Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Educator's Week at Hog Island (by Matt Johnson)

What happens when you mix together the Maine coast, a 300-acre island owned by Audubon, a dozen expert staff, several dedicated volunteers, and 57 science teachers and informal educators? The answer: one of the most exciting and educational camps for adults held anywhere in the country!

This is the best way that I can think of to describe the Educator’s Week camp at Hog Island. Organized and directed by Pete Salmonsahn, the Education Coordinator for Audubon’s Project Puffin (http://projectpuffin.audubon.org/), this five-day camp focuses on reaching educators from around the country who teach kids and young adults about science and the outdoors. Attendees this year ranged from elementary and middle school teachers, to Girl Scout instructors, nature center educators, and Audubon naturalists.

I was fortunate enough to be one of the attendees this summer, and I loved every minute of it. I've been working as the Education Manager at Francis Beidler Forest for about 14 months, and I am so thankful that my Audubon colleagues agreed to send me to this camp.

Below are some of the photos that I took during my stay at Hog Island. I will caption each with a brief description and some details about my favorite parts of the week.

The reason for this post is not only to showcase one of Audubon's most prized assets, but also to let YOU know that there are scholarships available for ANY science educator to attend this camp. Several of the attendees received scholarships that covered half or all of the tuition costs for the week. IF YOU ARE A TEACHER OR INFORMAL EDUCATOR, CONSIDER REGISTERING FOR THIS CAMP IN 2015 - you will not regret it! See more information here: http://hogisland.audubon.org/ 

            Our view from the dock at the Todd Audubon Sanctuary, looking across the water at Hog Island. Access to Hog Island requires a short ferry ride from the mainland.

 Arriving on the dock at Hog Island. The camps made available each summer are among the oldest and longest-running environmental education camps in the country. The island can accommodate about 80 people at a given time.

 Plaque displayed in the "Fish House" auditorium on Hog Island. The Todd family played the most important role in the designation of the island as an Audubon sanctuary.

Our boat for the week: the Snowgoose III. This vessel took us on two harbor tours, one of which featured the bird that everyone was hoping to glimpse: the Atlantic Puffin. In the background of this photo is the mainland.

On board the Snowgoose IIII for our first voyage off of the island and around Muscongus Bay. Wildlife seen on this trip included Harbor Seals, Osprey, Black Guillemots (neat little relatives of puffins), Common Eiders, and Harbor Porpoises. Binoculars and a camera are helpful, so bring em if you've got em, and sunscreen is a must!

The first afternoon on Hog Island we spent in the intertidal area. We seined for marine critters and found quite a bit of neat organisms. The staff that led our little excursions were amazing - all lifelong educators with incredible knowledge and patience!

 Campers checking the seine for intertidal life.

Our haul from the seine net. Critters included Green and Hermit Crabs, shrimp, sculpin (fish), limpets, and much more!

A hiking trail through the spruce-fir forest on Hog Island. There were several miles of hiking trails, and plenty of time in between programs to explore. I thought that the flexibility of our schedule was great - plenty of programming with built-in breaks.

Sunset at Hog Island. Coming from a South Carolina summer, the weather we had at Hog Island was incredible! Highs in the mid-70s and lows in the low-60s with lots of sunshine.

Our second excursion into Muscongus Bay off the Maine coast. This was an all-day trip to Eastern Egg Rock (the island in this photo), one of the few breeding locations for Atlantic Puffins in the United States! This island is a featured location for Project Puffin, a multi-decade effort to reintroduce this species into its historic breeding range. Not only did we get a very interesting history of this project while on this boat tour, we also got to see puffins!!

Puffins in view! I neglected to bring my nice camera (bad mistake), so all of my images are with my smartphone. So...the small dots on the left-middle of this photo are indeed Atlantic Puffins, with the edge of Eastern Egg Rock in the background. We were lucky enough to see at least 50 puffins that day, plus several other rare/unusual seabirds!

While we did spent a significant chunk of time exploring the island and surrounding area, much of our programming on Hog Island was designed to help us better engage our target audience (aka students, visitors, etc.) regarding environmental issues. Pictured here is Trudy, one of the AMAZING educators that led us through several different mini-workshops during the week. These mini-workshops featured such things as: birds and bird-watching, water/watersheds, geology, photography, wetlands, sensory exploration, arts/crafts, and a whole bunch more.

 A simple, fun craft idea that we learned while on a nature hike one afternoon. This is just reversed tape with natural "items" that were collected while on the hike (leaves, sticks, etc.).

On our last night, we were treated to a lobster cookout, and we had Cream Puff-ins for dessert! The food on Hog Island was incredible. Let me repeat that - the FOOD WAS INCREDIBLE! Not only was every meal delicious, but every meal also featured a vegetarian and gluten-free option. I was so impressed by this, and by all of the volunteers who gave up their time to prepare and clean up from meals.

Leaving Hog Island. It was an incredible five days - a trip that leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to take the environmental message back wherever you're going. Like I mentioned earlier, please consider applying when scholarships become available for camp in 2015!

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