Sunday, June 29, 2014

Grand Manan

My project is progressing forward, albeit slowly. Damon and I had concerns about my sample size, which is 2 for each treatment (2 racks in each low, high, and no current) and not 16 (since each rack has 8 plates). So I've been feverishly making some "rapid" assessment plates - basically I've just placed two plates on a length of line and made 30 of them. My goal is to only count species on these plates, and only check them once in September or October. This will prevent me from spending too much time checking plates every week. In order to anchor these lines, I've had to make rock anchors using zip ties which is a maddening task, especially when I have to carry 10 or so 15lb rocks to each site. But I can happily say that all of these extra plates are out in the water and I can forget about them until later this summer. Of course, since the plates are only anchored with rocks, there is a potential for them to be swept away, especially on the southern end which is exposed to some extremely strong surf. I just have to cross my fingers and hope at least 5 are left at each site.

We reached the halfway point of our time on Kent Island yesterday, which is sobering for many of us as we realize our time here is much more limited than we realized. There is still reams of data to collect, but at least we still have a month left. Almost in celebration of this halfway point, we have several off-island activities this week. Two days ago we went on a lobstering trip with a local lobsterman and his son who gather mail for us and serve as our Grand Manan contacts. We got to size and band lobsters as they came out of the traps, no doubt slowing down the normally extremely efficient operation. Aside from some unfortunate sea sickness brought about by a rather hurriedly eaten protein bar breakfast, the fishing trip was a success. We got to bring back a few lobsters for ourselves - pretty much the only option for locavore food on Kent Island. We also got to take a quick jaunt onto Grand Manan, the first time in a month any of us had set foot off Kent Island. Ice Cream and fried food was duly purchased in alarming quantities, and showers were taken (in someone's house and not in a bucket for once!). Tomorrow we head back to Grand Manan to participate in Canada Day festivities, to once again stuff ourselves with food and attempt the Greasy Pole competition (pictures will be forthcoming!).
Looking south through the fog

The keepers house at Swallowtail lighthouse, Grand Manan

Swallowtail Lighthouse

Half the Kent Islanders - the other half are recovering from waking up at 4AM by napping

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday Photography

Coronula diadema, the Humpback Whale Barnacle. We found several of these on the beach on Sheep Island by the dead juvenile whale. I'm astonished as to the size these crustaceans have been able to grow within the short (1-2 year) lifespan of the juvenile whale.

Looking down the cavity of the whale barnacle with my hand for size
A Yellow Warbler hatchling in a nest that is part of Jackson's project on juvenile-parent vocalisation interactions.

A very cool Thomisidae Crab Spider feeding on a Noctulid moth on a Mountain Ash flower cluster

 Long Horn beetle, Evodinus monticola, on another Mountain Ash flower cluster

Gulls aren't supposed to perch in trees. They do on Kent Island.

An accurate representation of what it's like to be harassed by gulls. Almost no zoom was used here.

A cocky male Savannah Sparrow

Lazy Sundays justify some photog sessions to get my mind off of my project. Just a few of the pics I snapped on the northern end of the island.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Southern end

A very cool Flabellina verrucosa. There are five or so species in the genus here in the Bay of Fundy which look almost exactly alike save an extra row of cerata (red tentacles on the back) or the size of the head in relation to the rest of the body.

The large pool where I have one settlement plate. It's about 15ft deep and you can see the giant kelp in the pool.

In the foreground are a pair of Common Eiders, a ubiquitous but pretty bird all over the island. In the background is Gannet Rock light house about 5 or so miles out. The squirrely water in the middle is the confluence of the deep westerly current from the Bay of Fundy and the shallow but fast tidal currents from the Grand Manan archipelago. They meet in this cool v formation off the southern end where they make almost whitewater. Apparently porpoises and dolphins love to hang out here although I have yet to see one. Further off the coast there are banks where the deep currents come ripping from the depths over the bank creating massive standing waves in the middle of the ocean. Damon has suggested an adventure surf company which motors surfers out to the bank and lets them surf the 45 degree water before being picked up - otherwise they would be swept out to sea.

The Herring Gull chicks are beginning to hatch. They look mottled, just like their eggs. Soon they will cease to be cute balls of fluff and become some of the more insufferable denizens of the island.

The Savannah Sparrow crew flushing banded birds at the southern end.
Some pictures from the south end of the island this morning as I went down to take photos of my collection plates. Gulls are getting crankier and crankier. I brought down a 20 gallon fish bin to use as a container to put my plates in as I took pictures. This bin turned out to be a boon when I realized I could invert it over my head as an anti-gull device. Much like how underwater photographers find having a large camera unit between them and large sharks to be more comfortable, having the bin over my head made me feel invincible. My hubris was dashed, however, when a gull pooped at the perfect angle to get on my sweatshirt. I realized later that the bin kept me from getting a face full of gull guano, as happened to our own Ben West when he looked up once. Never look up at gulls.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fog and slugs

The fog rolled in last night along with 20 knot winds. Listening to the invisible ocean crash and disintegrate in surf on the rocks is a little unsettling when you know you have all of your collecting devices and several hundred dollars’ worth of data loggers tied to bits of line. Fingers crossed my stuff doesn’t disappear into the ocean…again.
Also found a very cool nudibranch Aeolidia papillosa in the intertidal yesterday, the largest sea slug in the Gulf of Maine. Quite a few of us geeked out over it for a while instead of doing work.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunsets and missing equipment

Things are beginning to settle into a pattern now as people get used to the rhythms of the island, be it waking with the birds and observing their tiniest movements or hiking down to the sea at low tide to poke about in the rockweed. It's a beautiful thing to be so focused and observant here without the distractions of the outside world. I'm not saying that living mindfully like this is a stress-free experience - everybody it seems is struggling with their own unique problems - Ben and Jackson are struggling to find the nests of Guillemots and Yellow Warblers just so they can collect data. Liam has changed the focus of his project so many times I've lost track. As for me, I had the joyful experience of finding one of my settlement plates ripped from its moorings and cast out into the sea during an angry squall two days ago, along with a $250 temperature logger. What the ocean giveth, it taketh away tenfold. But living in the present, as it were, allows us to dedicate so much energy to brainstorming and problem solving.

Rewards, however, are just as plentiful as these infuriating circumstances. Two nights ago a gorgeous sunset drew all of us out onto West Beach to watch the gulls wheel around the waning light. I took a few hundred pictures, but realized that few were really getting the beauty of the light. I hope to use photo software when I get home to fully enrich these photos, but for now I'm just going to put the camera away after a few shots and enjoy the experience as it grows and fades.

We also had to say good-bye to our friend Haley from Kenyon two days ago as she heads home. She demanded that I say how much we'll miss her on my blog (which we do a lot!). Hopefully the petrels won't rise in anarchy in your absence.

Today being Sunday has been a respite from research for some of us (although some like me have cranked right on through). Laundry and showers were welcome respites after two days of heavy rain.

Two weeks down. Six to go!

Pray for Fog.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

KI Day 11 - swimming for science

Damon and I attempting to construct a clothes line system for retrieving my plates

Emily and the seal - look to the center left.

Scared the beejezus out of us when we almost stepped on him!

View of KI from South Hill

Successful anchorage!

Lots of urchins down there!
Yesterday I managed to get my first plate out in the water, in a giant tide pool at the extreme south end of the island. In addition to being 10-15 feet deep, it has kelp-covered shear walls which is extremely cool. To set the plate in the pool, I had to snorkel down to loop a line around a large iron beam at the bottom of the pool so the plate won’t go floating away. Despite the thick wetsuit, the water was most definitely cold! We have to place the plate in the middle of the pool so it won’t chafe on the rock sides and potentially cut the line. To avoid having to swim out to the plate every time, we set up a cool laundry line set up where I just have to pull on one end of the line to pull the plate up to me. This is the first of five plates I plan on deploying, hopefully in environments where I can just wade out to the anchor site and not have to swim for!

That night a bunch of us decided to camp out on South Hill, before a large block of rainy and foggy days hit us. We camped out on the summit and looked down to Cutler, Maine as the sun set. We used cover tarps over our bags to prevent fog from soaking our bags, but also to prevent the herring gulls from pooping all over us as we slept. One of the more surreal moments in the night was waking up as a huge cloud front swept over from behind us and the gremlin calls of the Storm Petrels cackled all around us, some within 10 feet of our bags. Waking up to a misty fog was a surefire morning alarm for us to make tracks to breakfast a mile away.

This morning I helped Haley and Sarah, two students from Kenyon, grub for Petrels in the area of the Island known as The Shire. Here the Petrels make their burrows under mossy hummocks, and this is where they stumble to at night after flying in from the ocean. Hayley and Sarah are contributing data to a long-term behavior study (going back, I believe, for 40 years or more) by taking measurements of adults and chicks they find in burrows, as well as doing some new manipulative studies such as heating empty burrows to find out if that is inductive for increased nesting. To get these measurements, one “grubs” for the birds, which involves sticking one’s arm up to the elbow into the small holes in the ground and feeling around for a nip of an adult or the small bodies of the chicks. They are then removed and duly weighed. Dirty but rewarding work!

It’s raining once again after several days of gorgeous weather, so it looks like the next few days will be a little miserable. Hopefully I can get the rest of my plates out in the next few days so I can collect data!

Pray for fog.