Summer has finally arrived at the Gault Nature Reserve! Migratory birds, researchers, students, and hikers alike have come flocking back to Mont Saint-Hilaire. Meanwhile, the team here at Gault has been hard at work, ensuring our guests get the most out of their time on the mountain. This season, the Reserve was also happy welcome six McGill students and recent graduates who are working as Field Operations Assistants.
So far this summer they have been busy supporting drone missions, conducting trail maintenance, removing invasive plants from the forest, and leading public outreach kiosks. You might see them from time to time, sporting the red McGill caps. Read on to get to know them better!
Meet Our Interns
From left to right: Professor Tim Elrick, Greg Roberts, and Savannah Bissegger O’Connor taking drone observations of the lakeshore (photo: Philippe Hamel)
Greg recently graduated with a B.Sc. in Environment and a minor in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing. Their favourite project so far was capturing drone imagery of Lac Hertel, analyzing it, then using it to target invasive phragmites removal. “Realizing a project like this from start to finish has been so satisfying,” Greg said. “It has allowed me to see how the technical education I received at McGill fits into the complex reality of managing a protected area.”
Greg’s favourite wildlife they have had the pleasure of meeting this summer is the raccoon that sometimes hangs out at our chalet and tries to eat the interns’ compost. “Or actually, Claudette, the electric cart we use to get around the Reserve, might be my favourite,” Greg joked.
Morgane (left) and Olivia (right) taking a rest at the top of La Pain de Sucre after scouting invasive honey suckle (photo: Seonaid Newell-Macintosh)
Morgane is a current student in Biology with a minor in Environment. She has particularly enjoyed collecting data and maintaining the deer exclosure experiment. “Witnessing firsthand the effects of deer overpopulation in the forest is truly eye-opening,” said Morgane, “It is a privilege to contribute to a long-term study that has been ongoing for over a decade."
When asked what her favourite encounter was, Morgane mentioned the numerous butterfly and moth species she’s seen at the Reserve. “I absolutely love their mesmerizing wings.”
Philippe in his painter’s jumpsuit, preparing a table for guests arriving at Maison Gault (photo: Seonaid Newell-Macintosh)
Philippe is in his last year of a Bachelor of Arts and Science in Sustainability, Science, and Society with a minor in GIS. Writing for the Gault newsletter and website was a project that Phil was surprised to like as much as he did. “Explaining the important but complex and sometimes confusing research done on the Reserve was such a fun challenge. Getting the public excited about science is really rewarding, too,” Phil noted.
Phil told us he has a soft spot for the super talkative raven that the interns encountered one morning while flying the drone, even though he “loves all the wildlife at Gault equally.”
From left to right: Greg, Olivia, and Niamh heading in the field for trail maintenance (photo: Morgane Dubé)
Niamh recently graduated from McGill University with a BSc in Quantitative Biology. She told us she didn’t have one favourite project but that the public outreach kiosks felt special. “I think it’s important to communicate our current understanding of conservation science to the public,” Niamh said. “These kiosks help promote the practices of nature preservation and help keep natural spaces like Gault Nature Reserve healthy. I think it’s up to everyone to do their part in protecting nature.”
Despite their problematic overpopulation, Niamh’s favourite wildlife on the Reserve is the resident deer that can be seen snacking on delicious trillium plants all over Mont Saint-Hilaire.
Olivia measures the height of a white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) in a deer exclosure (photo: Olivia Grossi)
Olivia is a second-year Environmental Biology student with a concentration in Plant Biology. In line with her academic interests, she said her favourite project so far has been monitoring, removing, and restoring of patches of invasive honeysuckle at the summit of Pain De Sucre. “Planning, documenting, and executing an entire project like this feels very fulfilling,” she said. “Getting a chance to hike to the peak and take in the scenery is a big positive too.”
Olivia’s favourite wildlife she’s met during the internship are the frogs, toads, and treefrogs that come out in the evenings. “Learning their different calls and hearing them around the mountain is so comforting,” she told us. “They also just look so darn cute.”
Seonaid, Morgane, and Greg catch a ride on the back of Claudette (photo: Seonaid Newell-Macintosh)
Seonaid studies Environmental Science at McGill, with a focus on Biodiversity and Conservation and a minor in Economics. Their favourite project has been rewilding old roads on the margins of Mont Saint-Hilaire. "From conducting laboratory soil analyses to researching which plant species are well adapted to the site, the task has challenged me scientifically and creatively," said Seonaid. "Learning the native species that make up our forest and researching how humans can best help them return to the land has changed how I look at the mountain."
They have also been super pleased to work on the outreach kiosks and would equally love to do some outreach with their favourite red-backed salamanders. "Alas, those don't talk back," they lamented.
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Field Operations Assistant
Gault Nature Reserve of McGill University
Header: Three of the six 2023 Field Operations Assistants. From left to right: Seonaid Newell-Macintosh, Morgane Dubé and Greg Roberts (photo: Seonaid Newell-Macintosh)