Friday, June 29, 2012

Lights, Camera, Action!

Sharing Chino Farms is always an exciting experience. Whether it's with a birding group, school group, or family there's something engaging about describing all of the wonderful research happening at Chino/CRFRS/FBBO and seeing other people become interested. For the interns at CRFRS, Wednesday was especially exciting because not only were they asked to share their work, they were filmed too! Shane Brill from Washington College's Office of College Relations and his crew of interns came out to the grasslands at Chino Farms to see what it was all about.
Intern Eric Waceiga talks with the film crew. 
Students were able to talk about their research and the film crew even got to see some birds up close when they interviewed Dan Small (field ecologist) and Eric Waceiga (summer intern) who were banding birds. Many of the students talked about the Grasslands as a great opportunity for conservation. Shane and the crew were also very interested in discussing the implications of our research for the agricultural community. Jeff Sullivan (summer intern) discussed the impact traditional farming methods have on diversity and the potential for increasing that diversity with smart management techniques like buffer strips. Ian Hall (summer intern) described some of his work in the crop fields and noted that not only the diversity but the volume of birds decreased as a result of commercial agriculture.
Film intern Harris Allgeier releases a Red-Winged Blackbird.
What ecologists are learning is that everything is impossibly intertwined. We cannot simply bring Grasshopper Sparrows back to Maryland and dump them into a corn field, they would not thrive. We need to start with the grasses that will encourage the insects, which will eventually entice the birds. This also means that when we destroy something like a meadow or a stand of trees, we are impacting much more than we know. Through observation, documentation, experimentation, and publication of our research at CRFRS/FBBO we are learning who we are as human beings and where we fit in the larger ecosystem that is the world.
To learn more about CRFRS and FBBO check us out on facebook!
Or take a look at our site on the CES webpage:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

CES at the Maryland Municipal League's annual convention

Greetings from Ocean City, Maryland!

   I have just attended the annual convention of the Maryland Municipal League at the Convention Center here in Ocean City.  There were rain storms yesterday that felt like monsoons and left the streets with at least six inches of standing water.  Once inside the convention center, however, all was dry and comfortable.  There were many municipalities from around the state represented here, as well as a whole host of commercial enterprises all looking for ways to connect to the municipalities' purchasing managers.  You can't believe the amount of freebies; folks were walking about with large, reusable bags filled with stuff.
   I was attending the annual convention as a representative of Chestertown's Green Team, giving out lots of information about the efforts made by Chestertown's government and citizens of the town to move toward a more sustainable future (see the newsletter below).  I was also handing out copies of a Community Greening Toolkit, which gives examples of the kinds of projects undertaken in Chestertown, and offers resources for other municipalities to begin their own green projects without having to reinvent the wheel, as it were.  Click on the link for more information.

   If you have any greening tips you would like posted to the Chestertown Goes Green web site, send me an email and I'll see what can be done.

Briggs Cunningham is the Climate Action Coordinator at the Center for Environment & Society, and can be contacted here.

Messing About in Boats

I have just finished reading the section entitled “messing about in boats” in Tom Horton’s Bay Country (John Hopkins University Press) and was tickled as to how well it captured our summer field work to date.  Our group, which consists of members of CES and WC Depts. of Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental Studies is interested in understanding how the Chester River ecosystem functions and what state of “health” it is in.  Clearly this pursuit raises a lot of questions and initiates much discussion among our group. (Questions like: How long does the water stay in the Chester?  How much of what is happening in the Chester River is the result of “stuff” happening in the Chesapeake Bay?) So, as a start, we are collecting surface sediment all along the Chester River and will be determining the amount of “things” in it; things like lead, copper, silver, zinc, (and other elements), organic carbon, and what is living in the sediments. Some of what we find may help us reconstruct where the sediments may have come from and where they are accumulating now. Any large organisms we find living in the sediment (benthos) are saved. Later we hope to see if there are any patterns of contaminant accumulation in these organisms. We do all of this by taking a “ponar” grab (see photo) and collecting only the upper 1-2 cm (recent) of surface sediment.  Thus, I have been seeing a lot about this river from the water; trying, similar to John Smith’s agenda, to reach up creek as far as our boats will allow.  And this takes me back to Horton’s “messing about in boats”.  Much of the Bay is very shallow, especially the “upper creek” areas. (..and yes, if you have to ask, I have been stuck a few times and needed to wait for the tide).  One constant throughout this effort is that the Chester River mud is quite messy.  Anyway, here is CES’s progress (via red triangles) on this front so far:

Christian Krahforst is the Mellon Post Doctoral Fellow of Biogeochemistry for the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Chester River Association Annual Meeting

Last Thursday, June 21st, the Chester River Association hosted their 2012 Annual Meeting, open to the public.  It was a lovely evening of 100 or so friends, members, board members and colleagues in Washington College’s Casey Academic Center.   I was very pleased to attend both as a colleague from CES and a CRA board member excited to announce our annual Riverkeeper Award recipient.   The evening started off with a warm welcome from Board President, Marcy Ramsey, who immediately recognized the efforts of CRA’s staff.  A special nod went to the work of our newest member and Executive Director, Heather Forsythe.   

CRA’s conservation planner, Paul Spies was next on the line up with a warm welcome and wit for the evening’s keynote speaker, Dr. Josh McGrath, a soil fertility specialist with UMD extension.  As some of you may know, CRA has been promoting a cutting edge precision Ag technology called “Greenseeker.”   Dr. McGrath is a resident expert in Greenseeker technology and is compiling data for CRA’s Greenseeker pilot project.   Essentially, the technology reads exactly how much nitrogen is needed for each corn plant in a farmer’s field as the farmer is applying fertilizer.   Greenseeker communicates to a variable rate fertilizer applicator which does it’s best to apply only what is needed.  There is a little disconnect between the two technologies at this point, but CRA’s pilot project may help to make application more precise.   Dr. McGrath’s point:  if farmers can optimize their fertilizer use from the start—down to the plant!—then we won’t have to spend as much money retroactively remediating our nutrient load issues from the agricultural sector i.e. riparian buffers, cover crops, grass swales, etc.  It’s a win/win/win:  farmer’s spend less, produce more food, and reduce nutrient runoff.   Keeping farms profitable and well managed is a goal for CRA, because it will help keep our water clean.  Precision agriculture is a science-based way to get there. 

For that reason, you won’t be surprised to learn that this year’s Riverkeeper Award went to our very own Chino Farms and Blue Stem Farming Operation!  Dr. Harry Sears, Evan Miles, and their team of dedicated staff have done a fantastic job exemplifying stewardship through precision farming and progressive land conservation.  As the Chester Riverkeeper, David Foster, pointed out, it might be why Foreman’s Branch—the largest creek on Chino—showed a noteworthy resurgence in this past year’s river report card while other creeks declined.   But make no mistake, Chino Farms has been employing cutting edge stewardship, research, and agriculture for many years.  CES is fortunate to have become a part of that commitment and is proud and excited that Chino and Blue Stem have received such a prestigious award!

Mike Hardesty is Assistant Director of the Chesapeake Semester at CES.

To learn more about the Chester River Association visit:

To learn more about Chino Farm’s and CRFRC visit their website at

Friday, June 22, 2012

Lift Up Your Eyes

My name is JoAnn.  My husband and I live on the Chester River in a rickety 1880s farmhouse. We're a half mile upriver from the National Wildlife Refuge on East Neck Island.   Rivers + wildlife = good.   Peeling paint, leaky roof, naughty dogs and dusty horses = bad.  

What did you do on the summer solstice?  Just curious.  Hopefully you got outside to celebrate the onset of the season.  I organized a group paddle with the Friends of Eastern Neck.   It was BYOK (bring your own kayak).  Eight people turned out.  This was a smaller crowd than usual.  Maybe the heat — a steamy 95 degrees at 5:30 PM — had something to do with it.   We met at Bogles Wharf and tailgated a bit before pushing off.  Homemade basil pesto pasta = yum.   Sandwiches from Rock Hall Liquors and salty-sweet peanut chews = even yummier.  

As soon as we got onto the water, the temperature dropped 10 degrees.  Ahh.  Relief.   We looked up and saw three eagles touch down in a big tree.  Then a couple osprey circled and cried out.  Great blue herons fished along the shoreline while red-winged blackbirds trilled in the marsh.  Ahh.  The sights and sounds of Mother Nature.  What a good start to the summer of 2012.

The president of the Friends led the group past Shipyard Creek to Hail Cove. We checked out the oyster bars and living shoreline.  A healthy-looking fox wove in and out of the tall grasses on the beach.  He ran off when we pulled up, splashed around a bit and, and got out to look back from where we came. 

Have a great summer.  xoxo, JoAnn

JoAnn Wood is the Senior Program Manager at the Center for Environment & Society.  

This picture is from the Harvest Moon paddle in October 2011.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bring on the Heat!

The temperatures are rising, but the summer fun continues at Chino! Over at the banding station Amanda Spears, summer CES intern, is capturing a steady amount of birds and managing to avoid the heat so far. During the rain day last week she was able to start some statistical analysis of the banding data, putting her college statistics course to good use! Over in the grasslands at CRFRS the interns are forging ahead with territory mapping and nest searching. On Wednesday June 13th the interns found a whopping total of 3 Dickcissel nests. This past week marked the beginning of bi-weekly surveys of the grasslands conducted by Maren Gimpel, field ecologist, and Rachel Field, CES intern. These data will help develop an understanding of the variety and volume of birds using the grasslands during the breeding season.
Dickcissel decoy for target banding
Dan Small, field ecologist, banded last week along with Jeff Sullivan, summer CES intern, (in between the rainy and windy days) and they were catching a good number of Orchard Orioles. They also put color bands on plenty of Grasshopper and Field Sparrows! Dan is once again engaged in a battle of wits against the male Dickcissels, who are proving to be the most challenging grassland bird to target band. Target banding involves setting up one or two nets in the hopes of catching a specific bird to be color banded. Maybe the latest decoy will tempt some of the males to fly into the nets?
Rachel with one of the Osprey chicks
Over the weekend intrepid volunteers gathered at Chino for the annual Osprey banding effort. Under the direction of long-time volunteer Bill Snyder and bander Jim Gruber, the team went around the farm to the various Osprey platforms and banded the young from the nests. Osprey banding has been carried out on the farm since 1998 and we have banded over 80 individuals. Some of our Osprey have been recovered very far from home. In 2002 one of our Osprey was found shot in Trinidad, and in 2008 another was found in Ecuador. Check out pictures from Osprey banding on CRFRS's Facebook page.
To learn more  about the work at CRFRS in the Grasslands read last week's blog entry: Summer at Chino Farms
Rachel Field is an intern with CES working with various aspects of the research and administration for Chino Farms/CRFRS.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dream Come True

Lately I’ve been fortunate to have what I think of as a dream project- I’ve been going through all the pictures of birds taken at Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory in an effort to put at least one picture of every bird up on the website. This may not sound like a dream project to most people- I mean, it’s just endlessly going through pictures of birds and resizing them, right? And with around 190 species banded at the station over the years, it’s quite a lot of pictures.
No, the reason it’s a dream job is because I’ve become a birder. Three years ago I met my partner, incidentally a former CRFRC employee and bander, and he of course had to get me hooked. At first I was reluctant- I mean, birding, right? People make fun of that hobby. But I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors and for me birding meant a deeper understanding of what I was seeing as I hiked around- it literally opened my eyes to things I never even knew were there. Now my own personal life list is hovering around 175, and it’s time to start really firming up my knowledge of birds. By sorting through these pictures and posting them, I get to not only test my knowledge (is that a Canada warbler or a Cape May warbler?), I also get to see the other birds I need to keep a look out for when I’m out and about. My identification skills have improved by leaps and bounds just in the last few weeks.
We’re not just putting these pictures online for the fun of it (though it is fun). Eventually these pictures will become an educational tool- in addition to pictures of each species, there will be pictures of males and females of the same species, close ups showing key features banders use to age each bird, and information about the individuals that were banded at the station. Did you know there’s a Northern Shrike (not at all common on the Eastern Shore of Maryland!) who has returned to Chino Farm for the past six years?

All of this information will be presented along with lesson plans for teachers and guides for using the albums as a resource- for expert banders and researchers from around the world, to bird enthusiasts, to the general public, who, like me, didn’t know a thing about the wide variety of birds that visit us every year!
The albums are still under development, but I’ll give you a sneak peek, just to whet your appetite. Stay tuned for further developments, and be sure to check out up to the minute photos of birds being banded at the Chester River Field Research Center facebook page.
Warblers Banded at Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory
Tara Holste is an amateur birder and the web manager for the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Radio Interviews

Check out these recent interviews with Dr. Doug Gill and Dr. Harry Sears on BirdNote.">Restoring Habitat on Maryland's Eastern Shore - Interview with Douglas Gill, Air date June 13, 2012

Summer at Chino Farms

Summer interns hard at work! 
Summer has officially begun at Chino Farms! Foreman's Branch Bird Observatory (FBBO) has closed its spring migration banding operation and work on the restored Grasslands has gone into full swing. We welcome our summer interns from the Center for Environment and Society at Washington College: Jeffery Sullivan, Eric Waceiga, and Ian Hall. We also welcome one of our affiliated researchers from UMBC, Dr. Bernard Lohr and his two students Archer Larned and Oliver Mullerklein. This summer promises to be another exciting year of research. Led by Dan Small and Maren Gimpel (field ecologists at CES) the summer breeding ecology study is already generating good data. Many color banded Grasshopper Sparrows from previous years have returned, and Dan is busily banding new Grasshopper Sparrows (GRSPs) who have just arrived. Jeffery Sullivan will be focusing on the breeding Field Sparrows (FISPs) this year in an attempt to get a better understanding of the number of pairs we have and how successful they are at nesting. Eric Waceiga is sweeping the charts with nest finding for GRSPs and the group total is already over 30 nests! Ian Hall has been put on special crop field duty, which means that he will be surveying the surrounding crop fields to get an understanding of how the GRSPs are using those fields as well as the Grasslands.
This summer comes with some exciting new opportunities for research on the Grasslands as well. Former CES summer intern Rachel Field has returned to carry out point counts on the surrounding farms in addition to monitoring the crop fields for GRSPs and surveying the Grasslands to get an understanding of the total number and variety of birds using them. Amanda Spears, a Maryland local attending UVM, has also returned to take charge of FBBO for the summer. Amanda is operating the banding station during the summer months in order to determine what species of birds we have breeding around the banding lab and to get a sense for any birds that FBBO might be missing by closing during the summer months. Amanda has already captured a Blue Winged Warbler and a Mourning Warbler. A very promising start!
Sunrise over the grasslands

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dr. Harry Sears Interview

Catch Dr. Harry Sears and Dr. Doug Gill of Chino Farms on "BirdNote." On WAMU, BirdNote is broadcast several times a month during "Animal House", an hour-long newsmagazine program about animals of all kinds. It airs on Saturdays starting at 12 noon. Click here to find out more about the show. Click here for a preview of the show with Dr. Sears, which will air this Thursday, June 7.