Monthly Archives: September 2012

Odd Jobs with Stewart B. McKinney Part 2: Falkner Island

Having finished up the easiest “job” I’d ever been assigned (babysitting Outer Island for a few days) I was prepared to have my next random task for Stewart B. McKinney  be a little bit more difficulty (read: not a cakewalk).

Falkner Island is another of the Stewart B. McKinney’s holdings. During the Summer it’s one of the only places that Roseate Terns still breed and nest. Its had a variety of buildings on it since 1802 when a lighthouse was built there to keep boats from breaking themselves open on the rocks.

By August the Terns had largely left their nest’s on the island, but I was still kicking around Connecticut with time on my hands. I hadn’t been able to get out to Falkner until the season was almost over, so I jumped at the chance to see the place, even if it meant I’d be helping with cleanup.

Two days of removing the nest boxes used to protect the Terns while they incubated their eggs and repainting the research station was time well spent to get to explore.

The Nest Boxes for the Terns were often hidden in nooks and crannies like this one.

There were more where these came from.

The Nest Boxes were designed to protect the Tern eggs from predation by Gulls and Black Crowned Night Herons. The design has been altered over the years to reduce egg-mortality from heat (hence the chicken-wire covering the cutout on top of each).

The View from the Lighthouse

Due to its importance as a breeding center for Roseate Terns, Falkner Island is closed to the public for most of the year. Stewart B. McKinney does open it up to the public on open house days during late-August. The view from the lighthouse is well worth the wait.

Another View from the top

Odd Jobs with Stewart B. McKinney Part 1: Outer Island

I finished my time on Calf Island in early August. However, with no job to go to right off the bat I asked the Staff at the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge if they had anything for me to do for the remainder of the summer. Luckily for me there’s almost always something that needs doing at a Refuge.

My first assignment was to go and take the place of the pair of Island Keeper’s that had been assigned to live on Outer Island over the summer. “Oh great,” I thought to myself. “Another couple days of roughing it on a deserted island.”


I wasn’t…exactly correct on that. You see, while I’d known that Calf Island was the most “rustic” of all the Island’s within the refuge, I wasn’t really clear on how big the gulf between my experience and the experiences of some of my coworkers actually was.

As it turns out, Outer Island is pretty much the opposite of Calf. Where I lived in a (cozy) screened in porch off a pavillion on Calf, the Outer Island Keepers lived in a two bedroom house with electricity and a living room.

The house used to match the fireplace.

The experiences aren’t really equatable.

At any rate, helping the refuge ‘keep an eye’ on Outer Island turned out to be a cake job. At night there were boils of baitfish by the docks (fleeing from a dozen or so marauding bluefish) and during the day the Terns that had been breeding on nearby Falkner Island flew around fishing. Outer Island has some amazing history behind it. Which unfortunately I do not actually know. The Island Keeper’s who lived there during the summer worked extensively with the Friends of Outer Island helping with the upkeep of the island and with giving tours to the hundreds of people who visited the island over the course of the summer. I just had to babysit for a couple of days.

The last days on Calf

In total I spent sixty days on Calf Island this summer. We finally shoved off, in good spirits, in early August. To be fair, part of our good spirits was the sort of elation you only get from escaping what could have been a rough experience. As it happened, the final moments on the island were unexpectedly tense, as the retreating tide threatened to strand our beached boat high and dry. Since we’d already boarded up our eratz-home and taken most of our gear off the island, we would have been in for a rough night had we not — in a fit of hulkish desperation — half-lifted and half-dragged our (not exactly small) boat back into the water. After getting our breath back, wringing out clothes out (there was no way to stay even remotely dry), and letting our spines unkink themselves, we pushed off for the final time and zoomed off.

At full throttle, our fully loaded boat barely outpaced nearby kayakers (I barely kid)

Despite Calf’s final attempt to keep us as prisoners guests for another twelve hours (or until we gave up and decided to swim for shore), I think that the Calf Island part of my summer went quite well. Working in a somewhat isolated environment was, as always, a good time, I was able to devote some serious time to honing my bird identification skills, and after a summer living on Calf I’ll never complain about mosquitoes again. Ever. As we learned the hard way, there are two types of mosquitoes on Calf Island. If memory serves (and I may be wrong here, someone correct me if I am) the diurnal species of mosquito on the island bred in fresh water and had striped legs. The nocturnal species bred in salt water and had legs bereft of stripes.

Not that it really mattered, they could both bite through two layers of clothing and didn’t seem to care how much deet we slathered ourselves with. By the end of the summer it seemed like I no longer swelled up when bitten. Either my bodies reaction to it had been suppressed by over exposure, or (more likely) I’d just stopped noticing it.

This Salt-Marsh was pretty much full of mosquitoes. The one time I bothered counting how many I killed I swatted 30 in 10 minutes.

Happily, before I shipped out my family braved the bloodsucker-apocalypse to visit me. After taking their lives in their own hands and kayaking across the motorboat channel they spent the day hiking around the island and experiencing a bit of what the place I lived in had to offer.

Note my head net and my mother’s conspicuous lack of one.

Ok, so I don’t look so great in this picture. To be fair though, I’d been living on an island where the closest this to a long shower involved thunder and lightning.

It was great to be able to show them a bit of what I do in my day to day. Even if they all did go home itching like crazy.

Next up: More adventures at Stewart B. McKinney

%d bloggers like this: