Spring is the time of year when there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the work day for our Science and Stewardship Department’s full-time staff. There are winter writing projects that need to be wrapped up, early season field work to fit in when Nantucket’s fickle spring weather is cooperative, preparations to be made for the imminent arrival of our seasonal field assistants, and lots of planning and set-up for the research and management projects we will be undertaking between now and the end of October. The following is a sampling of some of our department’s recent activities and plans for the season to come.
Northern Long-eared Bats are already out and about this spring on Nantucket! Our acoustic monitoring devices recorded the first calls from this federally-endangered species on April 2nd. We are continuing our collaboration with UMass Amherst PhD student Zara Dowling this year to document the presence of breeding and over-wintering Northern Long-eared Bats here on the island. Prior to this project, no record of this species existed for Nantucket. Northern Long-eared Bats have experienced a 90% population decline due to White-nose Syndrome, an introduced fungal disease. This disease is potentially not present on Nantucket, making our bat populations of extreme conservation importance. We hope to capture and tag bats this coming season to determine what habitats they are using and where they are hibernating over the winter.
Our beach nesting shorebirds arrived on Nantucket beginning in late March, and we have been out on the beach installing signs and fencing, locating nests and reading band codes on color-banded birds. So far this year, we have American Oystercatchers nesting at Coatue, the Haulover, Polpis Harbor and Eel Point. Our first nests should be hatching out any day! Piping Plovers are nesting on our Eel Point and Coatue properties, and Least Terns have just arrived from their southern wintering grounds and are scoping out potential nesting sites at Eel, Coatue and First Points. If you are out and about on the beach this spring and summer, enjoy your visit – but please respect our fencing and signs so that these rare and beautiful birds have a successful nesting season.
Spring is when we welcome the transition from gray to green across the landscape. But not all of the vegetation in Nantucket’s conservation lands is native, and with the arrival of spring comes renewed efforts to manage non-native, invasive plant species. We have numerous ongoing projects underway on the Foundation’s properties to control populations of Spotted Knapweed, Common Reed, Japanese Stilt Grass, Garlic Mustard, Japanese Knotweed, Black Swallowwort, Rusty/Gray Willow, and Japanese Black Pine. We also participate in “Weed Wednesdays” – a volunteer group effort spearheaded by the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative’s Invasive Plant Species Committee to manually remove invasives from road and bike path edges and conservation properties. Invasive species management is difficult but important work, and we are always looking for a few extra hands to help out on Wednesday mornings starting at 8:30 AM. If you are interested in helping, please contact us!
Horseshoe crabs are back and spawning on our beaches, and we are out there counting them from late April through late June. Since 2009, the Foundation and the Maria Mitchell Association have been consistently surveying two beaches on Nantucket (Warren’s Landing in Madaket Harbor and Monomoy Beach in Nantucket Harbor) to document population sizes of mating horseshoe crabs. Similar surveys are conducted all along the Northeastern U.S. coast on the same days and nights each spring to track population fluctuations over time. Surveys are done during the full and new moon high tide cycles because this is when horseshoe crabs mate and come to shore to lay eggs. If going out to the beach in the middle of the night to look for mating horseshoe crabs sounds interesting to you- we can always use a volunteer to help out with these surveys!
One of the major focuses of our research this coming year is a sandplain grassland habitat restoration project on our Head of the Plains property. Our department staff collaboratively designed this effort to assess the effectiveness of disk harrowing as a habitat management technique by undertaking comprehensive monitoring of the response of vegetation communities, insect, small mammal and bird populations. Pre-treatment data was collected last year and the harrowing treatment was conducted within a 3.2 acre test plot in March 2017. Breeding bird surveys and plot set-up for native seed addition are already underway this spring, with much more monitoring to come as the season progresses. This broad ecological research will inform alternative grassland management and restoration options when prescribed fire is not a viable option or when shrubs have encroached too far for other management techniques to be effective.
As you can see, we have a pretty full slate of projects underway, with many more in the pipeline to begin within the next months! We are eagerly looking forward to the arrival of Neil Foley (our Coatue Ranger) and Scott Fuchs and Jacob Erle (our Botany and Ecology Field Assistants) over the next several weeks to help us out with this work. However, as the saying goes, “many hands make light work” and there are a few projects where we can certainly use an extra hand. If volunteer field work sounds appealing to you, please check out our 2017 Volunteer Opportunities posted on our website!
The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us! www.nantucketconservation.org