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Posted 4/3/2018

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By Nicole Giles
USACE, New England District

For the second winter in a row, science students from Shepherd Hill Regional High School of Dudley, Massachusetts, worked with Park Ranger Nicole Giles to improve Wood Duck habitat at Hodges Village Dam, Feb. 22. The boxes were made in the summer of 2017 by Hodges Village volunteer park hosts. Historically, a small wetland called Stumpy Pond has had 8-10 pairs of Wood Duck boxes in the middle of the pond but over the years the boxes got destroyed by the weather, flooding or by beavers chewing on them.

Giles wanted to try something new by installing them on galvanized steel pipes instead of using 4x4 PT lumber, but the ice was never safe enough this winter to work on.  Using steel pipes would deter predators from climbing up to the boxes and beavers can’t chew them down.

Four science students and their professor, Justin Sauvageau volunteered for about three hours during that rainy afternoon. They carried four Wood Duck boxes about one mile down the trail to Stumpy Pond on the North End of Hodges Village. Wood Ducks generally nest in tree cavities along the shoreline of the pond. A group of Wood Ducks are usually spotted every summer in a quiet corner of the pond. Giles wanted to get the boxes out so the ducks could have a chance to check them out this spring. Boxes are of no use being kept in a shed all summer long. She said she can make more duck boxes next summer and try to get them on the pond if the ice is better next year.

Despite the weather, the students had a great time. The group discussed behavioral tendencies for Wood Ducks and how to properly install the duck boxes. Giles picked out trees that looked healthy enough to support a box and the students used teamwork to install them.

Each student had their own part in the installation process and a few learned how to properly use hand tools. They even got creative in placing their final box. One small tree was growing out of a small island of roots and organic material creating a mini island. The students were determined to get their last box out on that tree overlooking the water so they used the small step ladder as a bridge to get to the island. Giles is convinced this will be the favorite box among the ducks.

The students in Professor Sauvageau’s classes are part of a national high school challenge called Envirothon. Students extensively study science topics to include water, soil, wildlife, insects and trees, and present their findings to a judgement panel. Experience and volunteering for hands on activities in the field are highly encouraged.

Professor Sauvageau is very active in getting his students to explore the outdoors and applying their knowledge to real world situations because learning doesn’t just come from the classroom.

The students are also involved in other projects around Buffumville Lake and Hodges Village Dam. Members of the water team are going to be testing lake water for pH and nutrient values, and looking at soil classifications in wetland areas.

Other students walked the trails at Buffumville doing a survey for invasive species. This information will help Project Staff in determining which areas of the project need the most work in invasive species removal.

The team at Hodges Village looks forward to hosting Shepherd Hill Regional High School students again sometime in the future.