Wabash Blogs Immersion 2008: Everglades

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Pine and marshmallows

Torm Hustvet—Let me preface this entry by saying that I am forever thankful for the resources that made this trip and the others I have experienced possible.

So let’s start with the campfire Barton and I gathered wood for and built Sunday night. (See photo albums from Monday and Tuesday.) There’s nothing like the smell of pine and roasting marshmallows. Much of the wood that we collected for the fire was the result of damage from Hurricane Rita years ago, so it was plenty dry and made an excellent campfire. We were without graham crackers, so my fellow classmates and I sandwiched the gooey marshmallows between two Chips Ahoy cookies (which, by the way, make an excellent snack for any chocolate enthusiast!).

Between the campfire last evening and today’s events I really feel as if the group is bonding. One of the most interesting parts of the evening was observing the stars with Dr. Krohne’s spotting scope, as we were able to isolate the rings of Saturn as well as constellations. I knew several students on the trip through prior immersion experiences; however, but these six students, with Dr. Krohne and Steve, are becoming a great group.

Monday started early as we bypassed breakfast to observe the morning actions at Anhinga Trail. We were able to observe the feeding behaviors of anhingas and great blue herons. Best of all, we were able to observe both a successful feeding by an anhinga and a less successful one. One unfortunate anhinga had gone through the trouble of catching a fish only to drop it to the waters below while trying to find a way to fit down its throat. An alligator near by had seemingly observed the anhinga having trouble and quickly occupied the area where the fish dropped. So the anhinga decided not to retrieve its lost breakfast. The lesson learned here was an important one: As a biology student in my senior year, I am used to predatory events being successful, and this observation directly contradicted my predisposed notions. Essentially, the anhinga caught the fish and provided a type of “carry-out” meal for the alligator. Not 20 meters away I observed a great blue heron take his meal well away from that area to avoid dropping it to the gators below. Not only did this appear to be some sort of adaptation, but it also displayed the wide diversity of birds and biology as a whole that I have been able to observe in only 2 days.

Later that day we broke camp at Long Key Pine and moved Flamingo Bay. Our afternoon tours consisted of walking along mangrove trails and visiting a nearby pond site to observe the bird populations and plant ecology systems. Then Dr. Krohne gave us the late afternoon off, and four of us hiked to the camp store. We bought our refreshments, met up with Dr. Krohne and Steve, and quickly began relax and talk. This is an experience that I have learned to love through my immersion trips. I have had been able to experience life with classmates in a much more personal fashion and I feel that a trip such as this helps encourage the learning atmosphere of the class following the trip.

I am incredibly thankful for my opportunities to travel to Ecuador (one month in summer of 2005), Belize, and the Everglades without the financial burden that many students at other colleges endure. I have gotten to know students and faculty in ways that have truly enriched my academic experience. If anyone would have told me that attending Wabash College (seven hours from my hometown of Waukon, IA) would have allowed me to meet the people I have met and seen the sights that I have seen, I simply would not have believed it!

Looking back on these experiences makes me want to contribute in some way following my graduation in May (feel free to email me for a resume, as I am still searching for environmental consulting opportunities!). I look forward to being able to provide such experiences to future students.

Editor's Note: On Tuesday, the students and Professor Krohne went snorkeling over the reefs at John Pennekamp National Marine Sanctuary. See a photo album here. We break camp again tomorrow morning and head for Corkscrew Sanctuary and out of reach of trusty wi-fi ports (and the gracious people at the Starbuck's in Florida City, who for two evenings let me sit here for hours working while only buying a cup of coffee.)

We'll be back with more student blogs Thursday.