Ana Gonzalvo's Diary


Tuesday, January 31, 2006 Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Thursday, May 11, 2006 Saturday, August 12, 2006
Sunday, August 13, 2006 Monday, August 14, 2006
Tuesday, August 15, 2006 Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Thursday, August 17, 2006 Friday, August 18, 2006
Saturday, August 19, 2006 Sunday, August 20, 2006
Monday, August 21, 2006  

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 First Reaction
 
Definitely, 2006 will be my year. It could not start out in a better way. These were my thoughts when today I received an email announcing that I was selected to participate in one of this year’s Earthwatch projects.
 
This was the second time I applied since I learned that Alcoa was partnering with Earthwatch. The first time, in 2004, I was not selected, but I was on the reserve list in case one of the selected fellows could not attend for any reason. You can imagine the mixed feelings I had. On the one hand, I was happy to be on the reserve list. On the other, I was not wishing to replace any of my colleagues who were selected.
 
I have to admit that I carefully read every single word and sentence of the email before I started screaming and jumping around. I wanted to be sure that I understood correctly and that I was not again on the reserve list. Hey, Ana (from time to time I talk to myself…but do not worry, that does not happen very often), it is written clearly that you will be heading off to the United States to work on Maine’s Island Ecology between August 14 and August 21, 2006…you have been selected this year!
 
The first thing I did (after screaming and jumping) was to go to the Earthwatch website to learn more about the project and where the island was located. Nice. The project seems to be interesting, and the place wonderful. I am quite sure I will enjoy my stay there while I have the opportunity to learn about the ecology in the islands.
 
I was glad to know that an Alcoa colleague, Kenneth Rensch, will share this unforgettable experience with me. He’s on the same project with the same dates. And I was also glad to know that there is a colleague from another Alcoa Closure Systems International (CSI) location, Glenda Reyes, who has also been selected to participate in the Butterflies of Vietnam project. It will be nice to share my thoughts and experiences with them and with all the colleagues that have been selected as Earthwatch expeditioners. Congratulations to all of you!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006 Why Become an Earthwatch Fellow
 
Since I have been selected, I have received a lot of congratulatory emails and calls from my colleagues throughout Alcoa. It was also nice to receive a congratulatory letter from our CSI top management.
 
I got the chance to learn a bit more about Kenneth, who will join me on this experience, and Glenda, whom I expect to meet somewhere, sometime…although I am afraid the Philippines is too far away. It was also nice to receive an email from a CSI colleague in Crawfordsville, Indiana—Frank Cicella. Frank participated in the Rainforest of Costa Rica Earthwatch expedition in 2004. Frank, the website you have created to share your experience is amazing! I really enjoyed it.
 
This is one of the reasons to apply for an Earthwatch project. You will have the opportunity to meet people in Alcoa that share the same interest in a sustainable world as you do.
 
I am a frequent traveler. My preferred destinations are exotic countries, but it’s nice to have experiences anyplace in the world. These experiences will always add some value to you as a person through learning about a piece of history, different cultures, or the interaction between humans and the Earth, among others. So far, I learned that the most valuable asset humans have is diversity. And the best way to keep this diversity is sustainability.
 
I am not against or in favor of globalization, although I think it is difficult to find a way to stop it. But I believe that sustainable globalization is possible by respecting the history, culture, and biodiversity of each country and not repeating errors from the past.
 
My main reason to apply for one of the Earthwatch expeditions was to gain a critical understanding of biodiversity while appreciating its beauty. After this experience, I expect to contribute more effectively to the conservation of biodiversity. Traveling around the world made me realize the effects our lifestyle have, but also that each individual can do a lot more than we think…even being at home. Think globally, act locally.

Thursday, May 11, 2006 About Ana
 
I just realized that I have started writing this diary without introducing myself.
 
My name is Ana. Ana in Arab means “me.” Last year, I participated in the start-up of a new Alcoa Closure System International (CSI) production facility in Egypt. I was hearing my name in all conversations, and I could not understand how I was becoming so popular. After a couple of funny situations, somebody explained to me the meaning of my name.
 
I am from Catalunya, Spain. I was born in a nice town located on the Mediterranean Sea 34 years ago. Therefore, as a proper Mediterranean, I love seafood and siesta time.
 
I have a financial background. I joined Alcoa eight years ago as a financial analyst in Alcoa CSI Spain (Vilafranca). Currently, I am working as a business analyst in Alcoa CSI Europe in the CSI European headquarters in Barcelona.
 
My hobbies include reading, traveling, and skiing, and currently I am also learning belly dancing.
 
I am reading a book called The Shadow of the Wind, which seems to be very interesting so far. My favorite books are Heban (Ryszard Kapuscinski) and Shidartha (Herman Hesse). My favorite writer is Italo Calvino.
 
I am sponsoring a Nepalese child, Kailash, through the Amics del Nepal (Friends of Nepal) organization, which helps with the development of this nice country and the always smiling Nepalese people. Kailash is 14 years old, and he sends me very nice letters and pictures. I made the decision to sponsor a child after my holidays in Nepal. Although I know the country, I did not have the chance to meet him.
 
I have also been in many other amazing countries: Ethiopia, Brazil, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Morocco, and some European countries.
My hero is Anuradha Koirale, founder of Maiti Nepal, a non-profit organization fighting against sex trafficking. I really admire her, but at the same time, I recognize I am not brave enough for such initiatives.
 
There is a reason why I am explaining all of this about me. This is because I want to emphasize that I am not a special person; I have a normal life, no more or less interesting than any of you. You do not need to have any special physical or psychological aptitude to apply for and participate in any of the Earthwatch projects. There are many interesting projects suitable for all kinds of people. You just need to believe that what you will do is important. Your contribution to the project is as important as the scientists working in the field…and it is an invaluable contribution for the environment.
Some Alcoa employees asked me about how to answer the questionnaire to be selected next year. It is easy. The first requisite is that you really desire to become an Earthwatch fellow, with everything that implies. Secondly, and as everything you do in your live, you just have to put your head, your heart and your soul into completing the questions. Your head will help you understand what is correct and what is not. Your heart will bring you the happiness. But the soul is what makes you live with real passion. Just feel the Earthwatch passion. And good luck!

Saturday, August 12, 2006 Washing machine
 
The washing machine broke down again, just one day before departure. It took me two hours until I was able to clean the water. The same thing happened a month ago—one day before I departed for my holidays—and all my flights were a disaster.
 
Hopefully, everything will be better this time, although, considering the security checking required for all flights to the U.S., the best that can happen is just some delay.
 
I hope peace will arrive soon everywhere so that we can travel to any place, worrying only about not forgetting the toothbrush.

Sunday, August 13, 2006 Flying to Boston
 
I have a friend who told me that when there are problems at home with drips, that means you have problems with the feelings in your heart. In my case, I am starting to think that when I have problems at home related to water (or to the washing machine), that means I will have problems with my flights.
 
As expected, there was about a four-hour delay with my flight. There were two security controls where they opened every pocket of your hand luggage, looking mainly for liquid substances (any kind of liquids or creams).
 
I met Kenneth at the hotel in Boston for dinner, and we planned to take the bus to Portsmouth tomorrow at 10 a.m. It was nice to meet him, even though I was tired due to the long flight to Boston. We have been exchanging emails for the last seven months, and finally I can attach a face and a voice to a person’s name.
 
In Portsmouth, we will meet the rest of the team volunteering for this project. There are 10—six ladies and four men. Nobu and Hiro are from Japan. Kenneth is from Suriname (South America, not Africa!), I am from Spain, and the rest are from the U.S. It is quite an interesting mix of countries.
 
The principal researcher is Julie Ellis. I am also looking forward to meeting her and the project staff and to see how wonderful the Isles of Shoals are!

Monday, August 14, 2006 Arrival in Appledore
 
At 12:30 p.m., Kenneth and I met Julie and the other volunteers in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. From there, we took the Shoals Marine Laboratory (SML) research vessel to Appledore, the biggest island of the Isles of Shoals.
 
The Isles of Shoals are a group of nine islands (eight during low tide): Appledore, Star, Smuttynose, Malaga, White Island, Seavey, Cedar, Lunging, and Duck. During low tide, Seavey and White islands seem to be only one island instead of two. The islands are about 16 kilometers (10 miles) away from Portsmouth, and it takes around one hour to get there. As we were approaching them, we were trying to guess which of the nine islands appearing on the horizon would be our destination of Appledore.
 
Here we are! A group of gulls seems to be welcoming us to Appledore. There are gulls everywhere…and now I know I will have to “deal” with them. They seem a lot bigger than the Spanish gulls, or maybe it’s that I have never been that close to gulls in Spain. As soon as you try to approach them, they fly away scared.
 
We are housed at the SML facilities, which is a seasonal marine field station located on Appledore. SML is dedicated to undergraduate education and research and is a joint operation of Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire.
 
After having a drink in the common dining area and being placed in dorm 2, we attended a speech by Julie Ellis about the project objectives and how the volunteers are going to contribute to achieving them. Following is a summary of what Julie explained to us about the research. I hope this will introduce you to what we will do during the following days. I also invite you to explore the Earthwatch website and read the expedition briefing if you have interest in knowing more details about this project.
 
Situation
There are two species of gulls—herring and great black-backed—nesting on the Isles of Shoals. Gulls and other seabirds nearly disappeared from these shores a century ago due to extensive egg collecting and hunting (feathers for huts was a fashion trend!). Protection in the early 1900s, combined with food supplementation from garbage dumps and fishing waste, has led to a dramatic increase in gull populations. Currently, there are 2,000 nesting pairs on Appledore alone! This population increase may have impacted the island’s ecosystem significantly.
 
Objectives
According to the expedition briefing, the long-term goals of this study are to understand the interactions between herring and great black-backed gulls and the effects these two species have on coastal marine and terrestrial communities of New England.
 
The research team is trying to answer the following questions:
  1. Do gulls generate cascading effects in rocky intertidal food webs? Earthwatch volunteers participated in previous studies that effectively concluded gull predation precipitates a trophic cascade. Gulls’ favorite prey is the Jonah crab. To understand the effects of gulls foraging on the intertidal zone, the research team needed to analyze the area without foraging gulls around. Volunteers were chasing away gulls—five hours a day—during low tide to exclude them from the intertidal zone studied! Jonah crabs invaded the intertidal zone, resulting in a reduction in the species that the crabs eat.
  2. Do seabirds affect terrestrial plant community composition?Vegetation differs among the different seabird colonies observed: cormorants (active and abandoned colonies), gulls, and terns. It seems that our main contribution (2006 Earthwatch volunteer team V) will be to help investigate the effect of seabirds on soils and plants due to nutrients (prey remains, carcasses, guano) and physical disturbance (trampling, grass pulling, nest digging).
 
After the presentation, we are given some more details about the facilities and our timetable for the following days. We are informed that we share the SML with two more groups: Children Ahoy and Forensics. We are also requested not to take more than three showers during our stay—we will smell really bad. And, we are also kindly requested to cooperate with the dining cleaning tasks.
 
Early dinner and jet lag. It is quite early, but my body feels it is time to sleep.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006 Oh, no! It’s raining!
 
It rained heavily all night along…and it was still raining when we went for breakfast. Everything was wet, and Julie informed us that we would not be able to start with the vegetation sampling until it stopped raining.
 
Unfortunately, the weather conditions kept us from starting work after breakfast. We watched a video about puffins, which are really amazing seabirds. To know more about puffin restoration in the Isles of Maine and about Project Puffin, go to http://www.audubon.org/bird/puffin. There are hundreds of islands in New England, and it is nice to know that there are others, apart from Julie and her team, working to restore and preserve the islands’ ecology.
 
We were also invited to attend a lecture by Karen, who is a student of Julie’s. Karen explained the conclusions of her study, which, as you can imagine, is about gulls! One nice thing about SML is that you can attend the lectures of the researchers and students and learn something more about Appledore.
 
Karen is trying to understand if there is habituation occurring between gulls and humans. Certainly yes! In Appledore, humans can get really close to the nests, without causing a reaction. There are differences between the two species, as great blacked-backed gulls are more aggressive than herring gulls.
 
After lunch, the rain seemed to stop for today. We could finally start what will be our main mission on this project: to sample plants on high-density gulls colonies.
 
This afternoon, we stayed in Appledore. This is the procedure we will follow on each island:
 
Biomass Sampling Procedure
In the field
  • Julie chooses three transects. Each transect is 50 meters (164 feet) long.
  • We previously extracted 20 random numbers from Excel. With coins, we select right or left side of transect. For example, number 23 right means we go to meter 23 of the transect on the right side.
  • We put a 10x10-centimeter (4x4-inch) quadrant on the floor, and we cut all the plants inside it. It is important to cut only the plants growing inside the quadrant.
  • We put the plants inside a paper bag properly identified with the island name, the transect number, and the quadrant.
  • Once we finish collecting the plants on the transect, it is important to know the density of the colony. We simply count the number of nests that are five meters (16 feet) left and right of the transect. The nest density will give an idea of the impact of the gulls on the vegetation. The objective is to understand the vegetation differences between a high- and a low-density gull colony.
  • We take soil samples from each transect to analyze the soil nutrients.
 
In the lab
  • Once we are back at the laboratory, we have to work on sorting the plant species in each bag. I had really bad luck, as I had to sort a bag containing three different grass species!
  • We put the sorted plants into the oven for around 24 hours to dry them.
  • We weigh the plants to know the percentage of every species on each quadrant. Somehow, we have to compensate for the fact that plants have different heights and therefore weight.
  • We perform a soil sample analysis.
 
Once we were back at the laboratory, we started sorting plants by species and putting them in the oven.
 
Dinner was at 6 p.m., as usual. Immediately afterwards, we were invited to attend a presentation Julie made to the Children Ahoy group. Although the presentation was geared toward children and was really funny, we still had the opportunity to learn new and curious things about gulls.
 
Did you know that…
  • Gulls are monogamous birds.
  • They always nest near other gull pairs.
  • Gulls protect their territory and their mate.
  • Both parents take care of the chicks.
  • Gulls lay three eggs.
  • The eggs can hardly be distinguished between species.
  • Gulls have one “hole” for everything…yes, everything means everything.
  • Gulls drink salty water.
 
Funny.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 Seavey and White Island
 
Today the sun is shinning, and it is a nice day. We are going to Seavey and White islands.
 
During low tide, White and Seavey are a single mass of rock and vegetation. The justification for their separate names is that twice a day, the tide flows over the low connecting area.
 
White Island is dominated by a nice lighthouse, which can be seen from Appledore, and the keeper’s house. The original lighthouse was built in 1820; the present one was built in 1865, automated in 1988, and restored in 2005 as the result of the efforts of a group of seventh graders.
 
Seavey Island has been the site of a tern restoration project conducted by the New Hampshire Audubon Society in recent years. There is written evidence that there were terns on Lunging Island in 1920. Due to the gull population increase, terns were eliminated by gulls in 1955. In 1997, terns came back, and currently there are 2,500 pairs of terns nesting on Seavey. In order to get terns to nest on Seavey, a compact disc (CD) with sounds imitating a happy tern colony was played. Also, every morning the restoration team chased the gulls from the island. You can learn more about the Seavey tern restoration project at www.nhaudubon.org.
 
A new issue has arisen for terns in Seavey. Terns are competing, because they do not have enough space for nesting. The vegetation growing in Seavey—sometimes not native plants—is too high, and terns do not like to nest there. Because of that, we are going to help study the vegetation there. After that, 50% of the island will be burnt. One year after, a different group will measure again the vegetation growing and analyze if the change has been good for the tern population and the restoration project.
 
Instead of the biomass sampling procedure, we will use a different procedure today called the percentage cover procedure. The reason is that this methodology was used the previous year on this specific island. In order to be able to compare the vegetation evolution, we need to use the same methodology.
 
Percentage Cover Procedure
In the field
  • The same three transects from the previous year are selected (approximately). Each transect is 50 meters (164 feet) long.
  • Every five meters (16 feet), we put the 1x1-meter (3.3x3.3-foot) quadrant on the ground, and we discuss and estimate the percentage of plant species and rocks inside it. We estimate all plants falling inside the quadrant, not only those growing inside.
  • We do not collect any plants.
  • We take soil samples of each transect to analyze the soil nutrients.
 
In the lab
  • No plants to sort!
  • Soil samples analysis.
 
The key to getting good results with this methodology is having enough people involved in the discussion to agree on the percentage. In this way, it is more probable that there are no estimation errors. You cannot imagine how perceptions differ from one person to another.
 
We only collect plants that we want to include in the new Isles of Shoals herbarium. When we are back on Appledore, we are able to find the Appledore herbarium that was done…in 1975! Since then, nobody has been doing the work to update it. We are happier than if we found a treasure. The herbarium is a really nice and professional job that gives us some good ideas to apply on our task, such as how to label the plants and prepare them before pressing so that they look nicer.
 
We are invited to attend a forensics training session, which is disgusting for those (like me) that do not like to see blood. But the explanations of the trainer while dissecting are interesting.
 
The remaining day we are involved in different tasks, such as continuing to sort plant species from Appledore and working on the herbarium, as well as the soil analysis and the green garden experiment.
 
But there is a new task! We go around the island looking for banded dead gulls. We try to understand the reason why they died, and we cut the banded legs and take them to Julie. It’s not a nice task if you are not used to dealing with dead animals. Julie is updating the gull register and trying to understand the common reasons for why gulls die on the island.
 
Did you know that
During two walks along the streets of Manhattan in 1886, the American Museum of Natural History's ornithologist, Frank Chapman, counted 174 birds and 40 species in all. But the birds were not flying nor flitting through the trees. He was a talented birder, and so he was able to identify the wings, heads, tails, or entire bodies of 23 cedar waxing, 21 northern flicker, three bluebirds, two red-headed woodpeckers, nine Baltimore orioles, five blue jays, 21 common terns, a saw-whet owl, and a prairie hen…adorning the hats of passing women.  (Source:  Audubon Magazine, December 2004)

Thursday, August 17, 2006 A well deserved shower!
 
This is my fourth day in the Isles of Shoals, and I have still not taken a shower. I am starting to desire a long shower while also thinking about the advantages of the situation: I do not need any gel to fix my hair. In fact, there is nothing I can do for my hair to look better, so there’s one less thing to be worried about in the morning.
 
In the SML, there is a bird-banding station. We have been invited by Dave and his team to see the sort of work they are doing. Dave has been going to Appledore for 30 years already! You really feel his passion for birds, the isles, and his work. The main goal of his investigation is to understand the importance of these islands to the migratory birds, which fly during the night because there are no predators during this time.
 
Right after breakfast, we go to the banding station. They are waiting for us to go to the nets and take the birds to the station. Once there, they are weighed, measured, banded, and released. They are so delicately colored that you would think they escaped from a magic forest tale.
 
After this, we are allowed to choose between different tasks for the rest of the morning. I decide to help Christine with her experiment: collecting gull guano.
 
Christine’s experiment: The greenhouse
Christine is a teenage Earthwatch volunteer. She is only 16. It is nice that teenagers are also interested in participating in research programs and contributing to a sustainable world.
 
Her main task during these days is collecting guano. She has been collecting gull and tern guano, and today she will collect cormorant guano on Lunging. Her objective is not to become a guano expert, although she would gladly explain to you which bird’s guano is more disgusting. 
 
To understand the impact of gulls on vegetation in comparison with other seabirds (terns and cormorants), Christine will perform a greenhouse experiment: mix the same quantity of guano from the different species with the soil, plant the seeds, and measure which plants come up earlier and grow faster.
 
A proper concentration of guano could be beneficial for plant germination, but an excessive guano concentration could be detrimental due to toxicity. Also, guano from different seabird species has different levels of toxicity. We hope this experiment will help with understanding the effects of seabird guano on plant germination and growth.
 
Lunging Island
Right after lunch, we take the zodiac in the direction of the privately owned Lunging Island. The appearance of Lunging Island is as two small isles connected by a bar of rocks and sand. In one of the small “islands,” there is a nice private house called the Honeymoon Cottage. The other part is mainly rocky with colonies of gulls and cormorants. The cormorant colony smells really bad compared to the gull colony.
 
We start collecting plants on the area behind the cottage, using the biomass procedure. Unfortunately, there is a lot of poison ivy covering that area, which is making our task more difficult. Since we arrived at the Isles of Shoals, we had to learn to identify poison ivy and avoid any contact with this plant. To me, it seems not dangerous at all. But reactions to this plant could be severe for those with allergies.  

While we are waiting for the zodiac to pick us, I take some time to observe the nice cormorants and also the funny dog chasing gulls and any other birds landing on the seashore. Poor thing, what else could he do for fun on such a small island? 
 
We are back at Appledore for dinner and some more lab work. I have been working hard under the sun, collecting plants and guano and sharing my smell with the cormorants’ smell. Definitively I have gained a well-deserved hot, but short, shower.
 
Did you know that…
The Isles of Shoals were first described by Captain John Smith in 1614 while he was exploring the Gulf of Maine, naming it New England. Despite being a great English explorer, he is better known as the captain who was saved by Princess Pocahontas.
 
Before that date, it is thought that Vikings visited the islands. It is also believed that European fishermen (probably Basks) visited the Isles of Shoals before John Smith’s arrival.
 
The most famous visitor to the isles was Blackbeard. It is rumored that the shoals still hold Blackbeard’s buried treasure. The legend also says that Blackbeard spent his honeymoon with one of his 14 wives on either Lunging or Smuttynose. Obviously, treasure searches are not welcome. The treasure of the Isles of Shoals is its natural beauty.

Friday, August 18, 2006 Midnight horror at Smuttynose
 
Right after breakfast, we went to Smuttynose and Malaga islands, which are connected by a breakwater. Malaga is a tiny island. Certainly the name of Malaga should have a Spanish origin, but, unfortunately, I could not find any theory about that.
 
Among all the isles, Smuttynose is my favorite. It is surprising how such a small island can have so many stories to tell:
  • Smuttynose is known as one of the islands visited by the pirate Blackbeard. It is said that the breakwater construction was funded with four pirate silver bars.
  • In 1813, there was the shipwreck of the Spanish ship Concepción (or the Sagunto). Nobody survived, and you can visit the place where the unidentified graves of the Spanish sailors are located.
  • It is also believed that one of the two houses on the island is the oldest in the state of Maine.
  • Probably the most notorious fact is the murder of two young women during one cold night in 1873 while their husbands were away. A third woman survived.
 
We again collected plants according to the biomass procedure on both Malaga and Smuttynose. We had lunch (sandwiches) on Smuttynose.
 
After lunch, we were back on Appledore and worked in the laboratory. Each of us could choose among different tasks. Kenneth kept working on the soil analysis. He has a good chemical background, and therefore he suggested how to perform this task with the tools available.
 
Soil analysis 
I want to start by apologizing for my explanations on how Ken performed the soil analysis. Unfortunately, my knowledge about chemistry is limited to what I studied at high school. Anyway…let’s try (sorry Ken!).
 
There were two Hach test kits in the laboratory. One was for analyzing the phosphate concentration, and the second one for nitrates. I was told that these kits were to be used to analyze liquids. What we wanted to do was analyze the soil concentration, and the soil is solid!
 
Ken proposed dissolving the soil into a certain solution to extract the nitrate and phosphate from the soil. This solution was not available, so Julie ordered it. The first step was to dry the soil. Then, it was mixed with the solution and put aside to settle for a couple of hours. The mixture was then ready to be analyzed. You just put the small glass bottles into the Hach kit, and, believe it or not, some kind of light going through the liquid does the rest and gives the concentration.
 
That was hard, long work, as soil samples from all the islands and each transect had to be analyzed. Ken had to work hard with very limited help from the group (except for cleaning and small tasks), as nobody else had his knowledge.
 
Star Island
After dinner, we had a nice surprise: we were taken by vessel to Star Island. Star Island is the second largest isle, after Appledore. It is said sailors named it Star because its points stretch out in all directions, like flashes of a distant star. Located there is the unique hotel of the Isles of Shoals, the Oceanic House Hotel, owned by the Star Island Corporation (which also owns the island). We visited the small church and the old library. But the best part of this unforgettable night was sitting on the hotel porch, looking at the sea and the black sky full of stars above us while eating ice cream. Mine was pistachio and vanilla.
 
Did you know that…
Louis Wagner was found guilty for the murder on Smuttynose after being accused by Maren, who survived the horror by escaping and hiding under a rock at one end of the island. Nowadays, it is still rumored that one of the women killed was having an affair with Maren’s husband, and therefore Maren was the murderer. The mystery still persists, and this episode in Smuttynose’s history has already inspired some books and a film. (Source: “Moonlight Murder at Smuttynose,” by Lyman V. Rutledge).

Saturday, August 19, 2006 Arnau: the chick number 300!
 
Today was “D” Day. We all were wishing for this day to arrive. We are supposed to help Julie with banding gulls. Right now, we did not see ourselves able to run after a gull, catch it, and band it. Obviously, we will band only chicks, but at this period of time, chicks are already between eight and 10 weeks old, and most of them can fly.
 
Before leaving, we met at the laboratory to prepare the bands. We will put on two kinds of bands, one on each leg. The right leg’s band is the standard silver metal band with a unique number that will identify that bird wherever it is found around the world. On the left leg, we will put a more readable plastic band. These bands have been specially designed for Julie to facilitate number reading and identification of the gull. We will put a black band on the great black-backed gulls and a green one on herring gulls. The bands are also different sizes, as the two species are different sizes.
 
During the morning, we were able to band 16 gulls. It was really funny seeing us running and jumping on the rocks behind the chicks. Of course, it was funny for us and not for the chicks. I realized that I was unable to catch a single chick. Maybe this was because as soon as realized I was scaring them, something made me leave them right away. So, I decided to take on the responsibility of carrying the gulls from where they were caught to Julie. I helped her band and release them exactly at the same place they were captured so that their parents could find them.
 
Right after lunch, we continued banding for a while. At the least, we wanted to band one more chick. Just one more, and the total number of chicks banded in 2006 would reach 300! This has been a great success! And we, as Earthwatch volunteers, feel proud of ourselves, as we contributed to the success of this project.
 
I decided to give a special name to chick number 300: Arnau. Arnau is the protagonist of La Catedral del Mar (Ildefonso Falcones de Sierra), the book that I am currently reading and that I hope to finish while on the Isles of Shoals.
 
Behavioral observation
After banding Arnau, I decided to perform a gull behavioral observation. The objective of this task is to understand what gulls do while they are in the intertidal zone during low tide.
 
We took the binoculars and sun cream and sat on the rocks. (It is better to do this task as a pair, since one should take notes while the other observes.) We did two kinds of observations.
 
Scanning
First, we determined the area that we wanted to control. We did the scanning from right to left every 15 minutes, counting the number of gulls that are either lagging or foraging. We needed to differentiate the species and also if it was an adult or a chick.
 
10-Minute Observation
Between each scan, we performed a 10-minute observation. For that, we tried to select a banded gull and identify the number. It was not always easy to find a banded gull, and even with the plastic bands, it was not always possible to read the number.
 
The person doing the observation describes exactly what the gull is doing during the 10 minutes of observation. That could be, among other things, resting, sitting, looking around, looking for food, eating, flying, running, and calling mom to ask for food. It is a really detailed observation, and another person is absolutely needed to take the notes.
 
Did you know that…
The Isle of Shoals gulls are travelers. A banded gull sighting was reported in Florida, which is a long flight away from Maine. If you are curious and want to know more about where other gulls have been seen, go to the following Cornell University link:
http://www.sml.cornell.edu/research/pr-gull-sight-FL.htm.
 
If you are a bird watcher and you recognize one of Julie’s gulls, you may want to report this. For gull sighting reporting, go to
http://www.sml.cornell.edu/research/pr-gull-report.htm. You just have to follow the instructions. The banding methodology changed in 2005, so carefully read the instructions on how to report.

Sunday, August 20, 2006 Again, the rain….
 
Today is the last day in the Isles of Shoals. Unfortunately, it is raining heavily, which is not helping improve our sense of humor at all. We were supposed to take the zodiac to Duck Island and perform the biomass plant collection activity. Instead of that, we have to stay at SML.
 
I just realized that I have explained a bit of history of each of the islands where we have been except Appledore, which has been our “operations base” during this week.
 
Appledore is the largest of the Isles of Shoals. Initially, it was named Hog Island. When the Appledore hotel was established there, the name was changed to Appledore Island, as it sounded more attractive. Unfortunately, the hotel burned in 1914. It was opened by the Leighton family and became very popular, as the island was the home of the poet Celia Thaxter, daughter of the hotel founder, Thomas Leighton. Her presence there attracted numerous writers and artists, such as Childe Hassam, who was an amazing impressionist painter. In addition to what I discovered during my expedition experiences, Childe Hassam has been one of the best discoveries during my stay in the Shoals. If you visit Appledore, you should visit the Celia Thaxter’s garden, which is still maintained by a group of volunteers.
 
We spent the day watching films, painting T-shirts, and preparing presentations, which helped organize our ideas and summarize what we have done so far to contribute to the project. This included:
  1. Vegetation sampling: To understand the impact of gulls on the islands’ vegetation. We used two procedures—biomass and percentage.
  2. Soil Sampling: To understand the impact gull activities (guano, food, etc.) have on soil nutrients.
  3. Greenhouse experiment: To understand how guano from different birds impacts vegetation fertility.
  4. Banding chicks: To study the gull population evolution.
  5. Nest density: To determine sources of instability (why birds leave the island) and also the impact on vegetation.
  6. Behavioral observation: To study how gulls spend their time.
 
Other tasks:
  • Herbarium: The last one was from 1975.
  • Vegetation management:  We removed “invasion” vegetation in Smuttynose, as it was affecting the local vegetation.
 
Did you know that…
You may think that I have been on a big archipelago, such as Seychelles or something like that, during these days. In fact, all the isles are so tiny that there are no vehicles and any person could walk from north to south.
 
The sizes of the islands are:
  • Appledore (95.0 Acres, 38.4 Hectares)
  • Star (40.0 Acres, 16.2 Hectares)
  • Smuttynose (27.1 Acres, 11.0 Hectares)
  • Malaga (2.5 Acres, 1.0 Hectares)
  • Lunging (7.1 Acres, 2.9 Hectares)
  • White and Seavey (13.0 Acres, 5.3 Hectares)
  • Duck (11.0 Acres, 4.5 Hectares)


Monday, August 21, 2006 Goodbye and thanks!
 
I do not know why humans tend to identify sad days with the color gray. Is that because of literature or poetry? Certainly today was a sad day: the departing day. It was a nice but sad and gray day. And it was not raining.
 
My sense of humor is affected by the weather. I love sunny days, and I love the rain. I really love to get wet under the rain, although I do not sing and dance under it—just walk and relax. Probably this is because in the Mediterranean area, the rainy season is in September, and the rain water is not cold. But I really hate gray, cloudy days. During these days, I do not feel sad…but angry!
 
At around 12 p.m., we took the vessel to Portsmouth. During the trip, we took the last pictures and looked at the islands for the last time. Once in Portsmouth, each of us took different transportation to our home. In my case, I took a bus to Boston and a long flight to Paris and then to Barcelona.
 
I hope you enjoyed my diary. All that I have written is based on the notes I took during my stay in the Isles of Shoals. To complete, verify, and correct my notes, I used the following sources:
  • “Ten Miles Out, Guidebook to the Isles of Shoals” (Lyman V. Rutledge, Edward F. Rutledge).
  • Shoals Marine Laboratory visitor’s guide documentation.
  • www.wikipedia.org.
 
I would like to use this last entry to thank everybody who has been involved somehow with this project and my stay in the Isles of Shoals:
  • First of all, I would like to thank Julie Ellis, the project investigator, for her patience, never-ending smile, and good explanations, and for taking care of us and making us feel like real investigators by allowing us to participate in any task. Thanks, as well, for her wonderful tasks.
  • I would also like to thank the SML staff and especially the project staff, Meggy and Kipp. Good luck to both of you.
  • Thanks also to the 2006 Team V Earthwatch volunteers for the great time we spent together: Kenneth from Suriname; Nobu and Hori from Japan; and Jeff, Ann, Christine, Julie, Barbara, and Eleanor from the U.S. All of you made me smile.
  • Thanks also to Alcoa and Earthwatch, which make it possible for 15 Alcoa employees to join an Earthwatch expedition through the Alcoa Earthwatch Fellowship Program each year.
  • And finally, thanks to all those who have been reading my diary. If you found the project interesting and would like to know what to do to contribute to a more sustainable world, you are a perfect candidate to participate in an Earthwatch project. I encourage you to go to www.earthwatch.org to select your expedition and read the instructions on how to apply. There are projects suitable for everybody! If you are an Alcoa employee, look for the announcements about applying for next year’s Earthwatch Fellowship Program. You will be part of a unique and enjoyable experience!
 
¡Hasta pronto!

Photo Gallery


View the images from Ana Gonzalvo's diary.
go

Earthwatch Institute


Learn more about this international nonprofit, which supports scientific field research worldwide.
go

Maine's Island Ecology


Learn more about the expedition and its scientists.

go