On the sunny afternoon of July 22nd, we boarded the TGIFF (Thank God It’s Finally Finished) at the wharf in Shag Harbour to head to Bon Portage Island with our 11 participants for our second annual Junior Wildlife Conservation program.
After the half hour boat ride to the Island, we settled into the cabin and hiked to the southern point to get to know the lighthouse, field laboratory space, and saltwater pond. Along the way, we were amazingly fortunate to see a Harbor seal pup (Phoca vitulina) laying on a rock near the water, as well as a group of double crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus). After getting to know each other, our guest Instructor Marina, a Naturalist, Environmental Educator, and Teacher, officially started our program by leading us through a Mi’kmaw land designation and traditional Indigenous smudging (a cleansing ceremony involving the burning of specific herbs that invites positive energy and purifies the environment). We finished the night with a bonfire before heading to bed in the Evelyn and Morrill Richardson Field Station in Biology bunkhouse.
The following morning, we embarked on a hike across the Island with resident Biologists Rielle, Safyah, and Nina to assist them with their Leach’s storm petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) conservation research. Leach’s storm petrel is a small grey species of seabird that has been assessed as “vulnerable” by the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a group that studies the conservation status of plants and animals around the world. Petrels are nocturnal birds that, during mating season, hunt for fish at sea during the day and return to their nests at night to feed their chicks. There are an estimated 40,000 pairs of Leach’s storm petrel that seasonally inhabit Bon Portage, and the conservation of this colony makes up the majority of wildlife research on the Island. Our participants were able to interact with these incredible animals by helping Island Biologists with their research projects, including helping Safyah identify new nests with chicks in them that she would later collect blood and feather samples from to test the mercury levels. But since Leach’s storm petrels nest in burrows, to find them you have to stick your arm into holes in the ground in an act called “grubbing”! (Since there are no natural predators on the Island that could fit into these burrows, there’s no chance that there will be anything else in the nest, making it a safer activity than it may sound like.) We were amazingly lucky during this morning of grubbing to find 9 chicks and 6 adults. Some of these chicks were only days old, and closely resemble grey pom-poms with legs. You can imagine how excited we were to get to interact with such adorable animals!
After lunch, our girls engaged in a series of nature appreciation activities with our guest Instructors and Naturalists Marina and Char. Our participants learned how to identify some of the Island’s edible plants, including stinging nettle and beach peas, afterwards enjoying the pine and stinging nettle tea they’d made in the forest. We then headed back to the southern point of the Island to build and deploy Baited Remote Video systems (BRVs) to try to record the Island’s deer. A BRV is a structure typically made out of PVC piping that holds a camera and bait cage to attract whatever type of animal you’re studying. While usually used underwater, we adapted this design to sit in the Island’s meadow. We experimented by leaving 4 types of food for the deer, including carrots, celery, apples, and tomatoes. While our GoPro sadly died before it could record the deer, we returned the following morning to find everything eaten but the tomatoes!
Our final activity of the program involved setting fish traps into the saltwater pond, which we pulled 3 hours later to find a whopping 500+ small fish! Our girls took turns measuring and identifying the fish, which were of 2 species: mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus), and banded killifish (Fundulus diaphanus). We measured over 200 and took a count of the rest before releasing them back into the pond.
On our final morning, we woke early to clean up the cabin, take some group photos, say farewell to the Island, and catch our boat back to the mainland.
Thank you to our amazing group of participants, some who were total champions that had never before attended an overnight program! We’d also like to thank our volunteers Marina Myra, Char Bishop, Rielle Hoeg, Safyah Bryan, and Nina Nesbitt, as well as program support from Acadia University and Dr. Phil Taylor, and Island keepers Lee and Jerry. Finally, we send our thanks to McCallum environmental for helping sponsor this program.
This program will be offered next in July of 2020.