week three: 06/17-06/21 part one

monday: emma and i went with mariel, a plover intern, to look for plover nests/chicks along east beach. i wish i had pictures of it (i’ll probably post some eventually)–even as one who’s not fond of visiting beaches for pleasure, i could still see why east beach’s cerulean waves and sugary sand attract so many people on summer days. unfortunately, it seems that plovers have the same beach preferences as people. it’s the densest nesting site, and accordingly the hardest to survey. also unfortunately, i was not there for sunbathing or frolicking in the waves, but rather, for hard work.

the process goes like this. your goals are to find sand-colored birds and pebble-shaped eggs on a sandy, pebbly beach. these birds have evolved over millions of years to camouflage themselves from predators with far greater vision than you. in addition, the adults actively try to lead you away from their nests by pretending to incubate (false-nesting) and faking an injury (broken-winging). mariel described it as playing hide-and-seek with a chronic liar, and i agree. your only tools are a pair of binoculars, a human-sized intelligence, and patience. sadly, i was bad at using the first, lacking in the last, and drained of the second by dehydration and the sweltering heat.

sometimes following tracks like these are the only way to find nests or chicks
sometimes following faint tracks like these are the only way to find nests or chicks

the day’s work, which included a period of digging up and replanting fence poles, strained the limits of my physical and mental endurance. i could barely keep up with mariel, much less help her any by finding nests. still, i learned a lot about dealing with the heat (bring two water bottles and cover every single exposed inch of skin with sunscreen!) and about the patterns of plover behavior that signify a nearby nest.

del's may not have been the best way to rehydrate, but it was delicious
del’s may not have been the best way to rehydrate, but it was delicious

tuesday: emma and i went with cindy, a refuge biologist, to ninigret’s rabbit pen to release four new baby rabbits from the rhode island zoo! brian, who i think is a zoo employee, met us there with the bunnies.

boxes that the rabbits came in
boxes that the rabbits came in
releasing the buggers. they kick and squirm a lot!
releasing the buggers. they kicked and squirmed a lot!
brian holding a camera-shy male new england cottontail
brian holding a camera-shy male new england cottontail

wednesday: i went with cindy to check on the new rabbits in the mini-pen. they seemed to be doing well; all four were still there, at least. we didn’t see any of the older rabbits in the big pen, so they’re hiding like wild rabbits should.

i’m getting better at driving off-road, i think, or at least getting less nervous about it. i realize now that my fears of driving alone/on the highway/for long distances/at night/in bad weather were actually luxuries that i could afford to have because i didn’t need to drive at all in school or very much at home beyond a quick trip to the mall. when my job requires me to drive under these conditions, as it already has/will, i simply have to do it, regardless of my irrational fears. of course, if i felt i was truly in danger or endangering someone else, i wouldn’t be driving, but i think my many fears are due to inexperience rather than total incompetence (i do have several stereotypes working against me though!).

driving back to the pond house from kettle pond, i was stopped in my government vehicle by a nice couple who wanted to know if they could walk their dog on the trail (i live in a place that people visit to hike in! it’s wonderful and i feel like i should be paying to live here!). i wasn’t sure about the exact policy, so i couldn’t actually help them much, but just being recognized as part of the refuge “team” made me feel all official-like.

that feeling of competence was quickly erased by the afternoon terrapin survey, however. i went out on palmer river with meghan, a uri student, and peter, her professor.

the beautiful palmer river. not sure why i shot this vertically.
the beautiful palmer river. not sure why i shot this vertically.

the survey of diamondback terrapins, meghan’s senior thesis project, is done by kayak. i was really looking forward to kayaking, but my enthusiasm was tempered by the quick realization that i am a slow and terrible kayak-er. i guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise, seeing as how i’m a dud at all things athletic, but it was still embarrassing to lag so far behind the others on the way back that peter had to drive the truck up the river so that i wouldn’t have to paddle all the way back to the starting point. i did manage to help spot a few terrapins though, so i wasn’t totally useless…

the diamondback terrapin is the only turtle that lives in brackish water around this region. it can actually survive in both fresh and ocean water. however, even though it doesn’t have competition from other turtles in its estuary/salt marsh habitats, its population is still declining.

it’s a very hard specimen to spot: it  sticks only its head above water for short intervals, so it kind of looks like a little stick bobbing up and then disappearing. meghan’s project is not only tracking terrapin populations, but also studying what conditions they’re best observed in, which i think is really interesting. hopefully, i’ll get to go out surveying with her next week too.

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