This week we continued our Barrier Island wildlife surveys on Softuk Island. I SAW MY FIRST BROWN BEAR! He was a blonde 2-year-old and he was beautiful. Our fearless crew leader, Robert Masolini, was not even fazed, having grown up a hunter in bear country. He did not see the bear as a threat at all as it was not showing any signs of aggression, so we just continued on our way and the bear scurried off into the brush. There were bear and coyote tracks all over that island! More often than not, I saw bear and coyote tracks together, along the same trajectory, as if they were following or keeping track of each other. A sow and two cubs were also sighted somewhere else on the island but, sadly, I never saw them. I did see their tracks everywhere though; the cub tracks were so cute and small, meandering around the straight path of its mother.
This island was covered in Semipalmated Plovers! Walking through the sand dunes, I saw so many of their tracks and walked near many nesting sites. You know when you’re nearing one because you hear the faint sound of their alarm call. As you get closer, it gets more frantic. When you are in the general vicinity of their nest, you see them scurrying to and fro and flying past you as they try to catch your attention. You know you’re right near their nest when they start their distraction displays. I did not imagine that I’d get to witness this display as many times as I did on Softuk. It was such a treasure to hear their call carried in the wind, and see them zipping around me as I trudged over endless sand dunes in the hot sun.
Christina Rinas, an ecology tech working here for the summer, found more Botrychium, and she is getting really good at spotting out its prime habitat! It’s these meadows with the perfect balance of certain species of plants like fireweed and strawberry that are spaced out enough and not too tall, with a nice ground covering of moss. So far, all of our Botrychium hotspots have been in this sort of habitat. She was telling me that she’s been grateful for the chance to spend so much time doing this vegetation work, because it’s time-consuming and needs to be done at a slow pace (which isn’t a bad thing). I’m seeing her get more and more excited about this plant, so much so that she is considering possibly pursuing the study of Botrychium for her PhD!
Being on the island this week was so amazing. Our campsite was beautiful and I got to see a lot of my favorite shorebird, the Semipalmated Plover. Softuk was covered in strawberry plants. Their pale, immature berries were such a tease. I can’t wait for strawberry season! I got to walk through pristine meadows and hear the call of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet as I searched for a rare fern. In the end, I went home with a pretty good sunburn and too many bug bites, but it was so worth it.