Monthly Archives: July 2012

Birds of Calf Island: Not just Osprey Anymore

Ok, normally I try not to post about the same thing more than once unless I genuinely have more to add to the story. So while my original plan was to just upload a few more Osprey pictures and be done with it, I’m instead going to go for a more complete look at the local avians on and around Calf island.

Every day we walk the perimeter of the island and record what we see. Its becoming mundane as we see the same six or seven species of shorebird every day. Soon however, that will change. We’re looking forward to the end-of-summer arrivals. They should be showing up any week now.

Unfortunately they aren’t here yet.

Cormorants swim in pursuit of their meals and are (unsurprisingly) remarkably graceful in the water and incredibly clumsy when out of it.

This picture courtesy of the Killdeer’s nest-defense strategy.

Killdeer, for example, are regulars on our survey. There are at least two pairs of Killdeer on the island. One of which has gotten around to the tedious business of preparing a nest and laying an egg. Killdeer nest more-or-less in the open, and their defense lies in superb camouflage and a willingness to put themselves in harms way to protect their unborn chicks. Every day, like clockwork, as we approached the nest we first be buzzed by one of the pair, they’d land a few yards away and would drop a wing as if they were injured, then would run/hop away from where we knew perfectly well their nest was located.

I suppose it works better on actual predators. All it did for us was confirm what we’d already suspected, there was a nest nearby (or a chick, but they’re considerably harder to locate).

So well camouflaged I almost stepped on it.

Cool, right?

Last for now are another few shots of the omnipresent Osprey. Their clacking and squealing wakes me up most mornings and its a rare hour spent on the beach when four or five don’t glide by on their way to or from their nests or hunting grounds.

I’m glad I’m not a fish.

Calf Island: I see Garlic Mustard when I close my eyes

I’ve been on Calf island for somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 days now (or will have been when this post goes live). As I mentioned in a previous post one of the biggest priorities on the island is spearheading the removal / cleanup effort that the Biologists at the Steward B. McKinney Wildlife refuge cooked up. To that end I spent the first few weeks of my term cris-crossing the island with a handheld gps and a notebook, finding and marking populations of invasive species. Once I was confident we’d found the majority of the larger populations we began removal efforts, endevouring to visit and remove invasive individuals from each of the 40 plots we located once every seven days. At this point in the summer its a pretty easy task — I’ve already found and bagged most of the target individuals. However, for the first few weeks it was an incredibly time consuming job. Our initial passes filled nearly four dozen 30 gallon trash bags with seed-bearing stems and there’s always more.

As far as I’m concerned this summer, there are three invasive plant species in need of attention currently on Calf Island.

First, there’s Mile-a-minute vine, an aggressive annual vine species that carpets areas if left untreated, strangling and suffocating everything beneath it. It has thorns, but early in the season they aren’t so bad. It isn’t too prevalent on Calf island just yet, and I’m pretty confident that given a few treatments and a bit of luck, it’ll be gone from here.

Next, there’s Japanese Knotweed, which luckily is only present on a few spaces on the island. Typically places with sunlight, which are rare under the canopy in the island’s interior.

Finally, the island (like everywhere else it seems) has a Garlic Mustard problem. A massive one. In truth maybe forty of the four-dozen trash bags we’ve filled so far have been filled with Garlic Mustard. The second-year adult plants were already seeding when we landed on the island the first day, so it immediately became a priority. Its seeds can persist in the seedbank for upwards of five years, too. So any effect our efforts might have had won’t be felt until I’m nearly thirty.

That’s a thought to give me pause.

Calf Island: Overview

A month ago (early June, 2012) I arrived at the Steward B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in Westbrook Connecticut to begin training for my current job on Calf Island. I’ll get into the training regiment at a later date, I suppose it might be interesting to someone considering entering the field. In the meantime. My last few entries have been annoyingly brief, largely because I don’t have a reliable internet connection on the island. Now that I’ve made the time to find a library with free wifi (and blessed AC), I think its time to explain exactly what I’m doing with myself out here.

After a few weeks of training and orientation, I finally shipped out to Calf Island. Calf island is a 30 odd acre dog-bone shaped island near Greenwich, CT that is half public access and half restricted. On the public side there is a “slightly” out of order float-dock (not connected to land during high tide), a large pavilion, and some forest. The restricted side contains a large chunk of dense, untracked, forest and a tidal marsh full of mussels, shorebirds, and mud. In between the two halves is a narrow strip of sandy beach that is currently also open to the public (it had been closed earlier in the season in anticipation of nesting that never happened). At low-tide a narrow spit of sandbar connects Calf island to neighboring shell island.

At low tide the spit is wide enough to play soccer on and is covered with birds eating the shellfish that live there, at high tide it’s covered in 4 feet (at least) of water.

The flora on the restricted side of the island is considerably denser than on the public side.


Another shot of the restricted side of the island. Most of what is visible is intertidal.

I currently reside in the pavilion on the public side of the island with one other island keeper. There are two small rooms enclosed on one side of the pavilion, one of which contains a propane powered refrigerator and our food, the other of which holds a pair of cots and our clothes. Besides those two rooms the pavilion shelters a large fireplace, three picnic tables, and a propane stove we cook on (when we have propane at least). The bathroom facilities are… rustic.

Obviously, this is all right up my alley, given the choice I’d rather spend my days entirely outside anyhow. So the fact that I’m really given no choice at all doesn’t bother me one bit.

The outdoor portion of the pavilion is actually quite spacious, the “bedroom” portion is visible in this picture, it is the tiny screened off section that was clearly added on as an afterthought. Its small, but I only really go inside to sleep or change clothes anyhow.

Our mission on the island is threefold. First (in my mind at least) we’re here to survey the island, identify potentially problematic populations of invasive plants, and remove them from the island before they can go to seed. At the same time, locating populations of rare or endangered plant species on the island would also be valuable. Second, we’ll be attempting to get an accurate idea of what wildlife the island supports, both avian and mammalian. Third, we’re to act as environmental interpreters to the few visitors the island attracts. We’d like people to treat the place with some respect and – if possible – leave with a greater appreciation of it’s value than they arrived with.

Our tenuous connection to the mainland.

I’m excited to get the wildlife experience, my bird identification skills have waxed and waned over the past few years, hopefully this will be an opportunity to really nail my shorebirds at least. As for the botany side of things, I’m pretty much playing to my strengths there, invasive identification and control is what I have the most experience in, since I expect I’ll continue to work in that field for quite a while, I might as well be good at it.

Reading ebooks by candle-light


reading by candle light

I love my job. Really. One of the things I think is best about it is this particular juxtaposition. I’m reading an book on my Nook (which I highly recommend by the way) lit by a quartet of candles. Three citronella, one beeswax.

The collision of pioneer tech and modern day is remarkably perfect. Who’d have though?

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