Twan and I spent a lot of time in the past week at summer camp at the Coastal Center at Milford Point. Our enormously popular program was focused on "Aqua Quest: Catch & Release" for 8-11 year-olds. Coastal Center Director Frank Gallo made extra space for more kids than expected. We wanted to give them a glimpse of the conservation work and research we do every day, having them participate in netting and banding birds, finding horseshoe crabs, trapping turtles, testing for amphibian disease, and more. We will post a few more blog entries this week on some of these activities complete with photos and information on the work the summer camp kids and students from Housatonic Community College helped us complete.
On Tuesday, the focus was on the creatures that inhabit the Coastal Center's marshes, beach, and upland areas. The morning started in the classroom with some artwork and creative construction. All of the campers made replica horseshoe crabs having spent time studying the real thing. Frank also discussed the mechanics of flight with them, showing how feathers and wings work, and letting all of the campers have a look and a touch at some very special real ones. They also came up with the right answers to many questions from discussions on hot and cold-blooded creatures to naming flightless birds - he asked for five and they got them!
The highlight of the day was definitely banding birds. We had opened the nets at Milford Point earlier in the morning, taking in an adult Gray Catbird and a young American Robin. After the campers were divided into two groups, each one of them had a chance to witness the process of banding a bird. This includes determining the species, the age and sex if possible, the size band needed, applying the band, measuring the wings and weight, and recording all of this information. All of the campers got an excellent look at each bird and their anatomy. Below is one of the groups watching Frank measure the weight of the robin.
Just after examining one of the mist nets but before closing it up, we actually caught another Gray Catbird. This allowed the campers to see how they work beyond our explanations. They also saw how carefully yet quickly an expert like Frank can remove a bird from the net. After lunch we set out to find some birds on our own, scoring points for each species we managed to find at the beach and then from the Coastal Center tower. Frank and I each led a group allowing them to help us conduct a survey somewhat like we do each day. Everyone in my group had good looks at both egret species through their binoculars. We scoped out the American Oystercatchers on the sand bar. The highlight of the trip was a female Greater Scaup, definitely a strange bird for the end of June, which the campers saw scoped as well. Everyone also loved scoping out the Osprey cam family sitting on the nest platform. We ended the day finding and discussing crabs, an activity the campers were particularly adept at.