Island Updates

UVM

Visiting with Ecologist Bernd Heinrich

Post by Chloe Tremper, Science Educator

Enjoying the views on Hurricane

This past weekend, we had the honor of hosting Bernd Heinrich and his partner Lynn Jennings on island.  Bernd is a well-known naturalist, ultrarunner, and author of over 20 books including Mind of the Raven, Winter World, and Why We Run.  He has been a runner for most of his life but got into ultra running after he turned 40.  He won his first 100k in 1981 with a time of 6:38:21, which was an American record at the time.  He has also held American track records for the 100k, 100 miles, and 24 hour races and holds American ultra records in three age divisions.  Bernd is a professor emeritus at UVM and still teaches a winter ecology course at his cabin in western Maine for a week each January, which is how we got him here on Hurricane.  Chloe, one of our science educators, TAed his winter ecology course and invited him & Lynn to visit. 

We were incredibly lucky to have Lynn out on island as well. Lynn is one of the most accomplished women’s long distance runners in American history.  She is an Olympic medalist (bronze in the 10k at the 1992 games in Barcelona), has won more U.S. women’s cross-country titles than anyone in history, and holds the world record for the indoor 5,000m.  While Lynn is retired from running professionally, she still runs daily and works as the Running Program Director and Coach for the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont.  

Climbing the spruce trees

As you can imagine, our staff had a blast spending time with these two amazing and humble people. Their two days on Hurricane were chock full of running, exploring, lobstering, nest hunting, writing, tree climbing, cookouts and more.  Lynn even held an informal running workshop for a few of our staff to improve their running form!

On Saturday evening, we all headed over to Vinalhaven where the Hurricane Island Foundation and the Vinalhaven Land Trust co-hosted a talk by Bernd.  Over 90 people showed up to hear Bernd speak about his American chestnut trees. 

Bernd speaks to a packed room in Vinalhaven

American chestnut trees used to dominate the forests of eastern North America up until the early 1900s. This was until chestnut blight arrived in North America – catching a ride on imported Asian chestnut trees arriving to plant nurseries around the U.S.  Within 50 years of its arrival, chestnut blight wiped out almost 4 billion chestnut trees across the east coast.  While a few American chestnut trees survive, most remain small and succumb to blight before they can flower and reproduce.

In the early 1980s, Bernd obtained and planted some American chestnut seeds on his property.  After ten or fifteen years passed, he noticed that his trees were beginning to flower and fruit – this caught him off guard as he had never expected his trees to successfully reproduce since most chestnuts planted today don’t.  The first few years of flowering and fruiting, he was uncertain that the trees were being pollinated because many of the fruits he was finding on the ground did not actually contain nuts.  He came to find out later that this was because chestnuts drop their dud fruits early and keep the successful ones on their branches until later in the season. 

Bernd then began to notice chestnut saplings popping up all over his forests.  Chestnuts have large, heavy nuts that are not very easily dispersed so he thought it curious to be finding seedlings showing up hundreds of yards from the mature chestnuts near his cabin.  After a season of watching wildlife visit his trees, he determined blue jays and red squirrels to be the main dispersers – watching jays fly away with mouths full of nuts and squirrels run off with one nut at a time to stockpile away.

Bernd’s American chestnuts are still thriving and some of the saplings in the forest are beginning to grow fairly large. Hopefully chestnut blight will not find its way to any of Bernd’s trees.  Want to plant some chestnut trees of your own? Check out the American Chestnut Foundation.

We are so grateful to Bernd and Lynn for coming out to Hurricane and sharing such a special weekend with us. We hope they will be back in the future with chestnut seeds!

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Wildlife Habitat & Population Measurement UVM

Post by Science Educator Chloe Tremper

Looking at habitat suitability in the field

Twenty students and two professors from the University of Vermont’s Wildlife Habitat & Population Measurement course spent this past week on Hurricane Island. Professors Allan Strong and Jed Murdoch used Hurricane as a platform to teach field methods for estimating wildlife populations and measuring habitat variables to their students. This course focused on three methods commonly used in the fields of wildlife biology and ecology: mark-recapture, point counts, and habitat suitability index measurements. 

Mark & recapture studies are used to estimate the number of individuals within a species’ population. On Hurricane, the UVM students used this method to estimate the population size of small mammals on the island, as well as determine which species were present.  During their first day on Hurricane, the students broke into four groups and set up grids with 100 traps each on different parts of the island.  The traps were opened early each morning with a sprinkling of oats and some scraps of paper towel placed in each as food and nesting materials.  The traps used were Sherman traps, which are a box-style animal trap designed for live capture of small mammals. When the students checked the traps a few hours later, students recorded whether a trap was open and empty, closed and empty, or closed with a capture inside.  For each individual small mammal that was caught, the students marked a bit of its fur with a marker so that if it was caught again later it could be identified.  As traps were checked, the students were careful to close each so that no animals would be trapped for an extended period of time.

The students also learned how to conduct bird point counts, which are useful for monitoring avian population trends.   Four locations were designated along different trails that students would go to once a day to conduct a count in their smaller groups.  At their first point they did a 30-minute point count.  To do this, the first 10 minutes at the point all birds heard or seen were recorded, the second 10 minutes only new birds that were not noted during the first, and for the third 10 minutes only new birds again were recorded. Over their days there each group did a 30-minute point count at each of the four sites and a few 10-minute point counts at the remaining sites.

On their second to last day on the island, the students went out in the spruce-fir forest of Hurricane to measure multiple habitat variables to determine if the habitat available on Hurricane is suitable for snowshoe hares and downy woodpeckers, neither of which are known to reside on Hurricane.  However, both species habitat preferences were relevant for the purpose of learning how to implement the sampling technique.  Habitat suitability indexes are available for variety species through the USGS National Wetlands Research Center

We were sad to see this lively bunch of students leave at the end of the week but enjoyed getting to know them & appreciated the data they provided us!

Students enjoy Sunset Rock

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Campus Visit: University of Vermont

Alice and I visited the University of Vermont (UVM) campus in Burlington, Vermont on November 13 and 14, 2014 to meet with faculty and brainstorm future collaborations with the University. This trip was a great follow up from working with UVM senior Chloe Tremper last summer as part of an internship program with the University. Luckily, UVM is situated just up the road from Lake Champlain, so we didn't feel too land-locked during our stay! (Not to mention Burlington has some amazing restaurants and coffee shops).

While on campus, we checked out some of the ways UVM is communicating their sustainable design initiatives. One of these is through this awesome  building dashboard , which, paired with a series of sensors in their buildings, tracks electricity and natural gas use of their LEED certified buildings.

While on campus, we checked out some of the ways UVM is communicating their sustainable design initiatives. One of these is through this awesome building dashboard, which, paired with a series of sensors in their buildings, tracks electricity and natural gas use of their LEED certified buildings.

We had a jam-packed visit, and were excited to come away with a number of good connections and potential opportunities to work with UVM. Some of these include continuing to host Perennial Interns from the Rubenstein School of Environment & Natural Resources, support course trips out to Hurricane Island for a applied field science opportunity, and offer undergraduate and graduate students on-island research experiences during the summer.

Many of UVM's classes are designed to have a service-learning component, which means that student groups pair up and work with community partners on an identified need from the partner organization. Going forward, we could potentially send data collected on Hurricane to a statistics course where the students would learn statistical analysis techniques by working with our data during their semester. This would provide an opportunity to extend our island classroom well beyond Hurricane, which is exciting, and also help us organize and synthesize our datasets. All in all, our visit was well worth the trip and we are looking forward to working with UVM in the future and getting more students out to Hurricane!

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