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Archive for the ‘Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Historical Park’ Category

I came to work early this morning to prepare for an 8:30 am talk I was scheduled to give to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP seasonal interpretive staff. We all park down the road a bit and walk up to the mansion or carriage barn, depending on one’s particular office location. So, I was trudging up the driveway this morning when overhead I noticed a duck. It was a Common Merganser–the male of a pair that has taken to nesting in a tree only 20 feet or so from the edge of the driveway I was walking on. The same driveway that the oil truck bounces up and down, that park visitors chat and walk on, that (leashed) dogs run on–it would be like choosing to locate your house on the side of a highway!

A pair of Common Merganzers is nesting in this tree along the driveway at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP (NPS photo).

A pair of Common Mergansers is nesting in this tree along the driveway at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP (NPS photo).

Mr. Merganzer made a loop overhead, so I looked at the hollow tree knot where I know mamma Merganzer to be incubating her eggs. I’m dying for a picture of her in her nest. I couldn’t see anything that looked like a bird, only the hole, but decided to sit on bench and give it a minute, just in case. Sure enough, within a minute or two, out popped a narrow reddish head and stark white brest. She stayed that way, looking around and calling to her mate. After a few moments of this, she waddled herself to the precipice of the hole and flew out! And me without my camera–drat, drat, drat!!! I stayed on the bench, wondering what would happen next. After a couple loops over the park, mamma Merganzer came back, gracefully alighted herself on the edge of the nest hole, and began poking around in there as though she was feeding some hungry ducklings, which I suspect she was.

The nest hole (NPS photo).

The nest hole (NPS photo).

The Mergansers have nested in this same spot for several years now, much to the delight of everyone who works here at Marsh-Billings. I’ve talked about the birds with several folks and we are all amazed that they would choose a nest hole so high and so far from water. Eventually, those ducklings are going to want to come out. I imagine them, with their useless duckling wings, stepping off the edge, into the unforgiving arms of gravity, and bouncing on the perfectly manicured lawn.  And then what? Walking, I suppose, to water. The river is nearby, but requires crossing a road. maybe they will march up the carriage road to the Pouge pond. Whatever they do, momma Merganser is likely to make sure it happens early in the morning, at the safest time of day. The fact that she returns year after year is a good sign that she’s a successful nester and knows what she’s doing.

The perils of being a duckling are numerous. Carol’s rescued gull is probably going to eat some baby eiders, despite his promise. Those that escape him may be breakfast for an eagle. A car might get our merganzer ducklings. Those that make it to water might be lunch for a turtle. Lately, we’ve been honoring apex predators on this blog, so I’d like to give a shout out to the little guys, the bite sized, the tasty, the vulnerable, the ones who put the “food” in “food web”. Take luck, you’ll need it.

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They are men on a mission: to sample water quality and flow characteristics of streams, rivers, and ponds in northeastern parks….and the crab cake panini at the Main Streets Market and Cafe in Concord, MA. Meet Eric and Dan, the dynamic duo who will be visiting a park near you (provided you live near a national park in VT, NH, MA, CT, NY, or NJ) with a cooler full of sample vials, a high-tech probe (the “YSI”) that measures everything from dissolved oxygen to pH, a fancy “flow-meter” that builds a profile of how water flows through the stream channel, and a yet-to-be-named (suggestions welcome) inflatable “research vessel”.

Eric and Dan hail from the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. Eric is pursuing a master’s degree and Dan is a research associate.

Eric and the YSI at Saint-Gaudens NHS

Eric and the YSI at Saint-Gaudens NHS

Dan blowing up the "research vessel" at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP (NPS photo).

Dan blowing up the "research vessel" at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP (NPS photo).

Recently, I headed out in the field to learn the tricks of their trade. Eric and Dan boast of supernatural powers–or uncanny luck–for heralding good weather; in two summers together they have logged only two rainy days. This trip was true to form. Despite an ominous forecast, we had two surprisingly sunny days in the field together sampling streams and ponds at parks in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Some, like Blow-me Down Brook at Saint-Gauden’s NHS, were tranquil and serene. Others, like one of the streams we sampled at Minute-Man NHP, were clearly impacted by the suburban landscape in which the park is located. The experience reminded me: We all live downstream and national parks are no exception. The water resources in national parks, especially smaller units like the ones in the northeast, are affected by the communities and landscapes around them. The data Eric and Dan collect will help parks and their surrounding communities understand what kinds of water-quality issues they face, and maybe help guide solutions.

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