Learning from the Master

Through the Maine Master Naturalist Program I’ve become acquainted with the most fabulous people from across the state. And today I had the pleasure of sharing time with a few of them as we participated in a seminar entitled “Down to Earth: Elementary Mapping and Surveying for the Naturalist.”

Our instructor was the one and only Fred Cichocki, MMNP Science Advisor and one of the MMNP founders. In less than five minutes of being in Fred’s presence, one realizes he/she will come away with a variety of ways to create tools of the trade AND more knowledge than anyone can possibly retain.

Today’s mission: learning to map the land on a small scale–in this case by using a planetable survey method.

c-tools of the trade

After an indoor introduction to the idea of simple map making, Fred gave us some literature and supplies.

c-threaded socket

We all felt official when we received our own drawing boards with a threaded socket on the back side so we could attach them to a camera tripod.


With gear in hand, we walked to the farm pond at Chewonki.

c-woodfrog eggs1

Of course, we were instantly distracted.

c-wood 3

Wood frog egg masses begged for our attention.

c-spotted eggs

Spotted salamander masses also warranted a notice.

c-duck 2

And I learned about something else–duckweed. This tiny aquatic plant floats on or just beneath the surface. When I first saw it, I thought it was some sort of feed that had flowed into the water after the recent rain events.

c-duck weed and egg masses

It seemed invasive, but did create a rather pretty mosaic mixed in with the egg masses.

c-gordon pole

Before we started our mapping task, as a group we walked around the pond and decided where to place pin flags–to indicate a change in the shoreline or a key feature such as a rock or tree. Each flag was marked with a number.

c-denise, rod

Then we split into two teams and took turns with the various tasks, including holding the range pole by each pin flag.

c-adjusting the tripod

Meanwhile, across the pond we set our drawing boards on tripods and spent some time adjusting them to be level. We also measured out our first two points–A to B.

c-Cathie casting an eye

With Fred’s guidance, we used our triangular engineering rulers as alidades–straight-edged sighting devices, and a straight pin as a turn point.

c-dick drawing lines

Once we had the range pole in sight, we drew lines on our map sheets.

c-point a to b

From Point A and Point B, two spots we’d all agreed from the start marked a straight edge on the pond, we took sight of each pin flag, drew the related line, and labeled it.

c-thistle weed

Before we went in to do some more work, a few things caught our eyes–our NDD (Nature Distraction Disorder) was acting up again with the sight of these thistles displaying their winter form.

c-thistle leaves

Nearby, the prickly-leafed rosettes speak to the plant’s future.

c-bald eagles

And overhead, two bald eagles played in the wind.

c-points intersect

Back inside, we followed the two sets of lines out and noted their intersection.

c-points 2

Then we connected the intersections with a line that indicated the perimeter of the pond–in theory. Um, in reality, my team was admittedly off. Our beginning scale was longer than it should have been and our table not always level so the pond’s shape was not quite accurate. But just the same, the process had us all jazzed to try again.

the process

We learned from each other and considered future tweaks. (Thanks to Denise for the photo)

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At the end of the day, we were all smiles because we’d spent time learning from the master. Thank you, Fred.






4 thoughts on “Learning from the Master

  1. My heart rate was increasing as I read this. What fun, what a day! You do know, however, that you must pass this along to those you teach. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Um, it’s an acquired skill and I need lots more practice. But I can share the concept with you. Thinking of trying it out at the vernal pool–though that shrinks daily so it might be off.


  3. Oh this is just a perfect post. Thank you and I now miss messing around in ponds. Must find myself some frog eggs!🌵

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by. I feel like an expectant mother every spring–hoping all the eggs evolve, but knowing full well it won’t happen. Good luck in your search, JoHanna.

      Liked by 1 person

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