March always sneaks up on me each year. In the Science and Stewardship Department at NCF, our work year is divided up into two very different parts: our Field Season (~April-October) when we are actively involved in collecting data and conducting our numerous research and monitoring projects, and the Off-Season(~November-March) which really isn’t an off-season because we spend most of our time analyzing all the data collected over the field season and writing internal reports, papers for publication and planning follow-up and new research for the coming Field Season. In November, the winter months always seem to stretch out forever with plenty of time to get everything finished but suddenly the calendar turns to March and I realize that the busy, hectic and fun field season is right around the corner!
Our seasonal field assistants start arriving in April, the shorebirds are starting to show up and the plants are going to start getting green very soon. That means, March is time to start planning and preparing for the upcoming field season and that can be a little more complicated than you might think. There is a lot of preparation that goes into planning a successful, less stressful field season!
The S&S Department has 4 full-time staff members with each of us in charge of overseeing many research projects centered around our different areas of expertise. This means, on any given week during the field season we probably have 4-5 different projects taking place on different NCF properties that can range from tracking turtles at Medouie Creek, to removing invasive plants to monitoring vegetation to a restoration site to monitoring shorebird populations.
With 4 full-time staff members and 3 seasonal field assistants and only a limited number of field vehicles and field equipment – planning and scheduling becomes key to having a successful and less stressful field season! We have a number of things we do in March that help us get ready for the upcoming field season.
In March we make a list of all of the field work projects for the up-coming year. So far, for 2013, we have about 30 different projects we need to implement in only 6 months! After we list all of the projects we hope to accomplish, we need to figure out timing. Many projects are time limited by when plants are flowering, birds are nesting, turtles are moving, the best time to treat invasives, etc. Then we plan out each month of the field season, strategizing the best weeks to implement each project – realizing that all of our planning needs to flexible to account for weather and unexpected surprises!
During the field season we have weekly meetings to plan the schedule for the following week so we can plan who is going where when and make sure we can effectively use our 3 field vehicles and various field supplies divided among 7 people!
There is nothing worse than getting ready to start a new project and realizing you do not have all of the equipment you need! So we spend the early spring reviewing what we need for each project and double checking that all of the field equipment is in good working order. And then we usually submit a big order to Forestry Suppliers for Rite in the Rain paper, flags, pencils and measuring tapes. We also check to make sure our field vehicles are in good shape and ready for the beating they get over the summer.
Danielle O’Dell surveying rare plants at our Head of the Plains property.
While prepping for field season projects and checking over our field equipment we also revisit field protocols for each project. Every year we have new seasonal field assistants; in order to make sure that data is collected in the same way each year, we write out fairly extensive project protocols. Our protocols lay out the history of a project and all of the steps needed to carry out the field sampling work. From year to year we learn new things – revisiting protocols we can make sure they are up to date with any new maps and information and refresh our memory so we are ready to train our new field assistants.
All of these steps help set us up for a successful field season! So as we head into April and May – you will start seeing us out on the NCF properties more often. If you are wondering what we are doing, please ask – we are always happy to take a minute or two to talk about our work!
So even though we know March means we will soon be busy and chaotic – we are excited and anticipating getting out from our desks and back out on the properties that make Nantucket so unique. We have a lot of exciting projects coming up this year – keep an eye on this blog to see what we are doing!