week one: 06/02-06/08 part one

sunday: i arrive at my quarters, the refuge-owned “pond house,” a colonial revival named for its proximity to watchaug pond, and a misnomer in my opinion, as watchaug is really a kettle lake: a lake formed when a block of ice calves from a glacier and is surrounded by glacial outwash (thanks for the definition, wikipedia). (edit: actually, it may be a kettle pond after all, if it receives water from precipitation or the groundwater table. it’s still more of a small lake than a pond in my opinion.) the pond house is more than a hundred years old, and even through renovations, its history has been preserved in details like the etchings on the coat rack, dated as far back as 1911:

large mouthed bass, caught July 2 1911, weight 6 1/2 lbs
large mouthed bass, caught July 2 1911, weight 6 1/2 lbs

every morning, if I so choose, I can walk a step towards the bedroom window and be greeted by this vista:

it's not a room of my own, but at least it's a room with a view
it’s not a room of my own, but at least it’s a room with a view

it’s not hard to understand why humans are attracted to large bodies of water. though modern technology has divorced us from the need, for virtually all of our evolutionary history, we had to remain close to water for survival. still, despite being aware of this fact, i failed at first to extract from the pond a sense of beauty, greatness, or any other l.b.o.w.-derived emotions that drive up the value of waterfront property.

monday: my first day on the job consisted of administrativia, online driving training, and hands-on experience driving a large truck. to say i failed abysmally at the last task would be true, but too negative to include on this blog–let it suffice that driving (large vehicles but really, in general) is one skill  which i hope to improve with experience.


a salt marsh. credit: wikimedia

i went out on the rhode island salt marshes with my co-intern emma and three other refuge staff: kaitlyn (sp?), neil, and rhonda. we saw plenty of birds, like grackles, barn swallows, ospreys, red-winged blackbirds, ibises, and egrets, but our goal was to search for saltmarsh sparrow nests.

File:Saltmarsh sharp tailed sparrow.jpg
saltmarsh sparrow. credit: wikimedia

the saltmarsh sparrow is a timid, elusive, vulnerable (literally, according to the i.u.c.n.) bird that nests in ground vegetation along the high tide line of, obviously, salt marshes. the males of the species might be well anthropomorphized as “deadbeat dads”: they don’t help build the nest or raise their young, and don’t even defend their own territory. silly birds.

our process was to walk in a line across the marsh, flush out sparrows, and watch their flight patterns to determine if they were females sticking close to a nest. each stomp of my rubber muck boots produced a crunching sound, likely due to dead grasses and crustacean shells, but which to my paranoid imagination sounded like a nest and eggs being crushed. it was a singularly nervewracking experience. thankfully, i don’t think  i crushed any, and our day of effort was rewarded by the discovery of a single nest with four eggs, which, at that moment, i was more impressed to see than if they had been fabergés.

interesting(?) side note: i learned that the salt marshes themselves are vulnerable to extirpation due to a combination of excessive nutrient loading and rising water levels. high levels of nutrients (in particular nitrogen) cause the plants to grow too much above ground and too little below ground, leading to a lack of mass in the root system that holds the marsh together, which in turn lowers the elevation of the marsh and makes it susceptible to flooding, a problem exacerbated by rising water levels.

wednesday: emma and i went with our supervisors, andrew and suzanne, out boating to survey birds around the long island sound region.

the boat we used. andrew, who is pictured, was at the helm.
the boat we used. andrew, who is pictured, was at the helm.
view from the boat
view from the boat

some of the birds we saw were mute swans, american oystercatchers, herring and great black-backed gulls, double-crested cormorants, and common eiders. we paid particular attention to counting the nests/chicks of the american oystercatcher, which i believe is a species of concern in new england. it was a quick crash course in bird id, supplemented by frequent referrals to the well-worn copy of sibley’s field guide to birds of e.n.a. that i borrowed from the office and grew to love (it’s perfectly concise and has just the right amount of detail, plus sibley uses cute [to me] phrases like “our [italics mine] largest gull,” which sort of inspire pride in and stewardship for the birds of north america)  over the course of the week.

two asides: 1) i was unreasonably happy to be loaned a pair of excellent binoculars i would never be able to afford otherwise, the nikon monarch 8×42. 2) i had the chance to steer a boat for the first time, albeit for less than five minutes.


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