If this were an SAT test, here would be the question: Alaska is to the United States as (BLANK) is to Acadia National Park.
The answer would be Schoodic, a section of Acadia that is physically separate from and wilder than the main body of the park, which lies roughly 40 miles away and covers two-thirds of Mount Desert Island. That's not to say you need a bush plane and a bear rifle to go to Schoodic. Pamelia and I took the scenic drive there the other day and enjoyed both the pristine setting and a destination that you'll be hearing much more about in years to come if you care about science and nature: The Schoodic Education and Research Center Institute, more commonly known as SERC.
Two of the most significant decisions of the last century in Down East Maine were a) the 1969 vote by a few hundred citizens in the town of Trenton to veto the building of a nuclear power plant and aluminum smelter on the shores of Union River Bay, on Acadia National Park's doorstep; and b) the shifting of a U.S. Navy base in the 1920s from a beautiful corner of the park and Mount Desert Island—Otter Cliffs, located close to The Naturalist's Notebook—to the Schoodic peninsula. The latter happened thanks to the efforts of John D. Rockefeller Jr., who saw the base as an obstacle to the gorgeous, coast-hugging route of Acadia's then-under-construction Park Loop Road, which he was helping to fund.
The decision left Mount Desert Island more pristine, but initially took a toll on Schoodic. "When the base was built, this place was clear-cut," Abe Miller-Rushing, the science coordinator for Acadia National Park, told Pamelia and me as he gave us a tour of the now-woodsy, 80-acre SERC complex. "It became a forest of radio antennas."
A vital hub of cryptography work and radio communication in World War II, the base was decommissioned in 2002 and the land turned over to Acadia National Park. Federal econonomic-stimulus funds over the last few years helped transform it into the new SERC campus. Several of the paved roads were torn up and replaced with walking paths. Buildings were renovated. The Navy base's bowling alley became a long bunk house in which visiting school groups often reside. In all, some 20 buildings—including an auditorium, science labs, art studios and rentable-by-the-week apartments—dot the campus.
SERC now sleeps as many 300 and attracts scientists, naturalists, teachers, artists (including participants in Acadia National Park's artists-in-residence program) and student groups from the U.S. and abroad. Its official mission is "to guide present and future generations to greater understanding and respect for nature by providing research and learning opportunities through its outstanding Acadia National Park setting, unique coastal Maine facilities, and innovative partnership programs."
On the day we visited, interpretive ranger and educator Kate Petrie—through an Internet video hookup—had just been showing a class of fifth-graders in Kansas a Maine tidal pool. Visitors from Oman were in residence, learning from Acadia and SERC staffers how to grow and improve their country's park system and use nature to boost tourism.
Abe told us that among its many other initiatives—from field research to efforts to combine art and science to the instruction of advanced-placement high school teachers—SERC is setting up a bird-banding program that will operate year-round and fill an important scientific niche: Currently there is no such coastal banding center north of the Maine-New Hampshire border, a four-hour drive to the south. (Cornell has a station there, on Appledore Island.) Given the number and variety of birds that migrate to or reside in the Schoodic-MDI region—a whopping 338 bird species have been spotted in Acadia National Park alone—it's important to keep track of how the populations are faring.
Abe had invited us to tour SERC and meet with him to talk about possible collaborations with The Naturalist's Notebook. We are looking forward to those. And on a return visit we hope to see one of the many porcupines that Abe says show up almost every day. SERC even hosted a lecture last year called "The Unusual Life of the Porcupine" given by one of the country's leading experts on those unique, lumbering, tree-climbing creatures. Where else would you get to hear a talk like that? And learn about Oman, sea turtles, World War II and tidal pools that are visible in Kansas? If you're in Maine visiting Acadia and want a great experience, take the drive to SERC and see...the other Acadia.
Using Thoreau to Measure Climate Change Abe Miller-Rushing is himself a scientist—a phenologist, to be exact. That's someone who studies the timing of cyclical natural events such as bird migrations and flowers blooming. He recently co-published an op-ed piece in The New York Times on how the nature observations of Henry David Thoreau are aiding in the study of the ever-earlier-in-the-season timing of many natural phenomena. Abe has found, for example, that highbush blueberries in Concord, Mass., which flowered in mid-May in Thoreau's day, are now flowering in early April:
Bird Sightings (Cont.) Here's a field report from Downeast Audubon's International Migratory Bird Day outing last Saturday, courtesy of naturalist Lynn Havsall: "We had fantastic looks of singing Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Black & White, Parula and Pine Warblers along with Brown Creepers putting on quite a show and a very upset male Golden Crowned Kinglet that had his orange head feathers raised like a cardinal! It was cool!!!"
Correspondent Virginia Jacobs (if you didn't see this in the comments section of the blog) wrote to say that in Ohio the juncos have gone, the finches and chickadees are back and oven birds have been in evidence. On the subject of oven birds she recalled that when her son was young he used to look for what he called "stove birds." Instead of tufted titmice he watched for what he called "tufted tiptoes." If I were an artist, I would love to draw a tufted tiptoe.
Keep the observations coming!
Nature Movie Fest Reel Pizza, one of our favorite haunts in Bar Harbor, is holding the Maine Wildlife Conservation Film Festival this Friday to Sunday. There are way too many good films to list, but the subjects range from jaguars to whales to tamarins to the importance of shade-grown coffee plantations to migratory birds (I told you I was going to keep pounding that subject into everyone's head). Check out the lineup at:
Answer to the Last Puzzler
Question: What do you call a cow that has just given birth?
Answer: Decalfinated! (Thanks to correspondent George Stransky for that one.)
1) The word reptile comes from a Latin word that means:
2) The Latin root of the word amphibian means:
a) of two modes of life
b) water traveler
c) swimming feet