertainment, carnival rides, games, vendors and hilarious contests like Slippery Salmon Olympics and Running with the Bears ñ Tri-Bear-a-Thon.  Other noted events are the Bear Paw Royalty Pageant for high school age men and women, the Classic Car Show and Rotary’s Ididaduck Rubber Ducky Race. Bear Paw is coordinated and annually sponsored by the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce with the support of many of our businesses, members and nonprofit organizations. Visit the festival website at for more info.
Arctic Valley

ARCTIC VALLEY is one of the few places near Anchorage where you can drive up into the alpine environment!  Look for the sign off the Glenn Highway to enjoy this scenic drive.  It provides both easy and challenging hikes, along with stunning views. Bring your camera!

EKLUTNA VILLAGE HISTORICAL PARK is centered in the native village of Eklutna with a smooth exit off the Glenn Highway. This site is the home of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church. The church, documented as the oldest building in Anchorage with a construction date of approximately 1830, provides a glimpse into the historic Russian influence in the region. On the church grounds are brightly colored native spirit houses that rise above the graves in the ancestral burial ground. Eklutna Village Historical Park is part of the Orthodox Church. Please call to arrange for visiting from mid May through mid September for tours. Phone (907)-688-6026.
EKLUTNA LAKE offers hiking, ATVing, kayaking and mountain biking opportunities. Watch for signs off the Glenn Highway.

Take this trail guide with you for a safe and fascinating day. The Eklutna Lake brochure will round out the details you should know for a memorable time.

Eagle River Nature Center

The CHUGACH STATE PARK EAGLE RIVER NATURE CENTER is located at mile 12 of Eagle River Road and provides the gateway to Chugach State Park. Parking fee required. Summer and winter staffing hours vary. Call (907) 694-2108.

SOUTH FORK of Eagle River is a 12 mile round-trip trail that offers easy access to the backcountry. One hikes through beautiful alpine country and a large boulder field to arrive at two alpine lakes.  Access is off Glenn Highway, look for exit to Highland Road.  Parking is located near the end of Hiland Road.
Thunderbird Falls
THUNDERBIRD FALLS is located in the northern part of our community and is the terminus of a comfortable one mile family walk on a well maintained trail.

It is a must see for all who visit this area--look for the sign off the Glenn Highway past Peters Creek.  This is another place to use your camera as you catch the essence of Alaska's beauty! 

And when the day is done, consider staying at a bed & breakfast for a special treat. Hosts whose B&B bears the 'inspected and approved' certificate are peer reviewed by AABBA for your comfort and assurance.

Terri Semmler, owner of Inlet View Bed and Breakfast is one of the the Innkeepers of the Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Spring Migration: Birders Take Note of Alaska's View!

During the late spring months of April and May, Alaska is such an exciting place to visit, especially if wildlife viewing is at the top of your list!  There are countless opportunities for viewing from air to sea and even land! Wildlife from as far as the south Pacific migrate up to the arctic region to take advantage of the abundance of available resources.   Migration is the seasonal movement of animals from one region to another.

If you are an avid birder there are several must see hot spots in Alaska. One of the most spectacular locations for birding is the Island of St. George in the Pribilofs, where over 3 million sea birds come to nest forming one of the largest colonies of sea birds in the  northern hemisphere! Species you will see include common murres, thick billed murres, tufted and horned puffins, black legged kittywakes, and most of the world’s population of red-legged kittywakes. 

Other notable birding locations include Denali National Park, where you could spot pine grosbeaks, ptarmigan, and northern goshawk; Kenai Fjords, Copper River Delta, and Glacier Bay National Park.  See the National Park Service for more view information. 

Birding locations closer to Anchorage include, points along Turnagain Arm, to Girdwood and Portage Valley, as well as north to Palmer Hay Flats Reservation Area. 

There are also many opportunities to view marine species migrations including grey whales, humpback whales, orcas, and you can even see the federally endangered Cook Inlet population of the beluga whale at points various within Cook Inlet.  Some migrants you can even take home with you if you’re so lucky.  Five species of salmon head up the streams and tributaries to return to the same breeding grounds they were hatched to lay eggs. 

Quite impressively one of the US’s longest terrestrial migrations occurs right here in Alaska without ever leaving the state.  Caribou can travel over 400 miles each year and never make it out of Alaska.  Other Alaskan mammals migrate much shorter distances including the black bear, brown bear, moose, and various small mammals travel back and forth each year between there wintering and summer grounds.  All of these species can be viewed almost anywhere in Alaska, and most of them right in Anchorage, with just a little luck and watchful eye. 

If you’re visiting Alaska during April and May, and beating the great crowds of tourist migration, visit the links below to find out more about where you can be sure to witness some of the world’s most spectacular species in action. 

Alaska Wildlife Migration Links

Krista & Zack are Innkeepers at Alaska House of Jade and are members  Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Remembering 1964

Damage to apartments from the 1964 Alaska quake
 Fifty years have passed, but memories of the 1964 earthquake remain vivid. On Good Friday at 5:36 PM, Anchorage rocked and rolled, experiencing the strongest earthquake in North America: a magnitude of 9.2 on the Richter Scale. 

Many activities and sites in Anchorage are telling the story in 2014, commemorating the lives and losses of that catastrophic event.  The Anchorage Museum has a program called Riskland that features  images and storytelling by those who survived the great quake. 

If you want to feel the sensation of the ’64 Quake, visit Alaska Experience Theatre.  While sitting in the theatre, you will shudder and shake in safety, but will come away with new respect for the power of earth’s tremors.  

Earthquake Park features a pleasant walk with educational stops along the way, recounting four minutes of liquid ground and countless aftershock tremors. Not only was Anchorage affected: 139 deaths across Alaska resulted from the quake and
JC Penney building, post 64 earthquake

The theatre, along with the Museum, Park, and other organizations, always remind audiences of safety tips and emergency preparedness plans to activate should another event take place. While travelers and tourists enjoy solid ground here, they join residents in maintaining a safety mindset.

The news media have had many stories with eye witness accounts during the fiftieth anniversary. A ten-minute historical reprise by the USGS is 1964 Quake: The Great Alaska Earthquake, an online video. View it - then come visit in person to truly understand the impact this event has had!

Mary M Rydesky of Jarvi Homestay is one of theInnkeepers of  Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Anchorage- Home to the World's Most Spectacular Marathons & Other Smaller Races

Runners on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (photo credit- Roy Neese)
The Visit Anchorage site says it well when it notes… “With low humidity and summer temperatures that typically top out in the mid-70s, Anchorage is an excellent choice for avid runners who want to incorporate a race into their visit."

It goes on ... "Anchorage is at sea level, requiring no adjustment to a higher, heart-pumping elevation. There is no hustling through traffic or breathing in car exhaust - as most races take place on Anchorage’s award-winning trail system. Along the paved trails, runners enjoy wooded vistas that open up to expanses of the steely gray waters of Cook Inlet or the rugged peaks of the Chugach Mountain Range.”

2014 will see at a number of major and smaller runs hosted in Anchorage.  Running in general is a big sport here.  We’ve got so many great places to train, such as our trail system, including the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. (Other links to trail maps can be found at the end of this blog.) 

Running season begins in February.  Highlights for the year include the:
  • Iditarod Trail Invitational 1000 miler, an ultramarathon, which begins in Anchorage on 2/23/2014 and ends in Nome many days later. There is also the 350 mile option, ending in McGrath
  • Mayor’s Midnight Sun Five Miler / Half Marathon / Marathon, which happens in Anchorage on Solstice, June 21st
  • Her Tern Half Marathon, held in Anchorage on July 20th, and
  • Skinny Raven’s Half and Moose’s Tooth Marathon will be held August 12th

Other fun runs also happen each year.  Among others, we are really excited about the 
  • Frostbite Footrace, held on February 22, 2014 during Fur Rondy
  • Anchorage Salmon Run, held on May 3, 2014
  • Gold Nugget Triathalon, held on May 18th, 2014
  • Alaska Run for Women, held June 7, 2014
  • Mt. Marathon race, held on July 4, 2014, a long standing tradition held in Seward, Alaska
·   We've recently learned the  Color Run  is returning on June 28th.  Guests had so much fun last year at this- we’re really looking forward to a repeat experience!

For the trail system maps, check out the Trails of Anchorage map (which lists the trails individually by section) and the Muni of Anchorage Trail Mega Map (which shows the trails in one overall map.) 

For the most up to date race list click here. The Alaska Runners Calendar is another good source for races and race updates.

Anchorage's bed and breakfast inns are a great place stay while in town for the race. Why?  Because you will get a restful sleep the night before in a convenient, quiet location; a fortifying breakfast, lots of fluids, and plenty of encouragement!  If you have special needs, you'll find help  with those as well. 

So grab your running (or walking) shoes.  We'll see you on the trail!

This blog was written by Marilyn Kasmar, Owner/Innkeeper at the 11th Avenue Bed and Breakfast, Anchorage, and member of the Anchorage Bed and Breakfast Association. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Star the Reindeer- An Anchorage Celebrity of a Different Breed

Innkeepers Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association

Star and Albert, out for a walk 11/24/13  Photo by J. Polak

I was born and raised in Anchorage and as far back as I can remember, Star the Reindeer has lived downtown, in a large fenced area off the
west side of a house at 10th and I Streets. 

That’s just a few blocks from our B and B breakfast table, where Star is a frequent source of questions. ”Hey.  What about Star the Reindeer?  What’s her story?”   The questions have made me realize that Star has been an Anchorage icon all my life, but I don’t know much about why.  I did a little research to be able to

share her story with you.  

To start, a little background on reindeer. Unlike their cousin the caribou, reindeer are not native to Alaska. They closely resemble caribou but are shorter and stouter and don’t migrate over long distances like caribou. Reindeer -including Star’s ancestors - were first imported to the Seward Peninsula (537 air miles northwest of Anchorage and home to Nome, Alaska) from Siberia in 1892, as part of a federal program to provide sustainable food sources

to the Bering Strait Eskimos and other people of the area.

Star’s story begins with Mr. Ivan and Mrs. Oro Stewart opening Stewarts’s Photo Shop downtown on 4th Avenue in Anchorage’s oldest building in 1942. True Alaskan pioneers, they were known to be the type to accomplish their goals, no matter how unusual the goal might be. Mrs. Stewart wanted to adopt an Alaskan pet. There were no laws against adopting reindeer and the original Star came to Anchorage in 1962, selected for Mr. and Mrs. Stewart by reindeer herder Larry Davis of Nome.  She was named for the starburst of white fur between her eyes.  Star I lived to be 23 years old - roughly 15 years longer than the average reindeer.   Larry Davis selected every Star to follow (except the current one- who came from a

reindeer farm near Palmer) to look like the first Star. 

The Stewart’s were assisted in Star care over the years by Albert Whitehead. Whitehead came to Alaska in 1960 with the military. Shortly after his arrival, he met Ivan and Oro Stewart and began working for them part time. Over the years he evolved into their reindeer caregiver, moreso after Mr. Stewart died in 1986. On her death, Mrs. Stewart left Albert Whitehead a life estate to help take care of her 

Beautiful as she is, Star has not been without her controversies.  In October of 1973, she was ordered

evicted due to changing zoning laws.  The Stewarts appealed and won.

Including the current Star, there has been six.  Star II died in the mid-1980s when a newcomer to Alaska broke into her pen, killed and butchered her, and sold the meat. He spent a year in jail for his crime.  Star III died in 1986 when she ate plastic bags. Star IV enjoyed 14 years under Mrs. Stewart’s care.  She suffered from arthritis and could only tolerate weekly walks. She was assaulted in 1987 when a man climbed into her pen and broke off one antler. She survived that and died in May 2002. Star V was 2 months old when she came to Anchorage from Nome, arriving in July 2002. Sadly, she passed away 

unexpectedly of a bacterial infection, not long before Oro Stewart herself died that fall.

Star VI, the current Star, was born in April 2001 at the reindeer farm north of Anchorage. Originally named Noel, she was renamed Star by Albert Whitehead, who fell in love with her at first sight. Rejected by her mother, her growth had been stunted.   She is only four and a half feet tall, which makes her about six inches shorter than others her age.

In April 2006, Star VI was nearly kidnapped. Whitehead found a hole in the pen's fence with a trail of hay leading out to the sidewalk.  Star had stayed in her cage, however, and was not hurt.  

You can often find Star VI and Mr. Whitehead on walks around downtown Anchorage, and kids visiting Star at her home. She may be a symbol of Christmas, but she’s also a symbol of Anchorage, and as it turns
out, our founders and our rich history.  

The following sources were used in the writing of this article. Links to those and more about Star: 
·      A beautiful photo of Star and Albert can be found here…
·      Watch this fun video…  among other things; you’ll see Star visiting our friend Terry Potter in her downtown wine shop, where there’s a lot of expensive wine.  Now, Star in a wine shop-  that’s Alaskan bravery!
·      A great article about Star, and some old photos, can be found here.
·      This article contains information about Star’s attempted eviction.,941094
·      And totally off topic but fun- this article tells the story of the Stewarts, their amphibious car (which is still seen in Anchorage parades today) and a 1968 drive 165 miles down the Yukon River, from Eagle to Circle City.
·      Star also has her own Facebook page.  You can friend her at


Marilyn Kasmar, owner and innkeeper of the 11th Avenue Bed and Breakfast, is a member of the Anchorage, Alaska Bed and Breakfast Association.