Our Budding Marine Biologists spend a week at camp learning about the variety of interesting organisms that live on Chincoteague, Assateague, and Wallops Islands. Signs of life and life itself are found everywhere, and with your eyes open, there is so much to see in these barrier island environments!
On Tuesday, a team of educators and camp counselors took a short bus ride with the campers to the Bateman Center, where they went on a scavenger hunt, learning fun facts about the Wildlife Refuge. Campers watched a video about the wild ponies of Assateague Island and other animals that inhabit the area before hiking the Assateague Lighthouse Trail to see some of these animals for themselves.
On their walk over, campers were tasked with identifying 50 signs of life. This "bio blitz" challenged the students to look closely for anything that indicated that an animal was in the area or had been: spider webs, footprints, even a mosquito buzzing by. Sometimes, this meant simply closing your eyes and listening for the chirp of a bird or a clicking of a bug.
Lunch was a quick sandwich by the beach, but then it was back on the bus to explore the intertidal zone! High tide meant campers were up to their shoulders in water from the bay, but that didn’t stop them from catching a variety of fish to bring back to the lab to study. The young biologists lined up on one side of the creek and paraded toward shore, encouraging dozens of fish to swim into the nets waiting for them at the end. After a few rounds of sampling, the campers enjoyed swimming and frolicking around in the high tide.
After a long swim and time to change into dry clothes, it was back to the Field Station for much-needed showers. No one ever said marine science and hands-on education was a clean experience, but it sure is fun!
Absolutely. Besides, crabs are a lot easier to handle than sharks, and a lot easier to find!
It's our second week of intergenerational camp through Road Scholar, and our grandparents and grandchildren are having a blast! Today campers spent time learning about and catching crabs on Wallops Island.
Using an old tried and true tradition, educators showed campers how to catch crabs using a small pipe, some rope, and a chicken neck. Yes, a chicken neck. After trying the piece to some rope, tying that to the pipe, and winding it up, campers threw the bait into the water. Once they felt a tug, our Sea S.T.A.R. Interns used nets to help bring the crabs in to be examined and studied.
Educator Alyssa taught everyone how to identify the sex of the crab, all dependent on what "shape" they have on their apron, the underside of their shells. The males will have a shape "like the Washington Monument," and immature females will have a shape "like a pyramid." If it was a mature female, she would have a squishy sack where the eggs are kept.
Both the grandparents and the children were eager to learn how to handle these creatures which are so characteristic of the Eastern Shore. These crabs, however, were tossed back into the water, but the campers will enjoy a crab dinner another night this week!
Learn more about other family programs we have here!
Session III of our college courses began this week, which means for the next three weeks our students’ minds will be on these three subjects: Conservation Biology, Behavioral Ecology, and Coastal Environmental Oceanography. While the Coastal Environmental Oceanography students are down in Florida for the next two weeks, this week we’ll take a look at Behavioral Ecology, taught by Dr. Horton of Millersville University.
Behavioral Ecology will focus on the different behaviors animals have adapted over time to reproduce and survive and why they have the specific habits and inclinations that they do. Dr. Horton aims to have 50% of the course outside, where students can really observe and quantify animal behavior in the wild.
On Wednesday, Dr. Horton took the students on the marsh trail to observe the birds on Assateague Island. First, they took the vans to Tom’s Cove to observe the bird life there for an hour, carefully watching different species of birds hunt for fish and interact with each other.
Afterwards, they drove to the wildlife loop. Here, Dr. Horton played sounds of different bird calls on the trail to see if he could provoke the male birds into thinking there was another male encroaching on their territory, trying to get to the females. Sure enough, the male birds in the area sang their song in response and flew around, trying to chase out the threat to their claim.
The students observed these males and determined where each bird had his territory. On a map, they delineated each territory and quantified the number of males and females they saw there.
Though it’s only the first few days of class, students are already excited for what’s to come.
“My first impression of the class is that it’s really interesting,” Joshua of Millersville University said. “I’m looking forward to every lecture and every field trip, especially last night when we went onto a beach and observed ghost crab activity.”
“I’m here because I wanted to get out of the lab and get some field experience, and down here is the perfect place to do it,” Zack of Lock Haven University said.
“I decided to take this class because one of my concentrations is animal behavior and I thought it would be interesting to get some experience watching animals, trying to figure out what they’re doing,” Donald of Millersvile University said.
After returning to the Field Station for lunch, the afternoon was spent not in the lab but at the beach, where Dr. Horton lead a class discussion. Sure, 50% of the class is outlined to be in the classroom, but a classroom can be anywhere – even on the beach!
Check back with the Bay Blog in the coming weeks to learn more about the other college courses going on this session!
This week, in addition to Coastal Art Camp, we have two junior camps for ages 13-15: Junior Naturalist Camp and Dangerous Creatures and Ocean Predators! While one camp is birding at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, the other is carefully reeling in unique marine life in the waters near Wallops Island. Both camps allow young marine science enthusiasts to get their feet wet and see amazing creatures in their natural habitat, an ideal way to learn about the Eastern shore and its animals.
Whether you prefer to actively seek out creatures in their natural habitat or make observations from afar, these camps provide students with unmatched hands on experiences. Read more about each camp below, and see what we’ve been up to this week:
Dangerous Creatures and Ocean Predators
Monday was the first day of camp, and in order to study these creatures, we had to capture them first. Educators Kirstie and Andrew, with the help of counselor Brian, lead a fishing trip on the research vessel to trawl for some marine organisms. During all programs at CBFS, participants are informed about four "dangerous creatures" that we often find in the Bay including: blue crab, mantis shrimp, oyster toadfish, and sting rays. These are local marine organisms that are potentially harmful to humans if one doesn't know how to properly handle each animal.
The campers succeeded in pulling in three of the four creatures, all except the stingray. They took back a variety of other types of fish to study in the lab, including flounder, a seahorse, a sea star (not to be confused with a Sea S.T.A.R. Intern) a puffer fish, and other types of organisms common to the bay.
Later in the week campers visited Wallops Island in pursuit of sharks and rays, engaged in an intellectual debate about top predators, and created their own dangerous creatures.
Junior Naturalist Camp
Our Junior Naturalists started camp off in a similar way that our Dangerous Creatures camp did - on the research vessel! They collected fish and other organisms for their lab the next day to observe these creatures close-up and learn about their behaviors. Since both groups were collecting organisms, there was a great range of diversity in species for campers to explore.
Throughout the week, campers learned about barrier island ecology on Chincoteague, Assateague and Wallops Islands. They got their feet wet in the intertidal zone and got muddy in the marsh. The Junior Naturalists were challenged to make comparisons when they visited Kiptopeke State Park (located on the Chesapeake Bay) where they seined for organisms. The week also included a bird hike at the Refuge and a nocturnal beach exploration. The Eastern Shore has so many amazing natural spaces and with just a week it's difficult to see everything the Shore has to offer, but our junior naturalists definitely got the grand tour!
Today all three of our summer camp groups - Coastal Art, Junior Naturalist, and Dangerous Creatures are enjoying a beach part on Assateague Island before parting ways! We look forward to having many campers back again next summer!
Our Sea Squirts loved learning about the Delmarva Fox Squirrel at camp - check out this video of them doing "The Squirrel Dance" and definitely check out the family day programs we offer here at the Field Station!
Everything you need to know about CBFS's educational programs, visiting Chincoteague Island, and more!