Islands have a lot of Exposed Rock!

GE335 Visit to Allen Island

Our GE335 (Geologic Field Methods) spent the weekend of September 29–October 1 on Allen Island. The group consisted of: Associate Professor Walter A. (Bill) Sullivan, Alyson Churchill (’18), Kaci Kus, (’18), Patt Lamom (’18J), David Miller (’19), and Zena Robert (’18). Assistant Professor Bess Koffman also joined the group on Saturday evening and Sunday. The students used this opportunity to identify and document different rock units, interpret the complex cross-cutting relationships between these units, and make detailed geologic maps of the southern half of the island. These observations and data will provide the basis for written reports in this W-2 course. Bess enjoyed her introduction to the Island and scouted for a possible future field trip. We were gifted with spectacular weather, and everyone enjoyed the sunsets and sunrises as well as the camaraderie in the bunkhouse. As always, Jake and Jim were helpful and kind. Below our the students’ reflections on our experience.

“My overall experience visiting Allen Island was very positive. Not only is the island beautiful, but the housing accommodations are very clean and well taken care of. Jim, the man who ferried us to the island, was very friendly and helpful in loading and unloading our belongings on and off of the boat. As for the geology of the island, it is really interesting and easily accessible, which made mapping a very enjoyable experience. Luckily we had good weather for both days of our excursions. I think the small area of the island was very conductive to working as a small group in the field, and I was able to learn a lot by being able to experience the geology in person alongside my peers. I had a lot of fun and would definitely be happy to visit again for another field trip in the future!”—Kaci Kus (’18)

“Allen Island is a great site to practice field mapping. Our trip to Allen Island was a great experience. We had comfortable and clean accommodations. There was a golf cart that we were allowed to use on the island. The rock formations on Allen Island were very interesting. Our original plan was to map the coastline and the inland exposure of the whole island, but once we got to explore the area we realized that with this vast amount of information we would not be able to do that. We thus could only map about 2/3 of the island, mostly the coastline on the southern part. I found multiple interesting geologic features as well as rich and diverse ecosystem there. This place is truly unique, and I hope that more students will come and grab this valuable educational opportunity it has to offer.”—Patt Lamom (’18-J)

“Spending the last weekend of September on Allen Island was incredible, from our boat ride out to our boat ride back. The caretaker and boat driver, Jim, was a great resource with knowledge of the island’s past and present. Living in the bunkhouse is much more of a real life experience than living in a college dorm because you have to organize, do chores, and work together. The classroom is set up very nicely for a group of students to learn background information, etc. before going out exploring and studying the island. The ease of walking or driving around the entire island is fantastic. It provides an amazing study site on an isolated oasis. The island itself is beautiful and was definitely hard to leave.”—David Miller (’19)

“The time my class spent on Allen Island was a valuable educational experience. We have learned so much during our time here at Colby, and I believe that it is important to take our knowledge and apply it to different situations. Geologists need to be versatile in their studies of new areas, and Allen Island gave us the opportunity to study somewhere where we haven’t been before. We were able to view various geological features that we have learned about in the classroom on a beautiful island, which is an experience that some students will not have the opportunity to have in their college careers. The trip also gave my class the opportunity to bond as we worked together to study along the coastline. I am very thankful and appreciative to have been able to study geology on Allen Island. It is an experience I will never forget.”—Zena Robert (’18)

Documentary Production – Visual Narratives

On the weekend of September 23rd, I took my CI245: Documentary Production course out to Allen Island. I asked the students ahead of time to research the island and to map out an outline for a visual narrative. They had to tell a story about the island in three minutes or less and it had to have a coherent narrative structure without relying on dialogue. Students could use music or voiceover. The students filmed from the moment we arrived in Port Clyde up until we boarded the boat to return.

   “Coming in with the goal of producing a film about the relationship between humans and nature, the built environment and what is natural, I was able to explore Allen Island throughout the day making use of the golf carts and Colby camera equipment.” – Danya Smith.

“Having this field trip early on in the semester was a great way to bond with classmates and gain first-hand experience with the challenges of documentary filmmaking. By essentially “throwing us in the deep end,” I was able to quickly develop a good idea of the entire filmmaking process, and learn what adjustments I would make to overcome certain obstacles in the future.” – Annie Lee

“My favorite part of the trip was when my group stumbled upon a sheep, which was stuck in a hole filled with water, and we had the chance to save it. We found the island’s caretaker and brought him to the hole where he was able to safely dislodge the sheep” – Max Manos.

“In addition to being my first class trip, it was my first time on an island in Maine; as I am a senior and likely will be living outside of Maine in the future, I’m really glad I got to stay on a beautiful island here. Allen Island embodies the natural beauty of the Maine coast in a private, preserved setting that was perfect for shooting landscape shots of the island”- Stephan Chaikovsky

“Overall, I had a great time working together with my fellow classmates to have a calm and productive two days on Allen Island. I really hope I get the chance to go back and find that sheep herd. ” – Jenna DeFrancisco


“As students, we created our own structure, with simple chores to do chosen by each person split equally among everyone (sweeping, dishes, cooking, etc.) This freedom gave us opportunity to essentially roam the island freely and do what we needed to get our projects done, as long as we stuck with a buddy.” Dylan Shaw

“I found myself enjoying the serenity, lost in the texture of a single fern, mesmerized by the waves.” Abby Snyder

Climate Research – 9/15/2017

Two faculty and eleven students spent the second weekend in September on Allen Island.   Our trip focused on climate changes research (mostly fixing and calibrating sensors).  We also made some time for walking the island and discussing recent papers on surface ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Maine.   Enjoy a few photographs of the trip and read the student “Allen Island – Student Impressions” to understand why Allen Island is such an amazing resource for Colby.

” Being at Allen Island is an amazing experience. It is not only a magnificent place visually, but it also provides many opportunities for interdisciplinary cooperation between Colby’s departments. While I’m at the Island, I see both the artistic value and potential of the environment, as well as the ecological interactions occurring all around me. Each trip I take is an opportunity for growth, both as an artist, and as a scientist.”   – Sergio Madrigal

 “I first heard of Allen Island in general chemistry. A professor was whisking away a group of students to the island for a weekend trip. The words “climate change research” were enough to hook me in, but my friend provided the final push by turning to me and saying, “You should definitely go.” I gave in easily to the peer pressure.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I received a confirmation email. I’m a little glad I went in with no idea of what Allen Island was like, since it made me be open to any and all kinds of information. Over the two days, I became in awe of everything around me – which, with the type of views the island provided, it was easy to be. While being enchanted by the scenery, I listened to Professor King sneak in teaching moments wherever he could. I learned of the rapid warming occurring in the Gulf of Maine, and its impact on underwater organisms and the seafood industry. I learned of the history of Allen Island, and the many ways the island can become a classroom. I felt like I learned about a variety of topics, not just specifically climate change. All the information related to each other in some way, so it left me with a well-rounded crash course on not only Allen Island, but on how Allen Island could help further understand climate change, Maine art, and Maine history. If given the chance, I’d go back in a heartbeat, because I know I’ll come back having learned something new…. ”   – Ana Petire

August 30 Bee Survey

On August 30, Professor David Angelini made a solo survey of Allen Island looking bumblebees. He found 59 individuals of 5 species, all north of the ponds in the middle of the island. The species of our greatest interest, Bombus borealis made up about 20% of the bees, down from being the overwhelming majority of foraging bees on Allen in July. However, this number is still high compared to most areas of the mainland.

A Great Day Exploring Herring Gut and Allen Island

A visit is worth a thousand words.    On August 2, 2017  Whitney King, Mandy Grant, Nicole Denier, Carol Hurney, Justin Becknell, Laura Seay, Stacey Sheriff, Ghana Gherwash, and Kara Kugelmeyer spent the day visiting the Herring Gut Learning Center and Allen Island.  The warm summer air over the cool ocean water created a fog bank from Port Clyde to the shores of Allen Island.   We had great weather five miles off the coast but were really appreciative of the Archangels radar and an experienced captain on the ride to and from the island in very dense fog.

Highlights of the day were the tour of the island village and the realization that the rustic accommodations at the bunk house are really not that rustic!  A hike south the length of the island found the group appreciating the stone throne build into the landscape of the island ponds and the hundred year old birch trees that have successfully out competed the island spruce for both space and light.  The group left the island with ideas for future projects ranging from the sociology of island communities, expanded writing opportunities, and an investigation of the forest ecology.  

At the Herring Gut Learning Center the group played with the tide pool specimens on display for a local community open house and had an opportunity to tour the aquaponics systems.  

The favorite crop for the group was the basil that seems to thrive on nutrient rich waste water from the Tilapia fish tanks.

This will be out last big group visit for the summer.   We will continue our work building the climate monitoring station and bumble bee surveys over the next few weeks.   With the start of school in September we are scheduled to be on Allen Island or at Herring Gut almost every weekend with programs on Documentary Video, Art in Maine, Geologic Mapping, Climate Research, and Alternative Education.


Soundscape ecology: checking in with frogs, birds, and bees

18 July 2017
Participants— Cathy Bevier, Bonje Obua, Kimlie Heng
Brief Description:We spent a quiet foggy day on the island completing several tasks. First, we reviewed data files from recordings made since April, focusing on the periods the sound recorders were placed at the ponds where we sampled green frogs. We made a game plan for analyzing these files and set goals for completing a subset of analyses. Eventually we can try to use frog calling activity as a metric to reflect overall health and size of a population. We then went exploring to areas where I had made recordings in the spring and early summer to hear how the soundscape has changed with the seasons. There were a few male green frogs calling from most of the ponds, though the fog and cool temperatures were not conducive.

Birds are well into the breeding season or have finished, and many shorebirds are already migrating south. So it seemed a bit quieter across the landscapes in terms of bird songs. We spent time in the afternoon observing bee activity in the gardens and tried different methods to record sounds from bumblebees as they visited inflorescences. For example, I placed a sound meter, which has two unidirectional microphones, directly at the base of a flower patch and programmed it to record continuously for two hours. I also tracked and recorded individual bees over for several minutes each as they made their way through a patch of flowers. I’m assessing these methods as I’d like to capture sounds from the different species of bumble bee to see if or how their sounds are different.  I’ll be consulting with Dr. Dave Angelini, who is studying the diversity and microbial communities of bumble bees in areas of Maine, including Allen Island.

Celebrating Hands-On Learning

The Thursday, July 13, over sixty people from Colby, the Herring Gut Alternative Learning Center, and the Up-East foundation hosted members of the Maine press to a celebration of the Colby-Herring Gut-Up East educational collaboration.  

Attached are some of the press postings:

Colby College students using islands as a classroom.  Story by Rob Caldwell

On private Maine island, hands-on learning meets high-level education

Incoming Colby students get education in island life

Wyeth family island a treasure trove for students

Herring Gut Learning Center and Allen Island – Maine. The Magazine.

Allen Island: A living lab where students can learn from fishermen, scientists, historians and artists, Maine Biz.

Colby College Comes to the Coast

The wind and rain did not dampen our enthusiasm for the current programs that the collaboration supports.    The day started at 10 AM at the Herring Gut Learning Center with remarks by President David Greene and Chair of the Herring Gut Board of Trustees Peter Harris.   We then toured the aquaponics systems and saltwater labs at Herring Gut before walking from the school to the docks in Port Clyde.   

The group boarded boats for Allen Island and were met on the island docks by Jamie and Phyllis Wyeth.   Island activities included a dedication of a new classroom on the ground floor of the bunk house, tours of the sail loft artifacts and art, and a traditional shore lunch in the island barn.   Jake and his crew had the island in perfect condition for the day.  It was a great opportunity for faculty, students, staff, Herring Gut and Up East staff and trustees to share our current work, imagine new initiatives, and simply spend some time visiting this exceptional part of Maine.

Student Documentary Video Productions Accepted at Film Festivals

Two students in Erin Murphy’s  CI245, Documentary Production: An Editor’s Perspective have had their work accepted by film festivals!

Jessica Lyon’s edit of the “Lobstermen of Maine” screened at the MDOCS Student Film Festival at Skidmore College in early June.  Jessica edited and submitted the video. The footage was shot by Erin Murphy  and Palmer Taylor.

Julia von Ehr and Sarang Yang’s film “The Gleaners” will be screening at the Maine International Film Festival this summer. The screening times are 7/18 at 9:30pm, 7/22 at 3:30pm, and 7/23 at 3:30pm. 

Other videos by students shot on Allen Island, Muscongus Bay, and at local Maine food produces are available on the CI245 page.  

Record-setting frog sampling

Dates: June 19-21, 2017

Participants— From Colby: Cathy Bevier, Bonje Obua, Corin Balan
From Unity College: Cheryl Frederick, Matt Chatfield, Greg LeClair, Rachel Bidek

Brief Description:

Our focus was to complete “official” sampling of adult male green frogs from three ponds on Allen Island for the amphibian health project. We sampled each frog’s skin using cotton swabs and rinsing to investigate the frog microbiome, skin secretions, and the presence of two frog-specific pathogens. We also are collecting water and sediment samples from the ponds to test for different heavy metals and pesticide residue. The first shift, a crew of four researchers, arrived bright and early Monday morning. Even though it was overcast and foggy for much of the day, we managed to reach a half-way point by evening. The rest of the crew arrived in a blustery downpour Tuesday morning, but “out came the sun and dried up all the rain” by late morning. We achieved our sampling goal by early afternoon while keeping up a rate of about four frogs an hour. Everyone and every critter survived, and the first shift crew departed Tuesday afternoon with all the swabs, tubes, agar plates and sampling gear. Matt, Cheryl, and Rachel stayed behind to complete the water and sediment sampling. As of June 29, we’re also done sampling green frogs in ponds from the Unity and Waterville areas. We’re anxious to dig into the data and results are starting to trickle in.









One potential measure of health we’re quantifying is the amount of yellow coloration male green frogs have developed for the breeding season. As you see in the photographs, this can be quite variable. These two frogs from Allen Island populations are showing off their colors, but one has extensive yellow extending from the vocal sac of his throat, while the other has only pale yellow patches on his vocal sac.  We found the same degree of variation in frogs from the other sites back in central Maine.

A beautiful day spent hunting bees!

June 7, 2017

David Angelini, Fini Just and James Gonzalez.

We postponed our original plan to visit Allen Island the previous day, when even Jake Ward, the Archangel’s captain agreed the weather was terrible. The weather on this visit could only be described as gorgeous.

Our goal was to survey bumblebee diversity. Islands often harbor an eclectic assortment of species, and last August, I’d found that Allen had a higher frequency of some species that are typically rare on the mainland, including Bombus borealis. The appropriately named Northern Amber Bumblebee is a big, fuzzy, caramel-colored bee. Last August half the bees we’d seen on Allen were B. borealis. However, they emerge relatively late in the spring, so wasn’t sure if we’d find any on this visit in early June.

Two students, Fini Just and James Gonzalez, and I started the day by driving the golf cart to the island’s center and hiking the southern coastal trail in search of flowering plants and bumble bees. We had mostly missed the bloom for red maples, a favorite of bumblebee in the early spring, but not many other plants were in bloom. The hike was beautiful. We saw an eagle, a sex-spotted green tiger beetle, and a killdeer protecting her nest of eggs. But no bumblebees.

Finally we returned to the houses at the northern end of the island. In the garden, the ancient crab apple tree was in full bloom. This had been our fall-back plan. We staked-out the tree and within a few minutes, we began to catch bees as they came to the tree. Maybe this was less satisfying than hunting them down, but letting them come to us was certainly easier!

By the end of the day, we had logged 17 bumblebees. Most were workers of Bombus vagans, a common species on the mainland that nests in forested areas and gets an early start building colonies in the spring. We also found a queen of B. terricola, a species that was once among the most common in Maine, but it has declined dramatically in recent decades.

Of course, bumblebees sting, which makes catching them a bit of an art. Honeybees live in huge colonies, where only one queen reproduces, and all the other sterile workers live altruistically for the good of the colony. Honeybees typically only sting once, because they’re killed by harpooning their strings and venom glands into your skin. Bumblebees live in smaller colonies, and so they’re less willing to sacrifice themselves if they can avoid it. But they have smooth stingers, making them able to sting multiple times. Thankfully, no one in our group we stung on this trip. (No one’s been stung yet on this project this year!) But bumblebees advertise their painful stings with their distinctive black-yellow colors. Birds and mammals learn to avoid these patterns to avoid the pain of a sting.

Other animals can exploit the bumblebees defenses too. We caught a bee-mimicking fly, which sported the same yellow and black colors. — Actually, we caught the same fly about three times. It was not very smart, and it just kept coming back. Or maybe we were slow to learn that it wasn’t a bee — Interestingly, it looked like this fly might be modeled after B. terricola. Despite being rare these days, B. terricola, the yellow-banded bumble bee, was once widespread across New England. If an insect evolves a color pattern that can be mistaken by predators for the warning coloration of a toxic species (something called Batesian mimicry), then it makes sense for the model to be a common one.

While we were watching the tree for incoming bees, by chance, I noticed a bee flying low over the vegetation just over the fence. It ducked into a tuft of grass and disappeared. There was no mistaking that deep amber color though. I ran around the fence, to the tuft and gently prodded the grass with a collection vial at the ready. A tense second passed. An angry buzz. Got her! A beautiful B. borealis queen. I’m not sure why she’s ducked under the grass. It was a warm, dry space, but she hadn’t yet started building a nest, and B. borealis typically nest underground. Maybe she was shopping for real estate to start her family. We took as many pictures of her as we could and released her. That made my day.

After the ride back to Port Clyde we search the village for bees without finding any, despite several big apple trees in flower. Driving home through Spruce Head, we stopped as some honeysuckle and found a species we’d not seen on Allen, B. ternarius, another common mainland species.

Too soon yet to draw any conclusions for this year, but I’ll look forward to visiting Allen next month.