Human and Landscape History of Elkhorn Slough

This past Saturday the Elkhorn Slough held its final lectures for all the volunteer naturalists. The first lecture called “First Peoples” by Mark Hylkema focused on the human presence in the Elkhorn Slough and the surrounding areas. Mark Hylkema was a riveting and passionate lecturer who made his research as an archeologist come alive. The main points I got from his lecture is that the people in the area lived in a highly complex society that had different social classes, currency, own language, hunting skills, trade, political ties, and managed their environment in order to survive. Finally, I learned that Native Americans are not relics of the past but are numerous and live among us, therefore, it is necessary to be conscientious of what we say as naturalists.

Elkhorn Slough Day 3

The second lecture was “Land Through Time” with Andrea Woolfolk, which focused on the historical journals and historical land of Elkhorn Slough and the coast of California. Andrea Woolfolk took us through an imaginary journey using the journals of a priest who was part of a group searching for Monterey Bay on behalf of the Spanish empire in order to build a port. Throughout the trip the journals described the landscape, plants, and animals common to the area. At the end of the day Andrea Woolfolk took us to Elkhorn Slough’s historical trail which was absolutely beautiful.

Andrea Woolfolk Lecture

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Interpretation 101 and Natural Systems at Elkhorn Slough

This past Saturday February 14, 2015 the Elkhorn Slough had a lecture regarding “Communication Approaches Connecting with People,” with Monterey Bay Aquarium Interpreter Jim Covel and a “Natural Systems and an Introduction to the Animal Word” lecture by the Reserve Manager Dave Feliz.

Day 2 Training Elkhorn Slough

Even though I am a scientist by education I have always had an interest in communication and thought that the lecture by Jim Covel was essential as I learn how to become a naturalist and communicate with various audiences. The main message I got from Jim was that emotions are remembered a lot easier than simple facts; therefore, it is necessary to connect information with an emotion for it to be memorable to any audience. At the end of the lecture Jim took us out to the trail and gave us a demonstration on how interact with the audience and not only give information about the Slough but to turn in into a story.

Buckeye Jim Covel

*Jim Covel telling a story about the Buckeye tree behind him.

The second lecture by Dave Feliz gave me a preview of what I will confront in the near future, which are birds. Dave quickly went over the different mammals, reptiles, and amphibians we will encounter at the Slough and went a little deeper regarding birds. The two most important points I got from his lecture are to never utter the words “seagull” or “blue jay” at the Slough. At the end of the lecture Dave took us out to the trial to observe birds. We saw a couple of Willets and a few Greater Yellowlegs among many others.

View2Elkhorn Slough Trail View

 

*Views of one of the trails at Elkhorn Slough.

Benthic Invertebrates

A lot of my time at the Elkhorn Slough Reserve has been spent in the plankton lab that is offered to school groups as part of their field trip. It is a really neat lab because it allows students to interact with microscopes, something that some students might not have a chance to do within their regular school year curriculum.

The key to a good lab is collecting a good sample from the slough. This usually requires a pair of rubber boots to get into the water and collect some big chunks of bryozoans, which are a plant-like colonial animals that the benthic invertebrates like to hang from.

Some of the most commons benthic invertebrates we see in the lab are Caprellids, also called skeleton shrimp. When most students first see them under the microscopes they are a little spooked because of their alien-like appearance. Most people think they look like mantises of some sort. Another critter we often see are sea spiders from the class Pycnogonida. Students usually ask if they’re actual spiders and they are not, they just look like land spiders. We also get brittle stars and small sea jellies.

The best part about the lab is seeing how excited the students are looking at their samples. Especially after they’ve had some initial trouble focusing the microscope but then eventually get it right and are able to see the critters clearly and sharply.

Helping in the labs was always a fun activity. And it was also a reminder about how we are surrounded by micro and macroscopic life, and that sometimes it’s important to appreciate it and observe it sometimes.

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Oystercatcher woes

Over the past few weeks I’ve been able to observe some of the obstacles that the Black Oystercatchers, or BLOYs, face. It has been an eye-opening experience that really allowed me to see how many challenges other species face when it comes to reproduction.

It’s a little difficult to not get attached to the chicks, especially when we’ve observed their journey from parent’s nest building behavior, to eggs, and to chicks. Unfortunately, the birth of a chick does not equal reproductive success. The small chicks are still very vulnerable to many predators and are entirely dependent on their parents for protection. This vulnerability meant that most of the chicks that we saw hatched ultimately disappeared. There are only a few chicks left out of a lot of mating pairs. It became typical to see a pair of BLOYs with a chick or two one day, and then suddenly gone the next. Some pairs re-nested, but only to face the same outcome.

Hopefully the data that is being collected will convince people that Black Oystercatchers need more protection. They are a vulnerable species that have been forced to share their territories with humans. The least humans can do is offer protection during their breeding season.

Currently, there is one particular pair of BLOY chicks that have been becoming quite popular with locals and tourists alike in Pacific Grove. These chicks have garnered attention due to the specific place in which they are currently being raised, among the harbor seals. A lot of people stop by to observe the hauled-out harbor seals and among them is a family of yipping Black Oystercatchers. The juxtaposition of these huge marine mammals with these tiny, funny-looking birds is quite a sight. I think this has been bringing a lot of attention to the birds and they are becoming more familiar to the crowds that gather.