I thought I would treat this post like a Q&A by answering the most common questions that I have received since I’ve been back from the Black oystercatcher trip:

What did the daily routine on the boat look like?

Every morning we would roll out of the tightly spaced bunk beds, have breakfast and get ready for the rest of the day’s schedule. Depending on where we chose to anchor for the night there was always travel involved in order to get to the next site. We would typically stop somewhere on our travels between sites to make lunch. After we arrived at our new survey site for the day, we would wait for the high tide to do the survey. Black oystercatcher’s nest on the shorelines so waiting until the tide was highest helped us narrow down where the nests could be located. Each survey took up to 2 hours so depending what each day held and the tasks that had to be done, this allowed some time to do other projects as well as some leisure time to enjoy the areas we were in. There were a couple fish passages that we checked in on for maintenance needs that were conveniently on the route. An ALMS (Alaska Landbird Monitoring Surveys) survey was also conducted on two of the mornings on the trip. Luckily, we also got a couple short exploratory boat rides, hikes and even a quick swim around the areas we were surveying in.

What were the meals on the boat like?

The meals on the boat were good and full. The kitchen was the perfect size for a couple people to cook at a time. With an oven, burners, a sink, a small refrigerator and plenty of storage space for all the food that was brought the meal possibilities were not limited at all. We had a good variety of iconic meals like oatmeal, cereal and pancakes for breakfast, sandwiches or leftovers for lunch and meals like burritos, spaghetti, Thai curry noodles for dinner. There was plenty of space to make a meal of mashed potatoes and moose steak for the others as well as a vegan vegetable medley for me, which I am very grateful for.  We also passed through some good shrimp fishing areas. One of the other people brought their shrimp pot- which is basically like a trap that looks a big cage that holds a food source in the center to work as a shrimp trapping system. Shrimp pots are typically set to sit at 350 to 600 feet beneath the water for several hours at a time. A couple days of plentiful shrimp harvesting offered some fine cuisine on the boat- these shrimp that were being caught were the kind of shrimp that the rest of the world would pay a lot of money for- so a few of the dinners were graced by what was caught during our travels. Though I didn’t eat any of the shrimp I was grateful to be able to learn about the whole shrimp catching process.

How are Black oystercatcher surveys conducted?

After reaching a site on the Tenacious, we would start by putting on our waders our enormous orange floatation coats, otherwise known as PPE- personal protective equipment. We would then start preparing two other small boats called skiffs that we use to conduct the surveys. These skiffs are essentially inflatable boats with a motor attached to the back to steer with and an anchor attached to the front in order to get in and out of the boat to search for nests. Usually, we would anchor the Tenacious in the center of the survey transect then we would divide into two teams and split up the transect area. The surveys are conducted by driving the skiffs along the shoreline transect, as passenger looks for Black oystercatchers with their binoculars. When a Black oystercatcher is spotted, we get out, anchor the skiff and take data on what we find. Ideally, we spot a mating pair with the male hanging out by the edge of the water and the female sitting on her nest. When a nest is found, we take data on the number of eggs, type of substrate that the nest was found on, the behavior of the black oystercatchers and GPS location. In other situations, we may find a pair that are not mating, or we may find just one lone Black oystercatcher, in which case we would get out of the skiff and search for a nest above the shoreline. We still take data on the presence of the Black oystercatchers, their GPS locations and note their behavior whether a nest is found or not.

Where were the survey sites and how were they selected?

The survey area consists of a total of 46 regions that were systematically sampled from all the PWS shorelines in order to monitor the density of Black oystercatcher nesting territories in potentially human-disturbed areas. (Black Oystercatcher Monitoring in Prince William Sound 2017 Annual Report) Eight of these 46 regions are statistically selected each year. Of each region, a 10km transect is randomly generated for each of these eight transects that we take the skiffs along to survey for Black oystercatchers. This year the eight regions that we sampled were Green Island, Lower Herring, Eleanor, College Fjord, Unakwik, Rocky Point, Gravina Point, and Simpson Bay. Each survey area was beautiful and different, I’m grateful to have seen each site.

What do the Black oystercatcher nests look like?

The Black oystercatcher clutch size can be up to 3 eggs.  Some nests had shells that the Black oystercatcher had collected, some were embellished with grass, some were solely found in a slight divot in the rock, some had more vegetative cover, some had no cover at all. I really looked forward to seeing the variability between nests.

What else was seen throughout the trip?

We saw so many things! I fell in love with jellyfish during the trip; there we both Lion’s mane and Moon jelly, jellyfishes in the areas we went. We saw a Black bear and a couple Brown bears that we got to admire from healthy distances, which was fascinating. There were many starfish and crabs as well as many kinds of birds including a Horned puffin and Marbled murrelets (which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act). We also saw a Humpback whale, lots of Sea and River otters, several porpoises and many silly seals. I also had the opportunity of learning many new plants and tried a couple new edible ones as well including the Watermelon berry (Streptopus amplexifolius) which fruits berries that taste like watermelon even though the plants aren’t even in the same family! I also discovered a food source that bears and I have in common, it’s a plant commonly referred to as Beach Greens (Honckenya peploides). There was a point on the trip where we came across a Brown bear browsing, and after we observed it for a while, on the walk back to the skiff I too was happily browsing on Beach Greens. It was a sweet moment for me as I felt a little closer to the bear because of it. It was also a sweet moment because the Beach Greens are actually quite sweet in taste. I am grateful for every moment of this wonderful opportunity.

*Majority of photos used in this blog post were taken by Heather Thamm I would like to thank her for capturing so many beautiful moments.

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