Sarah Courchesne here, just home after a week’s worth of hard-driving gull banding. We caught and banded over 400 birds (both Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls) and got blood and oral and cloacal swabs for over 200 Herring Gulls for an avian influenza study at MIT.
Joining us on Gull Team this week were two students from North Shore Community College in Danvers, MA. Both were sponsored on the trip by a generous donor who paid their week’s room and board and made their participation possible.
One of them, Nick Lovasco, sent this thank you letter to his benefactor, and, with his permission, I share it with you in its entirety here:
I would like to thank you for your immense generosity in granting me the opportunity to travel to Appledore Island for gull banding week. As I write this letter, I am freshly showered and in some odd way already miss the stench of my sweaty baseball cap, rotten sneakers, and gull feces. It feels exhilarating beyond words to reflect on everything that just happened.
Before arriving, I had never touched a wild animal and never understood exactly how science was brought from the bushes to my biology textbook. After the experience at Shoals, both facts are thankfully no longer true. On the first day of banding, I was expecting a couple of lessons, a general tutorial, or maybe even a PowerPoint lecture on how to pluck a chick from its nest and put bands around the tiny feet.
However, there was something much stronger there to give me instruction and ease my nerves; a brilliant team consisting of careful doctors, field workers, veteran bird watchers, vet school students, and absolutely inspiring undergraduate interns. Each and every one of them took me under their wing (pun intended), and gave to me an entirely new perspective on not only gulls, but our responsibility to care for our world’s ecology that all too often becomes taken for granted.
The learning was not done in the classroom, but under continually changing conditions with real concerns, and a completely new vocabulary. Previously, I lived in a world of one gull; a seagull, a bird that I believed was to be dealt with at the beach rather than vigorously studied. Now, I live in a world of Herring Gulls and Black Backs, two species who live amongst each other and are remarkably territorial. They are birds who do more than dig deep into our trash cans, but have a dramatic effect on wildlife across many different levels.
Although I was only on the island for five days, I received a lasting taste of what actually goes into scientific research. I have seen through a small scope just how much time, dedication, and effort goes into gathering the information that we so desperately need in order to wrap our hearts and minds around even the smallest phenomena in our delicate ecosystem. I was also able to meet other students and volunteers from across the globe who were movingly invested in such a wide array of studies on marine life and ornithology. They possess a truly special brand of passion that I have rarely seen matched anywhere else.
The adventure I had on Appledore Island is one that I will be telling people about for years to come, but unfortunately, only those who have visited the island will understand my excitement and enthusiasm. I would like to thank you again for making all of these great memories possible.