On December 28, 2013, a team of Simon’s Rock students, faculty and staff arrived in Montserrat for a month-long intersession to study the island’s ecology. The four-credit course in sustainability and tropical ecology includes training in ecological survey methods.

Follow the progress of Greig Fields ’12, Ian Hetterich ’12, Naomi Pitman ‘12, Taylor Polster ’10, Nathan Sadowsky ’12, Nate Shoobs ’12, Sam Yarmis ’10, Molly Ziegler ’11, Clara Woolner (Bard College), Tom Coote (faculty and program director), Bob Schmidt (faculty), and Virginia Jeffries (staff) as they chronicle their research and adventures.

Week 3

by Naomi Pitman, Greig Fields, and Clara Woolner

This week we started working with Andy Cassini from the University of Wisconsin who has been studying the critically endangered Monserrat Oriole for the past six years. Since the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted in 1997 it’s been estimated there are only 700 orioles left.

The ascent to Katy Hill.
The view from the Summit.
The aftermath of Katy Hill.

In our search for the oriole this week we hiked numerous trails and after a four hour hike to Katy Hill, the highest peak on the island, we successfully identified a few Montserrat Orioles by its distinctive orange belly. Then we spotted a number of other birds, including a Trembler by its… well, trembling, a Mangrove Cuckoo by its size and striped tail feathers, a Bananaquit by its incessant chirping and small yellow body, a Caribbean Elaenia by its striped wings and size, and Pearly-Eyed Thrasher the "super tramp" of birds, by its bright white eyes and need for attention.

Andy also took us to the north side of the island, allowing us to see a very different habitat, a wetland, where we observed various kinds of birds (though the chirping of the Bananaquit was still just as prevalent). We saw cattle egrets (which is like seeing a pigeon in NYC), a snowy egret, a great egret, a green heron, a sand piper, and a yellow crowned night heron. We also spent a day doing a reptile survey with Coral Cay Conservation, a British NGO here in Montserrat working on a number of conservation projects.

Sam Yarmis working alongside members of Montserrat’s Catholic Youth Council.

Nights and afternoons were much busier than usual this week. On Wednesday we went to the Monserrat Volcano Observatory, where we took a special tour of the operations center. The center feels like air traffic control -- looking right onto the volcano’s crater. We learned how the volcano is monitored through temperature, seismic activity, growth of the dome of the volcano, SO2 emissions and more. We learned what systems are in place to keep the citizens of Montserrat alert to the activity level of the volcano and under what circumstances evacuation might be necessary. On Thursday night after dinner we entertained the government’s director of communications and the cultural minister who spoke with us about the culture of Montserrat, with a particular focus on the artistic and cultural response to the volcano. They even sang a few songs while the cultural minister played his guitar.

We finished off the week by meeting with a Catholic youth group to do some community service. We primed and painted two stretches of wall along a well-traveled road and in the process were able to talk to our Montserratian peers about education and their views on growing up on Montserrat. Most are either in secondary school or the one community college on Montserrat and are planning to go to other islands in the Caribbean or further abroad in order to pursue higher education. Afterwards we walked to Woodlands beach to swim and relax with our newfound friends. It was a great day and a wonderful opportunity to meet Montserratians of our age.

Read about weeks one and two …

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