Mary Walker | Thursday, March 29, 2018
“Great trip for birdwatching, Gulf Coast ecology, & messing about in boats”
Strongly recommended, would go again. This trip was thoughtfully designed and well organized. Good trip for amateur or experienced birdwatchers -- I know almost nothing about birds & was fascinated. You learn a lot not only about the cranes -- stunning 5-ft tall snow-white birds -- but about many other birds and wildlife in the area, and about the coastal and estuary ecology in general -- super educational. This is one of the few active studies of these cranes and this environment, and this Earthwatch project provides almost all the funding and data collection, so that's satisfying -- you are making a difference on this trip. There's only ~400+ of these western flock whooping cranes in the world, and this kind of research helps us learn how they can thrive.
You share accommodations with 1-3 other people of your gender in cabins that are small and basic but fine: clean sheets & towels, hot water, (noisy) air conditioner, (quiet) fan, space heater, refrigerator etc. Each half-day (morning, afternoon) you choose between going out on the boat or going in the van for bird observing sessions or food source data collection. Lunches together as a full group at the boat ramp. Dinners are home cooked (hamburgers, spaghetti, etc) by the grad students with project participants helping out.
A few pointers: Weather can be highly variable and unpredictable, from quite cold to fairly hot / tshirt weather. Bring layers, hat, gloves. There's an evening beer-only bar where you can mingle with locals, but no food available and no laundry facilities. The researchers bring a ton of food for the team, and there's usually one or two trips to a market or gas station during the week. There's no bathroom on the small boat or at the boat ramp, so be prepared. Hardcore bug spray needed, the mosquitoes can be fierce. Sunscreen is a must. Internet and phone service is very limited, so don't assume you'll be able to get online even in the evenings -- bring your movies or other materials downloaded on your phone or device.
You need to be comfortable getting in and out of a smallish boat, holding big binoculars to your face for up to 20 consecutive minutes, and walking on mud flats, with uncertain slippery footing, through scrub cover ~a foot+ high and water ~ 6+ inches deep (you can get into mud up to your mid-calf, and you may slip and fall, so be aware).