Eleanor Gnam ’23 will take part in her first big field project with birds this summer on Great ...Eleanor Gnam ‘23 will take part in her first big field project with birds this summer on Great Duck Island, where she will gather baseline data on the relationship between Leach's storm petrels, snowshoe hares, and vegetation.

Eleanor Gnam ’23, is the winner of the 2021 Sal Rooney Scholarship from the Downeast Chapter of the Maine Audubon Society.

Gnam, a birder for many years, will use the $2,000 award to study Leach’s storm petrels on Great Duck Island in the summer of 2021, in conjunction with projects supported by the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund.

“I’m just incredibly excited for the field component. I can’t wait to spend time on the islands and be working directly with animals,” she said. “I’m hoping that we can get some really good and important data that will help inform petrel conservation all around the coast.”

Gnam’s research will, in part, follow a project begun by Nathan Dubrow ’21 last year, in which he placed identifying bands around the legs of several breeding pairs of petrels on the island and marked where their underground burrows were. Gnam will be researching whether the birds are using the same sites, and if they have remained in the same pairs.

For another field project, Gnam will be working alongside Lundy Stowe ’22, who is doing a multi-year vegetation survey of the island. Gnam will be using Stowe’s survey plots to look for petrel burrows and determine which ones have breeding birds and chicks inside.Eleanor Gnam '23 continues the legacy of natural historian, botanist, and birder Sal Rooney, ...Eleanor Gnam '23 continues the legacy of natural historian, botanist, and birder Sal Rooney, pictured, by pursuing work that will help inform conservation efforts up and down the East Coast.

“Our hope is that we can establish a pretty good baseline for the relationship between the vegetation and the petrels, and in future years other students can go back and see how things change,” she said.

Gnam has been fascinated by birds since she can remember. After making friends with some “serious birders’ in high school, she said, “I realized how much I had to learn.” While many birders are primarily interested in species identification, Gnam has always been more interested in the physiology and natural history of the species.

While at COA, Gnam has studied biology, ecology, and conservation. Next summer’s trip to Great Duck will be her first time going there and her first big fieldwork project with birds, she said.

Even while focused on science, Gnam carries an interdisciplinary perspective that will serve her well in her career, said COA W. H. Drury Chair in Ecology/Natural History John Anderson.

“Eleanor is an extremely bright, dedicated student of natural history with a strong human ecological twist,” Anderson said. “She shows every sign of being outstanding in the field, wrestles happily with theoretical ecology, but is also a lover of poetry; she has much of Robert Frost’s work memorized and can be counted on for an apt quote as we wander through the Maine landscape.”

The 220-acre Great Duck Island, home to the COA Alice Eno Field Research Station, is home to the largest Leach’s storm petrel colony in the eastern US. The island has been overrun in recent years with invasive snowshoe hares, which have negatively affected the vegetation on the island. This is an important time to get more data on the hares, the vegetation, and the birds, Gnam said.

“The hope is that the vegetation on Great Duck will regenerate, so getting baseline information is really important,” she said. “I’m really curious to see what we come up with. The whole relationship between the hares and the vegetation on the island and the storm petrels is really fascinating to me.”

The Sal Rooney Scholarship is given annually in memory of Sal Rooney, a member and trustee of the Maine Audubon Downeast Chapter for many years. Rooney, a natural historian, botanist, and birder, was the first woman to graduate from University of Maine with a BS in wildlife.