Guest Blog: Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project

You may remember back to last year, when we started featuring guest blogs from John McGlaughlin, who is training to be a PA Master Naturalist . Today John discusses the Monarch Monitoring Project in Cape May, New Jersey, and shares his video of the project.

Monarch Monitoring Project

Greetings friends and nature lovers! It’s been quite some time since my last post so I figure I’d start by getting y’all up to date with my latest happenings. First and foremost, I done got hitched to the girl of my dreams last New Year’s Eve and have been a bit preoccupied with my newly minted married life. Luckily, my bride is muy sympatico so I’ve still been out adventuring and exploring the natural world. We’ve also been volunteering at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education’s Wildlife Clinic up in Roxborough and I hope to have an upcoming blog post/video about the Clinic’s amazing work.

And finally, I’ve been meticulously planning my next blog for Green Treks and am now ready to go public! The feature of today’s post takes us down to the beautiful coastal community of Cape May, New Jersey. Each fall, thousands of nature enthusiasts flock to the Cape May Point State Park to witness the annual migration of countless species of birds. An often-overlooked member of this relocation fest is the exquisite Monarch Butterfly, on its annual 2500-mile pilgrimage to its over-wintering grounds in the Sierra Madre Mountains just outside of Mexico City.

The Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project (MMP) has been documenting and researching this astonishing trek since 1992 and I caught up with Mark Garland, the MMP’s Communication Director, after a tagging demonstration one beautiful fall afternoon.

If you have a chance to fly south for the day, the MMP has a highly informative tagging demonstration every afternoon at 2pm (except Tuesday and Thursday) from September 15 through October 16 at Cape May Point State Park. There you’ll have the opportunity to learn some remarkable facts about this incredible insect from the MMP’s expert staff and take part in the tagging and release of a real-live, genuine Monarch Butterfly. Be sure to check out MMP’s website before you go. Happy Trails!

PA Master Naturalist Guest Blog: Alaska!

In this PA Master Naturalist Guest Blog, John McGlaughlin shares notes and a video from his trip to Alaska.

John McGlaughlin: Alaska!
Howdy y’all! I’m happy to report that my capstone presentation went off without a hitch and was well received by the panel of specialists and my cohort of fellow trainees alike! With all the preparation through I’m finally gearing up to take my capstone project to the streets over the next few months by featuring some local environmental organizations on this here blog. Stay tuned!

I must admit that after the capstone presentation I was pretty wiped out and ready for a little vacation. Luckily, my fiancé and I had a few greenbacks in our bank account so we decided to plan a trip that would be an escape from our daily rigmarole (and also an opportunity to solidify some of my newly minted naturalist knowledge!) After relentlessly spinning the globe and carefully crafting our budget we finally decided on a destination… ALASKA!

The name Alaska instantly evokes tales of wild adventure, outdoor excitement and pressing ecological issues in my mind. Nicknamed ‘The Last Frontier”, Alaska’s mythical appeal continues to draw over 1.5 million adventurous spirits each year to its endless natural wonders and rugged frontier culture. With a landmass greater than Texas, Montana and California combined and only a handful of roads, this majestic behemoth of a state is ripe for outdoor exploration. And exploring we did!

Renting a car out of Anchorage, we immediately headed south to the Kenai Peninsula and the stunning coastal town of Seward. The Peninsula has been dubbed “Alaska’s Playground” due to its close proximity to Anchorage and wealth of outdoor opportunities. After a few days hiking around glaciers and whale watching in Resurrection Bay, we drove from Seward to Valdez along the magnificent Glen Highway and Richardson Highway to witness some salmon spawning in action. We were in awe of the shear size of this annual migration and had the chance to see bear, sea lions and bald eagles take part in this annual feeding and reproduction frenzy. We rounded out the trip by traveled along the famously desolate McCarthy Highway, spending the night in the land of the midnight sun in Fairbanks, and hiking among arctic squirrels and caribou in Denali National Park.

It’s impossible to capture the splendor of Alaska without being there in the flesh and blood but I created a little travelogue video of some of the highlights from our travels to aid your imagination. Happy Trails!

PA Master Naturalist Guest Blog: Chester Environmental Partnership Video and Capstone Project

In another installment of PA Master Naturalist Guest Blogs, John McGlaughlin shares his documentary of the Chester Environmental Partnership and discusses his Master Naturalist Capstone Project.

My, oh my, how the time flies!  After a month and a half of non-stop environmental action, the learning component of the PA Master Naturalist program is drawing to a close.  While it will be sad to bid adieu to our exciting weekly learning sessions, I am looking forward to putting some of my newly minted knowledge to good use…the real fun is about to begin!

After our classroom ‘graduation’, my classmates and I will be designated as official Master Naturalist Trainees.  In order to shed the Trainee status and become a real-deal Master Naturalist, each of us will have to complete 30 service hours and 8 hours of advanced training over the next year. This is the point in the initiation process where the pledge must prove his worth… kind of like in a cheesy martial arts movie where the young samurai must steal the emperor’s diamond to be fully accepted into the clandestine warrior guild.

Subsequently, the last assignment for our final class is to develop an outline for a potential service project.  This outline is like the blueprints of a real project that could be implemented once us ‘Trainees’ get out into the field.  The assignment, entitled the ‘Capstone Project’, will be presented before a panel of environmental experts and current Master Naturalists.  After the presentation the panel decides whether to feed you to the lion by giving you a thumb up or a thumb down (just joshing). In reality, the panel and our peers will then offer criticism about the merit and feasibility of the prospective service project to the presenter.   And then we will all have a Naturalist party with cupcakes and soda (not joshing).

I’ve already spoken to a few of my peers about their capstone projects and heard some pretty cool ideas so far, including:

  • Creating a rain garden on the grounds of a local library
  • Leading an urban birding walk through an 19th century cemetery
  • Coordinating volunteer efforts to clear invasive plants from a local reservoir

The inspiration for my capstone project actually stemmed from thinking about how cool my classmates ideas were.  Here was the thought process…

  • hmm, these service projects are cool
  • People should know about these service projects
  • hmm, I got a camera and I (kind of) know how to use it
  • Voila!  I’ll make videos about these service projects and show them to people!

After revising and expanded my project a bit, I came up with the following outline:

  • Create 5-minute videos that focus on an environmental issue and a nonprofit organization addressing the issue.
  • Partner with an independent media outlet (such as GreenTreks) to broadcast the video to a wide audience
  • Apply this template to other environmental organizations and repeat

What’s more, I actually made a video last spring about a nonprofit organization in Chester that can serve as a template for my capstone project.   The video features an environmental justice nonprofit named ‘The Chester Environmental Partnership’ and was made in effort to promote the organization’s mission and accomplishments.  Below is a link to the video if you would like to get a better understanding of what I’m going for.  For now I’m getting all jazzed up for my upcoming presentation and am praying I don’t get fed to the lion.   I’ll let you know how it went next time…hopefully!  Until then, adios!

PA Master Naturalist Guest Blog: Nature Journaling

Continuing on with our PA Master Naturalist Guest Blogs, John McGlaughlin discusses nature journaling.

Well, here we are, a few weeks into the Naturalist program and the work is rolling in! One of our weekly at-home assignments is to keep a nature journal. Hmm, I initially thought, what good can come of this? I haven’t kept a journal since 3rd grade when I wrote about important things like what color eye-mask I would wear if I were one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My initial reservations with this assignment’s purpose were eventually subdued after reminding myself that as naturalists we are encouraged to explore, observe and reflect on the natural world. What better way to synthesize these 3 tasks then by keeping a nature journal?!

Nature JournalingThe art of nature journaling has been around for a while. Pliny the Elder put together a mean nature journal in ‘Naturalis Historia’ a few thousand years ago where he collected all the natural phenomena of his day that he could find. And the tradition continued into the modern era with authors like John Muir, Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold all keeping nature journals that are thought to contain some of the most important ecological writing of the 20th century. And then there’s me to carry on the torch.

So where to begin? Us naturalists-in-training were informed that a good way to start a nature journal is by selecting a special ‘nature spot’ outside that you can visit regularly in order to expand your sensitivity to and familiarity with nature. Then after your nature spot’s all mapped out you need to ‘get in the zone’ by sharpening your five senses to tune in with the natural world. Finally, once your nature mojo is flowing, you need to make careful observations of your nature spot, reflect upon those observations and finally record them in your trusty nature journal… easy enough!

Each week we’re assigned a different way of experiencing our nature spot to broaden and enrich our nature journaling. For example, previous assignments included wearing a blindfold at our natural spot to alter the typical optical-centric perspective of the environment. Another week we were directed to look for evidence of the water cycle in action and to visualize the changes our nature spot undergoes during each part of the cycle.

This past week we were charged with visiting our nature spot to observe the variety of species living there, with the specific task of identifying the producers, consumers and decomposers. For those in need of a brush-up in science-speak, producers make their own food, consumers feed on producers or other consumers, and decomposers eat and break down dead producers/consumers/decomposers. I brought my camera along for this assignment to provide a video log of my experience. See ya next time!