Conservation Journal Adel

The Lakes Region Conservation Corps (LRCC) is an AmeriCorps service program that develops skills and experiences for conservation professionals. LRCC members are the driving force behind the Squam Lakes Association’s conservation efforts. The program provides hands-on conservation work experience and numerous certifications over a broad range of areas, which ensures that LRCC members are capable of independently approaching a variety of tasks in the environmental conservation field. Members remove invasive species from the Squam watershed, manage and act as caretakers at our backcountry campsites, maintain the SLA’s 50+ miles of trails, educate the public on local and regional conservation initiatives, spearhead reports on conservation efforts, lead SLA volunteer crews and ensure the daily functioning of the Squam Lakes Association’s programs. Click here to learn more about the LRCC program.

Adel Barnes

April 26, 2019

Calling all daredevils, thrill-seekers, and Evel Knievels! Tired of the same old, rote skydiving, rollercoaster rides, and whitewater rafting? Have I got news for you! This week I’ve discovered a new pastime that’s guaranteed to get your adrenaline pumping: installing wood duck boxes.

Usually, installing nesting boxes is hardly an event to write home about. The box itself is comprised of small wooden panels and roughly measures about 2-feet tall by 1-foot wide. A large hole in the top half of the front panel allows birds to enter and exit the structure, and a hinge on the roof grants easy access for maintenance or surveying. The box is normally attached to a large (and heavy) 8-foot wooden pole that should have some type of predator guard fixed to it—our predator guards are smooth grey tubes that make the pole harder to climb. The entire contraption ends up being awkwardly top-heavy and typically requires two people to carry it. To install it, basically all you have to do is dig a hole and put the bottom end of the pole in it. Sounds easy, right? But when you’re standing next to a snow-covered bank in two feet of ice-cold water, with both feet firmly trapped in about three inches of a nice, sticky mix of silt and mud, there’s nothing like the terrifying thrill of a duck box’s unbalanced weight slowly pushing you backwards, closer and closer towards an unintentional (and greatly undesired) bath.

Just an hour earlier, Kim Appleby, my fellow LRCC member, and I were sliding a heavily-loaded, cherry red canoe around the docks, seeking the least icy entrance to the water. Our canoe was weighed down by the following items: one duck box, one post hole digger, one hammer, two oars, and a bucket of wood chips. It was an uncharacteristically warm, sunny day, and as I donned my life jacket and an ultra-fashionable, low-ventilation pair of mud brown waders, I’d never been more thankful for the remaining snow that allowed us to slide the canoe instead of carrying it. Once we got the boat into the water, we faced the next challenge of figuring out how to fit both of us into the canoe with everything else already packed into it. I ultimately ended up sitting backwards, balanced uncomfortably on top of the pole end of the duck box, while Kim sat at the back with the box between her knees.

After a few minutes of leisurely paddling, we had wound our way up the stream that connects the cove in front of the SLA to the neighboring White Oak Pond. Wood ducks prefer nesting boxes that face the water without directly facing any neighboring boxes, so our intended destination was a secluded spot about a quarter mile up the stream. With only one pair of waders between the two of us, once we reached the installation point Kim stayed in the canoe while I stepped into Squam Lake for the very first time.

It’s a lot muddier than I thought it would be. Each step was accompanied by a wet “schlock” that I could feel more than hear as the boots of my waders were suctioned into the bottom of the lake. The next thirty minutes were filled with me attempting to use a post hole digger to create a three-foot deep hole in mud underneath moving water. Without being able to easily lift my mud-trapped feet, if I pulled too hard on the post hole digger I risked tumbling backwards into the freezing water. Too little and the tool would hardly budge. After threatening to give up on three separate occasions (thanks again to Kim for the pep talks), the hole was finally deep enough. Kim and I then rearranged the bird box so it was leaning against the snowy bank with the pole end in the water and she began to push it up towards me so I could stand it up and maneuver the pole into the hole.

That’s when it happened. We missed the hole by about half a foot, so as the bird box towered above me I could feel it start to push me backwards. My feet were stuck close together and I frantically tried to pull one foot out of the mud so I could plant it further behind me, but the ground refused to relinquish its hold. Kim and I shared a brief look of horror in the milliseconds of what assumed would be my last warm, dry moment on earth when suddenly…. it stopped? I’m still not sure how I regained my balance, but why question a miracle! A few minutes, and lots of relief-induced giggling later, the wood duck box was finally firmly planted into its new home.   

And why, you may be wondering, did Kim and I go through all of this trouble? These boxes, although sometimes utilized by many types of birds, are specifically intended for wood ducks. In the early 1900’s, these strikingly beautiful ducks—seriously, please look up a picture of a male wood duck if you’ve never seen one—were hunted to the brink of extinction. On top of that, the logging of old growth forests had greatly depleted the number of trees with natural cavities that these ducks typically nest in. Thankfully, through both hunting regulations and the dedication of those who install and maintain nest boxes as an alternative to natural tree cavities, today’s wood duck populations have soared.

Now, as I begin the second half of my year with the SLA, I’m excited to continue checking in on these wood duck boxes. Many of the conservation projects we work on have long timelines, meaning that the end results might not be enjoyed until long after we’ve all left the SLA. These duck boxes, however, offer a rare opportunity to directly see the results of my efforts. So if you’re looking for me at all this spring, I’ll likely be found on the SLA’s back porch, attached to my binoculars and in search of ducklings.    

We appreciate how reliable, thoughtful, fun, and worldly Adel is.  We always have the best conversations with her, she makes the best cookies, and she is the best at correcting my grammar. You can read more about Adel here.

Join our LRCC members for weekly guided hikes, volunteer opportunities, and environmental programs. Learn more by clicking here.