Notes from a faraway island
January 3, 2011
New Year winter antics

right now I am completely redoing the UMass Boston Nantucket Field station website (    ---- new version live on Friday January 6th). It will be faster, stronger, and capable of leaping tall buildings. I should be able to update it more, just like I hope to update this blog more often.

Don't forget, that this blog, the one you are reading, by all means stop now! has moved to

Just like many typical Monday after the holidays: we have a very dead whale carcass on the sand on the south side of the island. I think it is kind of beautiful, bleached bone with very old and leathery skin. An observant and helpful beach wlaker reported it and if I get permission to post the pics, I will.

Len's blog has been excellent lately; check it out at

Resolution #7643........ post more often, even if you only have time to post something short. Check out my blog above for my other life changing resolution.

last but not least- a cute youtube video of polar bears vs. scientific observation cameras (guess who wins)



Posted by Sarah at 1:35 PM EST
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November 16, 2010
Don't forget blog site has moved
Topic: moving and updating

Don't forget that this blog is now updated at

you can sign up for weekly feeds. (whee :-))

here is a bit of info on the dolhins in the harbor this week, more info is at the blog above.

COMMON DOLPHIN (Delphinus delphis)

Physical Characteristics:

Hourglass pattern on side  Yellowish patch in front  Black stripe from lower jaw to front flipper

and from eye to base of melon  Dorsal fin tall & pointed  Prominent beak


Adult: Length up to 8 ft. (250 cm)/ Weight up to 300 lb 

         Juvenile: Length 5 – 6.5 ft. (150-200 cm)/ Weight up to 175 lb


Residents of New England year round  Extremely social, found in schools of 50-1000 

Found mostly offshore, infrequently near shore  Common in mass strandings

Posted by Sarah at 9:17 AM EST
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August 22, 2010
moving soon!

to a Blogger page near you!


will become

Posted by Sarah at 11:36 PM EDT
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Mark Doty and Paul Lisicky
Topic: never too late to breathe

I keep complaining to myself and ignoring my complaints about why I never post to my blog and how I can best include all the adventures that seem to happen every day. Well not only am I bad about listening to myself; but I also manage to get out a 2000 word article every week, so gosh darn it, I should be able to get up a fresh blog entry. I plan to try and migrate this blog to blogger or wordpress; so hopefully my two readers will join me. And each week I'll introduce a blog or topic that interests me and hopefully you. This week I recommend you check out:

Mark Doty and Paul Lisicky gave a reading last night at the Atheneum and not only did I find both their work striking, but I also thought they were two of the sunniest nicest people I have met in a while.  My adventures have continued this weekend with my "sermon" at the UU entitled "Nature Bats Last" which I will clean up and post and my meeting of a historian/writer/former professor/current activist and seeker and silicon valley entrepreneur who will be working on a history of Cotton Mather, the church and religion as it evolved on Nantucket with a big helping of Thoreau for dessert. The picture of the week is a snapping turtle in honor of Mark's poem


Posted by Sarah at 11:19 PM EDT
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January 11, 2010
Charlie Moores vision: North Pacific Plastic Gyre
Topic: ocean pollution

Sadly I will have to miss a presentation tomorrow (January 12th) in Nahant Massachusetts by Charlie Moore who has gained renown for allerting the world to the large collection of plastic floating in the ocean. Learn more about his recent research here:

and check out this national geographic article on the fast degradtion of plastic and why that is a bad thing

here: (article plus active links)

Plastic Breaks Down in Ocean, After All -- And Fast

Carolyn Barry
for National Geographic News
August 20, 2009

Though ocean-borne plastic trash has a reputation as an indestructible, immortal environmental villain, scientists announced yesterday that some plastics actually decompose rapidly in the ocean. And, the researchers say, that's not a good thing.

The team's new study is the first to show that degrading plastics are leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A into the seas, possibly threatening ocean animals, and us.

Plastics decompose, or break down, in oceans, or seas - picture of plastic fork


Scientists had previously thought plastics broke down only at very high temperatures and over hundreds of years.

The researchers behind a new study, however, found that plastic breaks down at cooler temperatures than expected, and within a year of the trash hitting the water.

The Japan-based team collected samples in waters from the U.S., Europe, India, Japan, and elsewhere, lead researcher Katsuhiko Saido, a chemist with the College of Pharmacy at Nihon University in Japan, said via email.

All the water samples were found to contain derivatives of polystyrene, a common plastic used in disposable cutlery, Styrofoam, and DVD cases, among other things, said Saido, who presented the findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C., today.

Plastic, he said, should be considered a new source of chemical pollution in the ocean.

Cooking Up Plastic Soup in the Seas

The toxic compounds the team found don't occur naturally in the ocean, and the researchers thought plastic was the culprit.

The scientists later simulated the decomposition of polystyrene in the sea and found that it degraded at temperatures of 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius).

Left behind in the water were the same compounds detected in the ocean samples, such as styrene trimer, a polystyrene by-product, and bisphenol A, a chemical used in hard plastics such as reusable water bottles and the linings of aluminum cans.

Bisphenol A (BPA) has been shown to interfere with the reproductive systems of animals, while styrene monomer is a suspected carcinogen.

The pollutants are likely to be more concentrated in areas heavily littered with plastic debris, such as ocean vortices, which occur where currents meet.

(Related: "Giant Ocean-Trash Vortex Attracts Explorers.")

Plastic Breaks Down Fast

About 44 percent of all seabirds eat plastic, apparently by mistake, sometimes with fatal effects. And 267 marine species are affected by plastic garbage—animals are known to swallow plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish in mid-ocean, for example—according to a 2008 study in the journal Environmental Research by oceanographer and chemist Charles Moore, of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

Now, it seems, they also face the invisible threat of toxic, plastic-derived chemicals.

Once Styrofoam, for example, breaks down, the tiny polystyrene components start to sink, because they're heavier than water, Moore said. "So it's likely that this styrene pollutant is prevalent throughout the water column and not just at the surface."

Along with Moore, David Barnes, a marine ecologist from the British Antarctic Survey, doesn't think the Japanese team's lab results can be applied uniformly across the ocean, however. Water temperatures are typically much cooler than the 86 degrees Fahrenheit in the study, he said.

"We're talking about, effectively, what happens in [zones] of tropical and some subtropical coasts. And there, [the] study may be very important," Barnes said.

Ocean as "Plastic Soup"

Plastic hits marine creatures with a double whammy, Moore said. Along with the toxic chemicals released from the breakdown of plastic, animals also take in other chemicals that the plastic has accumulated from outside sources in the water.

"We knew ten years ago that plastic could be a million times more toxic than the seawater itself," because plastic items tend to accumulate a surface layer of chemicals from seawater, Moore said. "They're sponges."

Moore worries about the plastic-derived chemicals' potential damage to wildlife. The chemicals can potentially cause cancer in humans, he said, and simpler life-forms "may be more susceptible then we are."

Pollutants also become more concentrated as animals eat other contaminated animals—which could be bad news for us, the animals at the top of the food chain. (Read National Geographic magazine's "The Pollution Within.")

Moore estimates plastic debris—most of it smaller than a fifth of an inch (five millimeters)—is "dispersed over millions of square miles of ocean and miles' deep in the water column.

"The plastic soup we've made of the ocean is pretty universal—it's just a matter of degree," he said. "All these effects we're worried about are happening throughout the ocean as a unity."



Posted by Sarah at 11:10 AM EST
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November 23, 2009
Dreaming of a Green Christmas
Topic: ecofriendly gift giving

Give your Children a Healthy Planet: Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Every year as the holidays approach I dream of new gadgets I believe I can’t live without and start filling out an environmentally friendly holiday shopping list. Sugar plum fairies may be de rigueur dream material, but nothing beats a fair trade hand-made rug that fits perfectly in front of a low emission fireplace ( With our economy still in the doldrums, many people out of work or working reduced hours, and our bank accounts dwindling, cheap and practical gifts are high on my shopping list. Like many people on island, I try to buy local at our winter craft fairs and in shops open this time of year to help keep neighbors and friends employed in some small way. For anyone interested in reducing their carbon footprint, doing more with less, or simply being frugal, here are some suggestions that will help our environment and ensure you and your family have a Green Christmas. Fortunately for our pocketbooks and planet, celebrating the season doesn’t have to involve conspicuous consumption or shopping carts full of kitsch no one wants. Many of the items I found online can also be purchased on island.

The idea for this story came out of a lab cleaning and organizing day made easier with the help of one of my cheerful and indispensible volunteers, Margaret Feindel. Margaret was admiring my handy dandy mini battery tester which we use to determine when batteries are truly dead, or simply hanging around with underperforming friends. We go through a lot of batteries at the field station to keep our portable field instruments electronically happy. In a past life, I specialized in trace metal chemistry, filtering and analyzing seawater and sediments to find out how much mercury, lead, aluminum, and zinc was fouling our ecosystem. I have always worried about the amount of battery waste I generate and I try to be diligent when it comes to saving my employer ( a taxpayer supported university) money. When I can, I use rechargeable batteries, but when that isn’t feasible, I pull out my mini battery tester, which you can find online through Amazon and other sites for less than ten dollars (Gardner Bender model #GBT-3502). With this battery tester, I can tell if the batteries are actually low on power and really need to be replaced or if they are still okay. I have a weather station remote data logger that drains three C batteries on what feels like at least a monthly basis. Before I had this tester, I would replace all three batteries when the low power warning was displayed. Now, I find that sometimes it’s just one or two batteries that are actually dead and I can just replace those batteries. My completely unscientific and anecdotal experience is that I save 30-60% in battery replacement costs. This tester will test most common batteries from AAA’s to 9 volt batteries.

There are more exciting “green” gifts out there than battery testers. I especially liked the Recyclebone and Recycleball doggy stocking stuffers from Branch ( which are made from 100% “regrind” Orbee-Tuff  material that would otherwise be discarded. More info on eco-friendly gifts for the furry members of your family can be found at and and many of these products can be found in our local pet stores.

The one purchase Len and I have made in the past year that has significantly saved us money while reducing plastic bottle waste generation is the purchase of a Soda Stream ( which allows us to make sparkling water or soda out of tap water and pressurized carbon dioxide. Each liter costs approximately 0.22 cents and instead of lugging home six packs of seltzer or sparkling water, you reuse PET bottles that are free of phthalates and Bisphenol-A (BPA) residues. Adding your own carbonation and soda mix to water allows you to customize the fizz and truly has been a big savings for us while also reducing our carbon footprint.

This next site focuses on items that, although they are not necessarily cheap, they are definitely chic! One glance at and you’ll fall for their recycled billboard and boat sail bags and totes. And for the gadget lover in your life, you should check out the solar panel covered backpacks, briefcases, and messenger bags made of recycled plastics that not only look cool but can also charge cell phones, PDAs, GPSs, iPods, and cameras. If you don’t have enough sunlight available, you can charge the backpack via a car charger or AC adapter, and then travel with power at your fingertips. My favorite bag of all time which is still going strong twenty years later is a loose backpack made of a recycled tires and car parts similar to those sold at Vulcana ( and in the recycled goods section of I especially like the latter link because your on-line purchase supports deserving causes from animal rescue to hunger to the rainforest.

Once you start to look around on the internet, you’ll find a plethora of sites with green gift suggestions for the holidays such as and This site is the mother lode of comprehensive green gift giving for every person on your list from the globetrotting aunt to the precocious toddler: When you click on their holiday gift guide ( you’ll find suggestions perfect for this time of year and hopefully you will also appreciate their recycling of previous years’ gift ideas. I especially liked the “green geek” suggestions for everything from USB powered hand warmers to bamboo computer keyboards and solar iPod chargers. They have gift suggestions for all types of people and their philanthropic gift section includes the Sailors for the Sea program who aided Race Week Sponsors and participants in obtaining Clean Regatta certification on island this summer. This brings us to a perfect gift for any season, with nary a packaging or fuel footprint to be found, a donation to a local, national, or international charity. Many people are requesting that a donation be made in their honor for birthdays or other special occasions on Facebook and other social networking sites in lieu of flowers or other temporary items. Even small amounts can make a big difference in a non-profits’ bottom line and this year they are hurting as much as we all are from the downturn in the economy, so consider a donation instead of the 2009 version of a Chia pet. Another extremely useful, caring and green gift is the gift of time, whether it’s an afternoon spent at Our Island Home or the library volunteering or an offer for tree trimming, mowing, or an evening baby-sitting.

Consider giving the gift of ideas by sharing your favorite green products with friends and family whether in prepackaged kits like the “Green Starter Kit” ( or in kits you make yourself of your favorite eco-friendly products. Starter kits are a great way to introduce someone to a variety of green items from handmade soaps to cleaning products to metal water bottles. For an even more complete and entirely useful set of kits, go to to read up on the kits designed to seriously help any person save money, reduce their carbon footprint, and learn energy saving techniques.

This site has some useful information on “greening your Christmas”: You may find that a “green” Christmas is often closer to an old fashioned Christmas whether that means stringing cranberries or popcorn for tree decorations, decking the halls with sprigs of local holly and pine boughs, or using simple beeswax candles to reduce the indoor air pollution that paraffin candles produce. For a hint of nostalgia that always brings me back to my childhood, try wrapping gifts in aluminum foil or newsprint. After you have read this copy of Yesterday’s Island from cover to cover, you’ll find it makes a lovely gift wrap!  An excellent idea I picked up from a recent guest is to package gifts in a larger item such as a backpack or tote which serves as a gift on its own with no wasted container or gift-wrap.  Another good tip is to illuminate your tree and home with long lasting, “cool burning” LED (light emitting diode) lights. Although expensive at first, they last longer, tend to burn out less often, and are much safer. Marine Home Center has a good selection of these lights.

Many people on Nantucket compost in their yards and in essence the digester at the Waste Options Solid Waste Facility is a giant composter. Here is a way to bring that good biological karma inside in case you don’t have room outdoors:

The “Madaket Mall” and our recent jump into first place as the city with the highest recycling and reuse rate for solid waste is another reason why it is “better on Nantucket”.  Fortunately, re-gifting and re-giving items from books to clothing is enjoying a renaissance. This site on eco living, reminds us that it is best to not buy something new and to consider antique stores, pawn shops, garage sales, and of course, the “Take It or Leave It” (TIOLI) for gift giving in order to create zero waste. When you are calculating the cost and carbon footprint of ordering online, don’t forget that many of our local merchants and artisans sell one of a kind and handmade gifts not only during Christmas Stroll but throughout the holiday season. Last but not least, when pondering what to do when you receive that fruitcake which has been circulating among the family for years? Consider it the tangible ghost of Christmas “reuse, reduce, and recycle” and repackage it for next year. I hear they get better with age.

Posted by Sarah at 1:57 PM EST
Updated: December 14, 2009 9:34 AM EST
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September 9, 2009
Hi Yackers

congratulation to Yack on celebrating their 10 year anniversary. Go to to find one of the better "secrets" of the island. Out here we have two weekly papers; Yack fills the gap by providing real-time information and a chat group populated by hundreds of posters and lurkers.Yackon is one of the first things I reccomend people check out when they move here and is one of the best ways to stay in touch for those who end up moving off island.

If I am involved in a marine mammal stranding incident; Yack is where I post the details. Liberal or conservative, we hash out warrant articles for town meeting, changes in school administration, debate whether to pull our boats upon the approach of a tropical strom or hurricane and discuss brilliant or boneheaded (depends on your point of view) moves by town officials. Now that I am the president of the Nantucket Civic League, I tend to be more careful of what I post there, but it is the place to get up to the minute information.

Also go to and scroll to the bottom in the sicence and features sections for links to all my Yesterday Island articles from this summer. Each Sunday I stay up and write an article on a science related topic. 

I'll post a link to our Field Station newsletter tomorrow. We have had am extremely busy summer, which partially explains my absence here. On the docket today; I'll give a marine mammal talk and salt marsh walk, we'll segue to a plant walk by my buddy Cheryl Beaton and conclude with visit to the Linda Loring Nature Center. Our guests for today's events is the UMass Boston OLLI group; which is an elderhostel-type association of inquisitive and intelligent seniors staying at the field station this week. Right after they leave; city kids from Lawrence MA will arrive for a few days as part of our Grace Grossman Youth Collaborative. I am also preparing for the Civic  Legaue's Annual Meeting on Monday and for my trip to Costa Rica for a organization of biological field stations annual meeting (

Posted by Sarah at 7:15 AM EDT
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July 12, 2009
just rolling by
Topic: arcus cloud

a link to this killer arcus cloud that rolled over the island on June 30th............ and lots of great pictures here:


You tube video of the cloud over a local cemetary is

I was sitting at my kitchen table discussing our dog Jakes medical options with our vet (yep, he makes house calls which is great for Jake and for us and actually cheaper than taking him to the local MSPCA). As we were chatting, I was facing away from the window; the vet looked over my shoulder and out to the marsh and said, "What IS THAT" in a bit of a OMG steven kingish voice, we turned to see this relatively rare cloud formation rolling across the horizon (in this case because of an approaching cold front). 

I'll dig up more links and pictures asap; chilly summer so far, which is great (for me), tons going on, which explains my inability to keep this blog up to date. Working on it, and check for me on Twitter! (and frequent updates on Facebook too)

Posted by Sarah at 4:53 PM EDT
Updated: September 9, 2009 7:14 AM EDT
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May 10, 2009
man o man; Horshoe Crab extravaganza
Topic: Horshoe Crab Surveys

Well, as I have done more daily updates on Facebook and Twitter (look me up under my full name, Sarah Oktay), I have let my blog go and I am hoping to stream these all into some type of coherent whole. Regardless, today is a new day, in fact Mother's Day, and we have an incredibly interesting feature perfromer here for the last show of the season at Spoken Word Nantucket: James O'Brien.

So stay tuned, because this past week has been a whirlwind of radio spots for WUMB, 2:30 am horshoe crab survey out in the harbor (more fun than a barrel of HSC) and I even managed to raise 800.00 for Muscular Dystrophy when they locked my up for an hour of peace and quiet. For now; go to these links to learn more!


Horseshoe Crab Survey

MDA Lock up for Sarah Oktay (still taking donations)



Posted by Sarah at 1:03 PM EDT
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January 13, 2009
Topic: S.A.D. or Glad

This is the time of year that you either fall in love with nantucket or desperately want to be anywhere else. If you look at one of our web cameras ( pick the lab camera to see more ice, the eider camera to see more of the harbor) you'll see ice piling up on the marsh. We have had some astronomically high tides the past few days that have swept away some of the ice, frustrating the sea gulls who love having a flat hard surface to drop their scallop shells on. You can see their shell opening tactics from the web cams too and watch the ducks paddle around in the open areas of the marsh. In a few days, the temperatures will really drop and the marsh and pond will freeze over completely.

For people prone to seasonal disaffective disorder (S.A.D.)

the "Grey Lady" (Nantucket) can be a cold, gray, and inhospitable spot with high winds, blowing snow and iced up boats and harbors. You have to check out this blog:

to see some really nicely done pictures of iced boats from last week. Fortunately, I really like the gray weather, the ability to reconnect with friends, the work days that are more along the lines of 10-11 hours long instead of 13-14. This time of year, the 12,000-15,000 people here have the whole island to ourselves: no tourists, no traffic, and fewer hassles. It is also political season as we gear up for the annual Town Meeting and in my case, participate in about 7-8 town organizations and committees. Now Len and I have time to get together for dinner parties, Wii bowling parties, and winter walks with friends. In July, I will be lucky to have time to go to the bathroom!

Some of the peeps I know on island who are really infatuated with the island love the stark beauty found this time of year. I love snow and wish it would snow more! Nantucket tends to get more rain than snow in comparison to Boston or Taunton during the winter because we are out to sea and surrounded by relatively warmer waters that buffer our temps. We will get a little "ocean effect" snow, but not as much of that as Provincetownor Truro on the Cape.

More musing on the political front later; check out the waterfront news photos (spectacular!) to get a real feeling for winter here.


Posted by Sarah at 8:59 AM EST
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January 3, 2009
Digging up the past

Well, this is my third attempt to post this today, so instead of droning on about the work I put into it or the dismal lack of obituary, archical newspaper, and census info on the web. I'll simply post this link: Charles W. Polson's WWII medals, insignia, pins, patches and badges

I have worked on this for the past week or so as a holiday task. If you or a family member has WW II "stars and bars" laying around,  you might find this helpful. Plus, at least for me, the search was fun and the results illuminating. Let me know what you think!


Posted by Sarah at 9:19 PM EST
Updated: January 3, 2009 9:27 PM EST
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January 1, 2009
Nantucket washashore does the evening right
Mood:  bright
Topic: auld lang syne

Today, in honor of the start of a New Year; I want to link to the Nantucket Washashore blog (from the virtual pen of Linda Sonnestine) and this lovely song and view of Nantucket from yesterday (bit different from the blizzard view we had at the Field Station.


and drop Linda a line.

Here's a view from one of our web cameras of the half frozen pond (-10 degrees this morning wind chill)


Posted by Sarah at 4:01 PM EST
Updated: January 3, 2009 2:09 PM EST
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December 25, 2008
and to all a good night
Mood:  suave
Topic: Merry Christmas!

okay, what I meant was............. more the next day.

Yep, the person whose belief system most closely aligns with Christopher Hitchens or Bill Maher says Merry Christmas! Funny I know, I can't help it, I have always liked this holiday although I have not always been a non believer. Speaking of secular; the blog to check out for the day is

you'll have to scroll down to get to the posts between the ad's for bush's last day stuff.....................

Well the red ticket drawing went along its merry way without my winning any money; but a friend of mine who very much deserves it, did win. And one of the many bonuses of having the drawing on Christmas Eve downtown is that almost everyone who is still on island attends. It's a great way to run into friends and reconnect....and a perfect opportunity to send a shout out to one of my few constant readers, Andre' Spears. Hope to see you and Anne tommorrow.

Just came back from two X-Mas day dinner/drink extravaganzas. On Nantucket, a lot of people hold "orphan" get togethers for those of us on island who do not see our family (or chose not to do futile holiday travel)  over the holiday. Winter really can be the best season on the Rock; you have the island almost to yourself, and on warmish days like today (40 degrees) a run on the beach is definitely a treat. Here's a picture of Smith's Point (on west end of the island; no longer a point due to erosion) on Christmas Day 2005. Enjoy. 



Posted by Sarah at 10:08 PM EST
Updated: December 14, 2009 9:32 AM EST
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December 24, 2008
Happy holidays
Mood:  special
Topic: Red Ticket Drawing

welcome everyone from Facebook who is whiling away the hours on the day before Christmas!

today, after I get caught up with some work stuff, Len and I will go downtown for the red ticket drawing, which is a small town event for the folks who stay on island for the holidays.

It is pretty funny, and sweet, and surreal. For every 25$ you spend on island prior to Christmas; you get a red ticket. For us, our major purchases will have been at the vet for our dog Jake. Some people put off buying a car or paying for a trip to somewhere warm for this time in order to get a boatload of tickets. Our town crier (yes, we have one) and the winner of the Junior Miss pageant draws the winning tickets. You have to be there to win, so everyone on island who can shows up, rain or shine today at 3:00 pm. The prizes: 5 $1000.00 prizes and 1 $5000.00. Many generous people donate their tickest (especially if they are going to be off island) to on island non profits. I have no idea how those people keep track of what can be thousands of little ticket stubs. We have about 50 tickets. I'll post tomorrow or later today if we win. Here is a link to last years red ticket drawing:

This weekend is the Christmas Bird count, and the Nantucket field station is one of the sponsors. Friday night a ton of birders come to the field station to organize as teams and head out early Saturday morning to count birds (species and total numbers) all over the island. We'll be on our way to Haverhill to visit with Len's family.

more later today!

Posted by Sarah at 10:20 AM EST
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December 23, 2008
Dreaming of an invasive species free XMas
Topic: time to learn something

wow, posting two days in a row! definitely an all time best :-)

The holidays are a perfect time to catch up on web site design and also learn something from fellow bloggers. To take care of the first item, I am working on updating the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative web site and starting up a new and improved Nantucket marine mammal stranding web site and also spreading the news about two web sites I enjoy:

#1 is  Dr. Deborah Brosnan's blog; I get regular updates from the site and really liked her Ocean Geoquiz. Take it here and then check out the rest of her site.

#2 I have a wierd black pupae like thing that I need to identify. When I have a question like that, a couple of my etymology friends are always helpful, but I first check my buddy's Jenn Foreman's Invasive Species Blog (finalist for a 2007 Webblog award).  You also need to drive by

both of these women are hardworking, funny, and very smart. Check it out.

and Happy Holidays!

Posted by Sarah at 3:22 PM EST
Updated: December 23, 2008 3:40 PM EST
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