Summer 1988






















































I n the summer of 1988, when I was 20, I took my first job as a wildlife reasearcher. I had responded to an advertisement tacked to the job board in Holdsworth Hall and been accepted as a field assistant for a project run by the Maryland Colonial Waterbird Project.

The team I was joining was set to live on an island in Chincoteague Bay, which lies between the mainland and Assateague Island National Seashore. The house on the island had no electricity or running water, but would be the stage for many wonderful experiences.

The Privateer!

To reach the island we depended on a collection of small boats that developed a wide variety of problems as the summer progressed. Most of the problems were engine-related and I became an expert at cleaning sparkplugs under emergency situations.

The "big" boat was a Privateer owned by the University of Maryland (left). Access to the island was made by way of a small manmade harbor and we kept our boating supplies in a small, ramshacke boathouse. This was a fun boat to navigate through the shallow waters of the Chincoteague Bay, but there was one night when we hit a crab pot in the middle of the night. Driving through shallow water in the dark is difficult, but using a spotlight to locate and avoid crab traps definitely added a level of difficulty. So, in the dark, we had to perform an emergency crabpot-ectamy from the propeller before we could finally continue back to the island.

Black Skimmers

Our mission that summer was to conduct a stury of the foraging behaviors of black skimmers; beautiful birds that have a beak specially adapted to trolling throught the water as the bird "skims" over its surface. The idea was to capture adult birds, fit them with harnesses that carried radio transmitters, and then follow their movements by triangulating on their positions during the nighttime hours.

The challenge of this project was actually catching the skimmers without harming them. This was done by placing homemade cage traps over the active nests of the skimmers and then quickly, but gently processing the birds. To keep them from struggling and injuring a wing we created little straight jackets out of tube socks with the feed cut off. It worked, but I don't think the birds liked it.

The mustache was a mistake!

Mink Tump Terns

To fund this project, the team's leader also took on the responsibility of monitorin all colonial nesting waterbirds breeding in Chincoteague Bay. As part of the team, I did an independent research project on a colony of Forster's terns that nested on a tiny island called Mink Tump. I was responsible for locating an monitoring all nests on the island, and for banding any chicks that hatched.

In the mornings that I did my surveys I would take a boat out onto the perfectly flat water, take a semi-random guess as to where Mink Tump was, and head off into the unknown. Tumps themselves are very flat, so it was difficult to spot them even on the best of days.

On those days when we had a little free time I would wander along the shores of Tizzard Island, and its many saltwater ponds, looking for anything wild and interesting. The mud on the shores was perfect for preserving the prints of animals that passed by, so I almost always took a little extra time to see what was new. After a long summer of work, I had acquired a feeling for Tizzard Island. I knew where to stand on a misty evening in order to see sultry, southern sunsets and on one of my last evenings of the summer I captured this image of the sun setting over the largest of Tizzard Island's salt ponds. I used a borrowed Pentax K-1000 to take the shot, and I think even then I was starting to develop an eye for photographic composition.

Working for the Maryland Colonial Waterbird Project was one of my first, best jobs, and I will never forget the sounds, sights and smells of that summer on the bay.

Copyright 2015 William Danielson