Saturday, July 2, 2016

Gone Marshin' - Week 5

The first site of our marsh bird survey
Just because COLO is a National Historical Park doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty going on in the area of wildlife and land management. Sure our interpretative programs focus on telling the story of what happened at Yorktown and Jamestown but we have much more to offer than just that. The keen visitor may notice the cleared land where bamboo once dominated, hear the calls of secretive bird species, or see a turtle or snake crossing one of the tour roads. At COLO our resources division staff have plenty on their plate and I was fortunate enough to spend the past week with them.

My week began early Monday morning as I drove out to our maintenance yard at Jamestowne. There I met up with our Natural Resources Specialist Dorothy Geyer and we began loading kayaks into back of her NPS branded truck. We then drove out to the tour roads on Jamestowne Island, parked on a bridge and unloaded our gear. After lowering the kayaks off the side of the bridges into somewhat solid ground in the brackish marsh below we parked the truck out of the way and returned to the kayaks to push off into a creek running through the marsh. We were out there to find two spots designated for a marsh bird study where we would be recording what birds we could see and hear and then how they reacted to the calls of various bird species.

After a few minutes of paddling downstream we reached our first point of the day and did our best to ground the kayaks on what few patches of solid ground we could find. We then disembarked and pushed our way through the tall grass to a vantage point. I was acting as Dorothy’s recorder as she identified what bird species she could see or hear. I recorded what bird species she could see/hear for five minutes and then we played a series of calls through a speaker to see what birds would respond. We then kayaked to the second and final spot of the day and grounded ourselves on mudbank with a clear line of sight to an osprey nest (scaring away a number of fiddler crabs in the process). We then repeated the process we did at the first site. It was fascinating to watch Dorothy work and her expertise quickly became apparent as she easily picked out species and estimated their distance. It was also interesting to see the variety of species out there and I got the chance to see some species I’ve never encountered before that are native to the region. After returning back to Dorothy’s office I assisted her with some office tasks for the remainder of the day. There are a variety of other natural resources projects going on that rely on volunteers so most of the work I completed was organizing and digitizing data the volunteer groups had collected.

Tuesday I was able to test out my GIS chops while working with COLO’s GIS specialist Dave Frederick. We sat down for a while and discussed the scope of his work at the park and then he put me to work. COLO is taking over a piece of land with significance to Native American history in this region but we have no maps of the area. I was tasked with finding parcel data for the area and then digitizing this on satellite imagery of the area. This was necessary as the land that COLO will be maintaining consists only of certain parcels within an areas surround by parcels owned by private parties. I won’t bore you with the details of how I accomplished my task but I will include a picture of the finished product.

The fruits of my GIS labors
Wednesday and Thursday I had the opportunity to work with the NPS Mid-Atlantic Exotic Plant Management Team. This is a team of four to five NPS employees who travel around to 18 different parks and tackle exotic plant removal projects. COLO has an issue with golden bamboo and removal projects in the past haven’t been successful. During my time with the EPMT we tackled three areas of bamboo: an area of about two acres where a contracting team had removed bamboo but where exotic ground cover was re-emerging and some bamboo roots remained, a spot along a revolutionary earthwork where bamboo was mixed in with other plant life, and a third strip along the Colonial Parkway where removal efforts in the past have been unsuccessful. In order to remove bamboo we have two methods to use. We can either spray the bamboo plants from top to bottom with a concentrated herbicide or use handsaws to sever the plant near the base and then spray herbicide on and around the stump. I quickly learned either method means difficult and very sweaty work. However, by the end of my time with the team we had hit all the spots we needed to so I’ll be making sure to keep an eye on these areas to see how effective our work was.

To end my week on Friday I got the chance to have a brief taste of law enforcement before finishing up my work with natural resources. I started my day around 5 PM by rejoining Ranger Lamb in his patrol car. We patrolled the parkway as it was rush around and kept an eye out for traffic violations. As next week will be my second week with law enforcement Ranger Lamb decided to step up my responsibilities. He increased my amount of radio presence by having me call in the traffic stops we were making to dispatch. I then also got the chance to practice written warnings. Ranger Lamb then dropped me off around 9PM to begin the rest of my duties for the day.

Me and a rough green snake
That evening and night I joined a group from the University of Rhode Island who were doing a herpetology study at COLO. The focus of that evening was the Spadefoot Toad which is an endangered species. They require a heavy amount of rainfall resulting in substantial pools of water to lay their eggs in. Seeing as we were due for a storm Friday evening the researchers were anticipating that tonight may be one the rare occasion when the local Spadefoots may lie their eggs. We started off by walking about a half-mile along the tour roads during a frog survey of any frogs we were able to find. As then rain rolled in we got back in the car and began driving to potential breeding sites but were quickly set-back as the lightning became very intense. After waiting for a few minutes under an overpass we continued on and were unfortunately unable to hear the call the toads make while mating. The herpetology team may have left slightly disappointed but for me it was a fun and interesting end to my first week with COLO’s resources division.

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