On the Expedition
Here's your opportunity to do something about the worst oil spill in US history. Common loons embody the essence of wilderness, and as they arrive from far northern lakes you'll help uncover how they're faring in these troubled waters.
You’ll help monitor Common Loons on the Louisiana coast to help assess the health of the population. How have they fared since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 that released over 205 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico? The Common Loon is a seabird that commonly breeds in Canada, (where it is an unofficial national bird, appearing on the one dollar coin,) and parts of the northern and midwestern US. At least several hundred of these loons spend their winters (up to six months) in the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll help scientists to see if there are any signs of immune system suppression, hormonal imbalance, and red blood cell damage, for example – all of which can compromise the ability of the loon to survive.
Some days you’ll assist in capturing loons in the late evening from a boat in “shifts” of about one to one and a half hours, providing assistance in holding captured birds or recording data during observations. Capturing a loon – an apex predator that typifies wilderness - can be an exciting, memorable moment. You’ll go out in boats during the day to conduct behavioral studies, and use radio telemetry to locate signals from loons with transmitters. Using a GPS unit and a compass, you’ll become familiar with triangulation to pinpoint the location of individual birds with transmitters. You may also help take measurements of water clarity and depth. Back in the lab, you’ll enter banding and behavioral data, and you may also participate in bird surveys on various public beaches.
Meals and Accommodations
The field house is fully furnished, with both heat and air conditioning available. It has a small kitchen, four bathrooms, and two living rooms.One living area has a big screen television with cable, while the second is a quiet area for reading and relaxation. There is a shower in each bathroom, bathtubs in two bathrooms, and hot water is readily available. The bedrooms offer both bunk and double occupancy options, and towels, pillows and linens are provided. Internet and cell phone reception are both available at the house. (Verizon and AT&T providers receive the best signal.)
Volunteers will help with shopping, preparing meals and cleaning up. The kitchen is stocked with basic pantry items and includes a stove, oven, microwave and grill. There is a small grocery store within a mile of the field cabin, and a larger grocery store is available within a 40 minute drive. There are local restaurants; however they generally do not accommodate special diets. Volunteers should expect traditional southern fare, which often includes fried food. Other typical southern dishes include red beans and rice, sausage, and shrimp.
About the Research Area
The study site is sub-tropical, located along the Louisiana delta in the far south, an area notable for its "southern hospitality." The delta was hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the effect can be described as a recovering "post-Katrina" landscape. Some debris from the 2005 hurricane is still visible, with many locals existing in trailers and modular homes provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This is also the epicenter of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that's necessitated the need for this project.
Temperatures typically range from the low 60s to high 70 degrees Fahrenheit between November and April. It’s generally mild, however you should be prepared for sun, wind, rain and fog!
The delta provides the opportunity to see unique plant and animal species up-close, including armadillos and alligators, as well as coastal birds like brown and white pelicans, terns and clapper rails. You may also see shorebird species, such as piper plovers and the American oystercatcher. Waterbirds are abundant, including the Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis, Tricolored Heron, and Black-bellied Whistling Duck. The dominant tree in the area is cypress. (Mosquitos and wasps are uncommon in the winter months, although fire ants can be found in the lawn around the field station.)
The levee system around the small town of Port Sulphur provides easy access to those wishing to birdwatch or take walks along the coast. Fort Jackson, a nearby civil war monument, holds an annual orange festival in December. Locally, there are several public areas that allow both citrus and pecan-picking.
An hour's drive away from the delta study site is New Orleans, the iconic city known for Cajun and Creole food, jazz and zydeco music. In April, Mardi Gras takes place in New Orleans' historic downtown area. You could take tours of plantations, creole cottages, colonial townhouses and Greek Rival mansions, take a trip to the French Quarter for food and shopping, or visit numerous museums celebrating the rich bayou history of the area.