Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Geeking out at Owls Head

Getting into it with Kerry and Sarah!
It was a rumor that had to be investigated.

Somewhere, sometime, I had heard that there were tidepools at the Owls Head Light.  Good tidepools.  Tidepools worth tromping through.  I might have read it in Shumway.  Or I might have heard it on the street.  Either way, I'd been itching to get out there and investigate for awhile.

I tried to get there just a couple of weeks ago.  This is what it looked like in town:

Very striking image, but not encouraging for a tide pool day!
I hightailed it out of there!
But the weather was clearing, and there was a very low spring tide approaching.  And so I assembled my team of intrepid scientists.  Kerry Whittaker, a young biological oceanographer, and Sarah Kingston, an amazing molecular ecologist and all around cool gal, were on the crack squad of tidepoolers this time out.  We dug out our boots, bundled up in several layers, and rendezvoused for a spring tide expedition to Penobscot Bay.

Our arrival was greeted with cold, strong winds.  We thought this might make our trip unpleasant, but it turned out the wind was from the northeast, so we were in the lee of the headland once we made it past the lighthouse.

Typical light house wonderfulness.
A beautiful site!

We scrabbled down the steep trail . . . 
And what did we find?  How were the tidepools?


The headland protects this spot from wind and waves.
First off, this was the slickest place I've ever tromped through -- slick as in slippery, not as in cool.  I looked like a little old lady clamoring around on all fours.  There was a lot of Irish moss very high on the rocks -- surprising because this seaweed doesn't do well exposed to air.  I thought it might be Mastocarpus at first (which looks similar, but can withstand emersion for longer than Irish moss.  But it wasn't; a curious finding!  We found a ton of dog whelks -- not surprising given the fact that waves would have trouble getting to the tide pools here.  That meant we also found an ecological community typical of a place with lots of hungry predators -- very few barnacles or mussels.  We also found a lot of sea urchins in the low tidepools -- super cool.  These hungry herbivores gobble up seaweed at an astonishing pace, so the tidepools looked like the salad bar had been picked clean.

Dog whelks:  voracious predators.

Exposed Irish moss:  unusual.

Smooth periwinkles (and slippery seaweed).

A tidepool dominated by coralline algae.

Loads and loads of sea urchins!

Like this one!
And then there was the rock gunnel incident:

So yes -- there are amazing tidepools at Owls Head.  Investigating them was hard work, but someone had to do it.  We rewarded ourselves with a trip to King Eiders Pub in Damariscotta on the way home.

Spring sun on the lighthouse.
Other Tidepools and How to Tidepool.  Check 'em out; summer is coming!

GETTING THERE:  From US1 in Rockland, turn right onto Rt 73.  Go 1 3/4 miles and turn left onto North Shore Road; go 2.5 miles and turn left onto Main Street (at the General Store and Post Office). At the waterfront, turn left until you see the state park signs.

The tidepools are most easily accessed by taking the left fork in the dirt road once you park your car. Unless you want to scrabble down the cliff.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Maine Maritime and Coastal Studies for Girls

Maine has some pretty amazing educational institutions, and this past week I got to hang out with folks from two of them.  Maine Maritime in Castine is one of the most incredible colleges around -- where students focus on practical experience and leave with hundreds of companies (and the military) clamoring to hire them.  And Coastal Studies for Girls, a young program focusing on semester-long residential learning for high school girls, is an up-and-coming place.

Put the two together and what do you get?  Lots of energy, lots of competence, and lots of exploring.

I'm working with Kerry Whitakker this semester, and she spends half her time at Bowdoin and half at CSG.  She's also a great biological oceanographer and educator, and tolerates my nosiness.  So I just wangled an invite to go up with CSG on their field trip to MMA.  MMA is actively working to recruit more women, so this is a natural fit for them.  The first day the girls got to spend time in the "bridge simulators" -- where they "drive" tugboats, tankers, and other boats through computer simulations. They also visited the amazing planetarium.  Then, on the second day, they hit the water.

A tugboat bridge simulator.  Those "windows" are all separate flat screens, but they work together to make it look like you're moving.  I actually started to get queasy!  Students work on simulations testing their boat-handling skills in all sorts of situations.  Apparently the CSG students had their skills tested in rough seas and calm, and only a few of them crashed!
It wasn't exactly the nicest day to be on the water, but the wind was minimal, so it didn't seem that bad.  We pulled on our rain gear, layered in a bunch of clothes, and boarded.  The girls went out on two boats; each for an hour.  The research vessel collected plankton samples using a plankton net tow and a rosette water sampler, and water chemistry parameters were collected using a CTD -- depth, temp, salinity, etc.  We got a lot of interesting samples and they learned a lot about research methods:

The R/V Friendship is MMA's research vessel.

Kerry Whitakker explains how the water sampling will work.

Captain Zander uses the A frame to deploy the sampling equipment. 

Resting a bit.
The navigation vessel blew me away.  This 70 foot boat is specially equipped with a large wheel house that has multiple navigation stations -- each with a chart table, GPS, and radar.  MMA students use it to plot courses and learn how to get from point A to point B.  What an amazing boat!  Luckily it was a bit foggy so we could really see the usefulness of radar.

Each station has everything you need to navigate.

The girls got to drive, under the direction of an MMA student.
One of the best parts of this trip was watching the MMA students interact with us.  Both boats had an instructor (and captain) from MMA, but they were piloted by students.  Each was exceptionally mature and competent.  As one of the captains told me, "Our students go out for their practical experiences each summer, and when they come back, we can treat them more as peers and students." I could see this was true.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Hankering for Spring: Back Cove Loop

If you're from New England, you're sick of hearing it, so I won't say it.

Or maybe I will:  I really want spring to get here.

We've had some hints.  Like today, it's almost 60 degrees here, making it hard to figure out what to wear for a lunchtime run.  Shirtsleeves?  What are those?

But winter has been reluctant to let go. And that's been a real pain for coastal hiking.  There's not enough snow to snowshoe, but too much to hike.  Trails have been packed down to ice, making a walk in the woods difficult.  There are a lot of trails out there waiting for me, I'm just not enthused about venturing on them until that ice clears a bit more.

Winter lingers in the salt marsh.
So last weekend when the dog gave me her expectant look and sad little whimper, I packed her into the Mighty Kia and headed down to Portland, to enjoy one to the great urban trails that distinguishes the city.  For years I've been driving past happy joggers and strollers as I whiz down 295, and I decided it was time to circumnavigate Back Cove.

The trail is wide and great for walking or biking.
The Cove itself is a huge mudflat, and you all know what I think of mudflats.  Super cool.  There wasn't much to see this time of year, but plenty of ducks and gulls were foraging in the Cove, so it's clear life is there even if I'm too cold to get in there myself.

Dory got a little loopy in her happiness.

Until she saw this sign.  No Dogs?  Bummer.

Fine, we'll just walk.

Looking left . . . 

Looking right.
The path is an easy, flat 3 1/2 mile loop; hard packed and wide enough for several people to pass. The city is a joy to see from the path, with Munjoy Hill rising up and catching the afternoon sun.  I did a little gawking at the houses on Baxter Ave, fantasizing about which I would choose if I were blessed to be rich.  Luckily you don't have to be rich to enjoy this part of the city; there's plenty of parking near the Hannaford on Forest Ave.  Even Dory had a good time!

It was crowded with people having a great day.

Enjoying the sun and blue sky.