Oasis of Alternative: The Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island

While you inform anybody who’s even remotely conversant in Kent Island that you’re about to embark on a journey to this far-flung place, the response is invariably two-pronged.

VIDEO Oasis of Alternative: The Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island

You hear how superb the Bowdoin Scientific Station (BSS) is, sitting there amid 2 hundred acres of lush nature, such a possibility for college students to do hands-on scientific work to assist proceed its legacy of decades-long analysis knowledge—and likewise that it takes perpetually and a number of modes of transportation to get there. All of that is true.

Without delay six miles south of Grand Manan Island within the Bay of Fundy and midway between Maine and Nova Scotia, Kent Island is certainly a haven in each sense of the phrase.

Just about predator-free, the island is a sanctuary for birds, particularly Leach’s storm-petrels, which have been studied right here for the reason that early Thirties and whose species is threatened; Savannah sparrows, whose birdsong has been the topic of a long time of analysis by famend animal behaviorist and neuroscientist Heather Williams ’77 and the career-long analysis system of retired biology professor and former BSS director (1987–2004) Nat Wheelwright; and seagulls that you’ll effortlessly anger if you happen to enterprise wherever close to their eggs or younger, that are in all places.

Since 1936, when John Sterling Rockefeller donated the island to Bowdoin in alternate for a greenback and a promise that the Faculty would preserve it as a hen sanctuary, Kent Island has been a super oasis for researchers who research all issues avian and an inspiring retreat for artists, who, just like the island itself, can’t assist however discover themselves surrounded by wondrous nature’s everchanging situations poetically juxtaposed with the almost two-mile lengthy strip of land that continues to be pristine and largely unaffected by fashionable advances.

Oasis of Alternative: The Bowdoin Scientific Station on Kent Island

The (Chicken) Tune Does Not Stay the Similar

“After my first yr I labored two jobs over the summer time so I might be capable to spend all the following summer time on Kent Island. It was one of many foggiest summers on file, and I spent it having as many adventures as is feasible on a small island.”

Heather Williams ’77 on the cultural evolution of hen tune »

Make no mistake; it’s also a trek. You’ll be able to’t get there from right here or from wherever simply, however the problem makes your arrival that rather more satisfying. Suffice it to say, if you happen to have been to depart from the Bowdoin campus, you’re going to drive perpetually, or 4 hours, however will absorb stunning blueberry barrens in down east Maine earlier than you cross the border into Canada.

As soon as overseas, you’ll proceed to drive till you board a ferry along with your car certain for the north finish of Grand Manan Island after which traverse to the south finish, the place you’ll be picked up by a form bearded man piloting a skiff, who, relying on the tide at that specific second, might also later show you how to and your gear right into a dinghy after which row you ashore. And ashore is a relative time period, once more relying on the tide. The Bay of Fundy is kind of recognized for its tidal modifications, which generally vary greater than forty-five toes from excessive to low. Ashore may very well imply “nearly there,” and also you’ll be glad you adopted the advice to carry alongside eighteen-inch tall boots so that you could be wade by the muck of the drained basin that meets what you and I consider as “the shore.”

Because it seems, the sort bearded man is Ian Kyle, who’s—plot twist—additionally the BSS assistant director, a Bowdoin alumnus (Class of 2006) who got here to Kent Island himself as a scholar and—spoiler alert—married to Patricia Jones, the BSS director. All of this to say, college students who come to Kent Island clearly actually wish to be right here and are past grateful for the chance, which is the phrase you hear repeatedly. 

Megan Stretch ’24 working with petrels on Kent Island.

Megan Stretch ’24 and her fellow hen handlers have come to finesse a way whereby she permits the burrowed birds to chunk her finger with their tiny hooked beaks. She then gently walks them out of the lengthy slender tunnel, which typically retains feathers from being ruffled, actually and figuratively.

Chicks Dig It: The Legacy of the Leach’s Storm-Petrel

Megan Stretch ’24, a rising junior from San Mateo, California, shoulders fairly a accountability over the summer time, partly as a result of she spends a substantial amount of time in an space of the island often known as the shire, reaching shoulder-deep into the burrows of delicate storm-petrel chicks to be able to safely retrieve them, and likewise as a result of she has an important position within the island’s legacy of sustaining one of many oldest steady knowledge units on animals on the earth. There’s some knowledge on storm-petrels courting again to the early Thirties; steady knowledge assortment started in 1953.

“They’re simply an unimaginable species,” says Stretch. “They’re burrowing seabirds. They reside underground. They lay one egg a yr. A variety of instances they’ll prioritize their very own survival over that of their chick’s, so within the face of local weather change by way of ocean warming and declining meals sources, it’s attention-grabbing to see how these threatened birds handle their vitality and the completely different methods they use.”

Stretch checks a number of storm-petrel burrows on daily basis, recording their weight and compiling a inhabitants census. BSS director Patricia Jones helped design load cell sensor gadgets—scales, basically—which are positioned on the entrance of the burrows to measure the birds as they arrive and go, lowering the variety of instances researchers should bodily take away the birds. 

Storm-petrels are an essential a part of the island’s historical past and interesting creatures. Laying one egg at time, they scent musty as chicks, can generally reside to be thirty-eight years previous, and are surprisingly effectively traveled. For years, BSS researchers questioned the place they went after they disappeared for days at a time. A number of years in the past, having outfitted greater than a dozen of the little guys with tiny backpacks carrying GPS gadgets, Kent Island researchers have been capable of stalk their actions.

“They fly from Kent Island all the best way down, previous Brunswick, to Cape Cod to seek out meals,” Jones defined. “The journey takes them three or 4 days, then they return to Kent Island and commerce out with their mate who was sitting on their egg of their little burrow within the floor, in order that their mate can head out and discover meals.” Learn “A Seabird Thriller is Solved on Kent Island.”

Attending to work with knowledge going again to the early Fifties when the island’s storm-petrels have been first banded connects at present’s researchers by time to one thing larger than simply the a part of the summer time they spend on the island. “I believe it is unimaginable,” says Stretch. “I’ve by no means achieved discipline analysis earlier than, and I am sort of testing out which discipline of bio I might love to enter. And this chance is superb.”

You may want a automotive, a ferry, and perhaps some very tall boots—relying on the tide. Welcome to Kent Island!

The Kent Island Expertise: A Summer season of New and Distinctive Alternatives

For 9 weeks every summer time right here, college students like Megan Stretch are the researchers, a singular expertise in an undergrad surroundings. This summer time 9 Bowdoin college students have journeyed to the island: six analysis fellows, one artist-in-residence, and two land stewards. They’re joined by three graduate college students from the College of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, who’re right here finding out Savannah sparrows.

The island’s residents all work and be taught and reside collectively, collaborating on their tasks and likewise taking turns making ready meals and washing dishes. Showers are typically weekly occurrences for many, out of a collective effort to preserve the effectively water; one fills a five-gallon bucket of solar-heated water and lugs it to an outside however non-public bathe station by which a hose, a pump, and foot pedal work collectively to supply a fast however at all times appreciated bathing expertise. Laundry is on an analogous schedule and likewise includes a five-gallon bucket. At one level, Emma Olney, a rising sophomore from York, Pennsylvania, who’s wanting on the results of various moss households on conifer seedling recruitment, proclaims the night will embrace a “laundry social gathering” and certainly it does, as washers debate the professionals and cons of a job alternative and giggle till all of it comes out within the wash.

A group photo of the students, researchers, and staff of Kent Island.

Rustic as it may be at instances, college students have the whole lot they should conduct essential discipline analysis—there may be energy for laptops and scientific devices and Wi-Fi connectivity—and lots of issues they couldn’t get wherever else, specifically this type of hands-on expertise as undergrads and entry to visiting graduate college students, postdocs, and scientists. Director Jones thinks of the BSS on Kent Island in three elements. “Firstly, we’re a scientific analysis station and an lively one,” she says. “We’re discovering funding for science and supporting scientists and what they wish to do right here.”

The second part of what BSS does, says Jones, is to carry undergrads into this dynamic analysis surroundings and supply them with expertise doing their very own impartial analysis venture, determining easy methods to analyze the info, serious about designing the strategies, and dealing alongside graduate college students and scientists who can share their experiences and views. “They get to do the dishes with them and have that publicity of actually getting to know individuals already within the trenches to ask them, ‘What’s grad faculty like? Why did you determine to do a PhD and the way do you choose what you are going to research?’” Jones says. “Undergrads get the chance to ask graduate college students questions on what that subsequent stage of their profession could be like in the event that they determine to go down that street, be it discipline biology or environmental science or ecology.”

Sketches by the artists-in-residence line the walls of the station.

“It’s particularly distinctive to have the ability to come right here,” Stretch says. “I have been capable of get each actual discipline analysis expertise working in a research web site and likewise been capable of meet different individuals who make science a profession and be capable to discuss to them about their profession paths and the completely different alternatives which are forward.”

The third part, which is ever-evolving, is considering the intersections that exist between science and different methods of participating with nature. Jones calls it bearing witness to the pure world; that has manifested in poets and artists coming to the island to work together with the undergraduates to discover how their work could converge.

Sketches of skulls by artist-in-residence Alison Ambrosio ‘22, who is attending grad school in the fall for medical illustration.

Sketches of skulls by artist-in-residence Alison Ambrosio ‘22.

This yr’s artist-in-residence, Alison Ambrosio ‘22, an artwork main and biology minor, is heading to grad faculty to check medical illustration however this summer time helps with storm-petrel analysis and collaborating on a kids’s ebook about animal poop and can gleefully share with you that bee poop has the consistency of jelly.

On the finish of 1 fruitful day, Ambrosio is on kitchen obligation with Eric Diaz ’23, who spent the wet morning within the lab with a spectrometer as a part of his analysis into pollinators, particularly the colour studying of bumblebees. Over crowd-pleasing burritos that the 2 had been planning for weeks, college students recap the day, which finally had given solution to full solar and a day of productiveness. Emma Olney ’25 and Jeremy Hoyne Grosvenor ‘22 have been capable of stock patches of forest flooring for his or her forestation tasks, and Leila Trummel ’23 made headway in the highschool lesson plans she’s creating round her low-bush blueberry pollination analysis with Neena Goldthwaite ’24. Land stewards Elizabeth Baker ’22 and Elena Sparrow ’22 unloaded a literal boatload of lumber, and after a lesson from Ian Kyle, started to shingle the woodshed.

Meals additionally typically contain a little bit of schooling. Whereas partaking in a wide range of basic Canadian butter tarts, college students listened to a presentation by Visiting Professor of Artwork Audrey Shakespear. On the island for ten days looking for inspiration, the sculptor particulars an ongoing sculpture venture upon which she’s been chipping away for 5 years. The earlier night introduced a hands-on knot quiz; following an earlier dinner demonstration of easy methods to tie the helpful bowline knot (generally known as the king of knots due to its significance), lengths of rope have been redistributed to see what had caught. All move with flying colours, topped kings and queens of the knot, earlier than conversations resume within the dorm’s front room, the place Ian Kyle generally performs guitar in entrance of the wooden range, or round a campfire whereas roasting marshmallows because the solar units.

“That is an especially distinctive expertise that I’ll by no means get at some other level in my life,” Leila Trummel ’23.

Life on Kent Island brings alternative at each flip. These nine-week stretches expose college students to real-life analysis with essential implications for science and the surroundings. The scholars and their work are important hyperlinks within the chain of the Bowdoin Scientific Station’s lengthy legacy of knowledge assortment, and in return for his or her diligence and stewardship, Kent Island gives the sort expertise you’ll be able to solely get by doing for your self, by studying first-hand from these within the discipline, and by dwelling and sharing this work as a part of a group inherently devoted to finding out the current to be able to domesticate higher futures. It’s certainly a haven for a lot of, and a mere stopover for others on dynamic journeys which are simply getting began.

The Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Basis has awarded the Faculty a $1 million problem grant to assist a brand new Doherty Kent Island Postdoctoral Scholar Program to advance analysis alternatives at Kent Island.

A $2 million endowment is required to cowl the $100,000 annual prices to assist a current PhD graduate to be a two-year postdoctoral scholar instructing one course on campus annually and mentoring Bowdoin undergraduate summer time fellows on Kent Island in the summertime.

To be taught extra in regards to the Doherty Kent Island Postdoctoral Scholar Program and how one can assist it, contact Liz Armstrong at [email protected] or name 207-725-3172.


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