Sunday, August 26, 2007

Kate and the Corn Snake -Tales from a Barrier Island

Barrier Island - def. Nature's speed bump.

Just five days ago, I arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, and was greeted by two of my lovely and kind supervisors, Meg and Robin. They came to pick me up from the airport and drive me back to the place I will call home for the next nine months - Seabrook Island.

As we left the airport, I stepped outside and was met by a warm and humid breeze (it must have been way over 30 degrees outside). This has taken some getting used to. My body is also taking some time adjusting to the rigorous activities we've taken part in as part of our training. To give you a taste of what we've been up to, there has been some Lifeguard training and sunburns in outdoor pools (I'm not a great swimmer, so this has been quite the experience), lessons in handling alligators (our mascot is Carolina, a four-year-old alligator, which I hope to show you shortly) and snakes (see below), practice dragging and casting nets through the ocean and pond, respectively, as well as playing some team building and challenge-based games. We did all of this in the span of four days and there is still plenty more on the way.

The days, as you can see, are just packed. But we can't complain; they are treating us very well. I am writing this post from our two-storey staff house which houses 14 naturalists, some experienced biology and marine graduates and other talented, environmentally-minded folks. We are fed three fantastic meals of fresh fruit, vegetables and the catch of the day (flounder, crab and shrimp) with grits (kind of like cream of wheat) and mac'n'cheese being a steady staple. And the beach and ocean are at our doorstep. This is truly an amazing place. Over the coming weeks and months, I will do my best to chronicle the happenings of this place and tell you a bit about it's history.

So in keeping with my last post, I will try to explain a Barrier Island to you...

These chain of islands can be found all the way from Canada to Florida. Aptly named, barrier islands act as an outer line of defense, protecting the mainland from the effects of sea storms. Reading through our very comprehensive curriculum, I found out that the many environments of barrier islands are flooded twice daily by the tide, which drastically changes the environment plants and animals inhabit. Pretty neat, heh?

Barrier Island Evironmental Education Centre first started its programs in 1980, offers an abundance of hands-on environmental education classes to elementary school students, and has nearly 300 acres of property on one of these islands, called Seabrook (a private, gated island resort, with around 1250 residents surrounded by the estuary, intertidal beach, sand dunes, salt marsh and maritime forest).

Oh, and here I am holding a corn snake. The adult usually measures between 3 and 4 feet and they feed on mice and rats by constricting their bodies. I won't lie, I was definitely nervous... but am glad to be learning more about these slithery guys.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Why do turtles and snakes sunbathe?

Okay, if you got this far, you'll notice my blog isn't quite ready yet. Everything should look a bit better in the next few weeks once I'm down in South Carolina.

For those of you who don't know, I'm going to be teaching environmental education to students on a barrier island called Seabrook. This is an amazing opportunity to learn all kinds of cool stuff about ocean and maritime forest ecology, it's a chance to meet new people and share an experience, and put my Ontario Parks interpretive skills to work.

Now let's get back to the question up at the top of this post. This is a taster of some of the things I will be teaching the students. If it goes over well, I might keep this going for those who are interested.

(From Nature Smart, a cool nature guide by Stan Tekiela and Karen Shanberg)

These critters are cold-blooded (ectothermic), which means having a a body temperature that changes with the outside temperature. Since snakes don't produce heat, they must get it from the sun. That's why you see snakes and other herps absorbing the heat of sun-warmed roads and trails, or sitting on a rock; they are basking. When they become too warm, they go underground or under leaves to cool off.

If you liked that tidbit, then you'll like this:

The word reptile is Latin, repere. Like the Greek work herpeton, it means to creep, which very well describes how these animals get around.