of my life. I am so happy that he had faith in a bird- and deer-loving first-year student who struggled with his brain picking and almost constant human ecological questions and often grew frustrated because of them. I was nervous about the project at first because all he did was give us a bird species option and pretty much let us loose to find out all we can about them. It was often frustrating to have so much freedom, especially because I’ve never done anything like this before. All the frustration, however, was worth it. Being thrown into the water like that was the best thing he could have done to have me learn as much as I did.” At times, Lach found herself more immersed in her work than she expected. “I was out in one of the gull colonies and I was catching, weighing and banding chicks with two colleagues,” she recalls. “I was trying to catch a fleeing chick when the parent decided the chasing needed to stop. It hit me on the back of the head with an open beak. I had two large scabs and quite a headache for about a week. I found it rather entertaining to have had such a close interaction with my blackbacks. It also brought a new aspect into the field ecology experience for me: these animals are not just study specimens, they are to be respected and observed cautiously.” Anderson is clearly proud of the students who have worked on Great Duck. There is Mike Shepard ’03, who spent two summers on the island and presented the findings of his study on petrel vocalizations to the Association of Field Ornithologists. With him were graduate students from other universities. Says Anderson, he “looked better
Above: Marianna Bradley holds a gull chick while Jessica Lach bands its leg.
18 | COA
Studying gulls is not a neat and clean proposition. To conduct her research on great black-backed gull nestlings on Great Duck Island, Jessica Lach first had to find which were their nests, and which were those of the herring gull. “I’d stand by the nest and see who’s attacking.” Whoever got closest, “that’s the nest I was in.” To study the gulls, Lach needed to band them, but when she’d try to catch them, the birds would do a “dread”: The adult gulls would fly into the air, circle the interlopers and scream
while the chicks ran from the nest and hid in the tall grass. These little creatures, sometimes just a few weeks old, were so good at hiding that Lach and the others sometimes had to resort to guidance from students observing from the top of the lighthouse, directing them to hiding places via walkie-talkies. Meanwhile, adults were dive-bombing students with all their weaponry, from beaks to backsides. “We got really messy,” laughs Lach. “And when you get the chicks, they sit there with huge, wide-open mouths, and they bite you, so you give them one of your fingers to clamp onto so they won’t bite the person doing the banding!”