Sharing Nature: An Educator’s Week

My Hog Island Adventure

by Scholarship Winner, Michele Sullivan


Camp is Magical

Hog Island 2017 Scholarship Winner, Michele Sullivan

Hog Island 2017 Scholarship Winner, Michele Sullivan

Imagine a beautiful and near-deserted island, offering stunning views, invigorating hikes, abundant birds and wildlife, puffin sightings, and scrumptious meals all week long. (Yes, ample desserts too.) This island was my home during a magical week of camp!


Camp is Fun!

It doesn’t matter how old you are, camp is fun! We played in the water, from streams, bogs, and ponds, to the deep brown oozing mud of the intertidal zone. Many sea creatures were netted in our seine, enabling us to examine them closely before setting them free. Boat trips to nearby islands afforded new adventures, including a jaunt to Eastern Egg Rock Island, home of the reestablished puffin colony. We explored the spruce-fir forest on needle-laden paths (so soft, so bouncy) that wove through and around the island. During the day, the ongoings of the osprey family on the nearby nesting platform were easily visible. At night, there were bioluminescent critters to attract and glimpse in the ocean. Naturally there were all the essential elements of a classic camp week such as songs and skits along with a photo scavenger hunt and daily ecological contests.



This island inspires passion! Hog Island has a long and unique history. Its relationship to Audubon began with the Todd family fortuitously boating by in the early 1900s and witnessing that 40 of the 300 acres had already been clear cut. Mabel Loomis Todd then sprang into action to conserve and enhance this ecological haven, which is dedicated to environmental appreciation and education.


Here is the passion and vision exuded by Mabel’s daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham:

“The main objective was, if teachers of nature study it, children can be sufficiently enthused with the subject, then children’s instinctive, inborn interest in birds and beasts or flowers can be salvaged. That interest will not die but will be fostered and encouraged...such camps will help to shield us from the reproach of future generations.”


This island has friends! The Friends of Hog Island (FOHI) group, led by President Juanita Rushdy, revitalized the island in 2010 so that it could once again open its shores to an educational mission. FOHI, in partnership with the National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin team, is committed to providing:

“Innovative educational programs integrating natural history, ecological awareness, and the sense of wonder in midcoast Maine since 1936.”


Summer School

In terms of learning, I had a superb week on Hog Island - the instructors were excellent, with an abundant and varied lineup of workshops. Anytime we could be outside, we went outside! (Weather Bonus - Even though there was some fog the first two days, I actually did not need my raincoat all week, which was a welcome surprise.) Here is what I was fortunate to partake in:

  • The 6:00am start time for the Photo Walk with Deb Lannis proves that the early bird gets the photo. J Along with her Storytelling through Images and Sound session, Deb conveyed technical and artistic techniques for making images and telling stories.

  • The Seabird primer by Craig Newberger, Jerry Skinner and Program Director “Puffin Pete” Salmansohn was a much-appreciated just-in-time training on the boat as we motored to the outer islands.

  • The Geology of Harbor Island with Eric Snyder involved a “boots-on” walk on top of ancient rock formations on the Harbor Island beach.

  • During Schoolyard Habitat with Ted Gilman, we discussed challenges and shared success stories.

  • We had a fantastic 6-hour Island Hike guided by Trudy Phillips and Sherrie York. Between the art on the beach, solo time, and many other activities, there were no stones left unturned!

  • A talk on Saving Seabirds: Lessons We’ve Learned from Puffins and Terns was delivered by Dr. Stephen W. Kress (more below) and Pete Salmansohn.

  • Stream Exploration with Trudy Phillips featured animal CPR: Catch (and Classify), Photograph, and Release!

  • For Bird Activities, Cornell staffer with Marta Campo shared the vast student-oriented resources available from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

  • In Making Nature Journals with Sherrie York, we put together journals that could be created with the students in our classrooms.

  • The Artist in Residence, Dan Grenier, was always up for sharing photographic techniques and his artistic philosophy.

  • Our final day concluded with the Diversity Sharing and Listening session, guided by Margaret Lechner, which enabled participants to share their earliest memories of nature and experiences as educators - both the barriers and the achievements - with introducing students and community members to nature. To learn more about what Audubon is doing, here is their Statement on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

  • Lastly, none of this would have been possible without Chef Cleo Bell’s delectable meals, Program Manager Eva Matthew’s logistical endeavors, and the hardworking and friendly FOHI volunteers who served as island guides while keeping the kitchen humming and the dorms in ship shape!



Michele's Beach Art! - Photo Credit: Katie O'Connell

Michele's Beach Art! - Photo Credit: Katie O'Connell


Educators Everywhere

The island was teeming with a knowledgeable and diverse group of 50 educators, which made for a rich experience. As is the case in life, we often learned just as much from our classmates’ experiences as from our instructors. My classmates were educators from around the country, hailing from public, private, and tribal schools, ranging from Pre-K through college. Our cohort included core subject teachers, nature and conservation community educators, art teachers and other specialists, instructors from outdoor ed leadership courses, administrators, and Audubon staff from other chapters.


It is safe to say that there were a heck of a lot of science teachers roaming around the island. This was fortunate as they expanded our knowledge base and enhanced the experience for us all. It also begs the question: “Do they allow non-science teachers on Hog Island?” J Yes! As a math and Language Arts teacher, it is important for me to highlight that if we want to encourage kids to engage with nature, to show them that anyone can jump in and learn about the environment and conservation, then ALL educators have to do the same. Regardless of what you formally teach, just JUMP IN!


That said, check back with me in a year, after I have had a chance to work on the goals I outlined in my application to the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV):

“With lessons learned from the Sharing Nature program on Hog Island, I plan to overcome some of the obstacles I have encountered:

  • Sharing nature seems daunting to educators IF it involves a significant increase in their workload

  • Sharing nature can be intimidating as it involves bringing a gaggle of energetic and easily distracted students outside to a learning space without walls.

  • There is always more nature to be shared! By this I mean that because there are endless possibilities about what can be learned about in nature, it is often difficult to determine where to begin.


I discovered that it needs to be easier for teachers, especially non-science teachers, to JUMP IN!”


Birds Even More Plentiful than Educators

I saw most of the birds on the island bird list! All in all, a fantastic week of seeing and sharing nature! Here is my photo of an Osprey:

Osprey - Michele Sullivan

Osprey - Michele Sullivan


The Puffin Connection

With their vivid colors and “clown of the sea” nickname, puffins capture your imagination. On our tour of the outer islands, I was fortunate to snap these pics using a “mega camera,” as I deemed it, that a friend kindly loaned to me. I felt like a National Geo photographer! The reach and speed of the Canon EF 100-400mm lens, complemented by a doubler, was a terrific way to view and chronicle the flora and fauna of the island.


Even though the school year was winding down, I did my homework before the trip and read Stephen W. Kress’s book, Project Puffin: The Improbable Quest to Bring a Beloved Seabird Back to Egg Rock. This was an intriguing read that not only detailed the daunting logistics and tremendous grunt work involved with transplanting and raising puffins, but also showed how Dr. Kress’s thinking evolved over the last four decades of this project. When it began, the focus was solely on reestablishing the colony on Eastern Egg Rock Island. However, the project team came to realize the importance of addressing the entire ecosystem. And now, beyond that, they see how critical it is to address the biological impact that climate change is having on birds and wildlife. To learn more, Audubon has created a kid-friendly video, website, and Climate Report.

If you are curious or perhaps consider yourself a puffinologist, check out this 26-question puffin FAQ, which notes the team’s long-term impact: “More than 40 seabird species in at least 12 countries have benefited from the seabird restoration techniques developed by Project Puffin.”

Here is one of my puffin photos:

Puffins - Michele Sullivan

Puffins - Michele Sullivan


Connections to Home

There was even a magnificent milkweed meadow, bursting with color and buzzing with pollinators. This was music to my heart as I had just helped Mantua create a schoolyard habitat featuring milkweed native to Northern Virginia. Because of my experience creating this garden, I chose the Schoolyard Habitat workshop offered to those who were aspiring to do the same as well as those who had already traveled down the path. I was particularly inspired by educators from NYC who devised creative solutions when faced with small spaces and a concrete-laden landscape.


Reflective Time

The Hog Island Solo™ - I thought this was a very clever way for the instructors to take a group of loud and energetic students and ditch them in the woods for 2 hours! I wonder if I could do this activity with my class? Just kidding! J The Solo instructions were to “Settle in to your spot. Take a deep breath, pushing away all care and concerns, focusing on what is going on around you right now.” A journal and the following prompts were provided: “How do things sound around you? Can you describe that smell? What’s that sparkling over there? Does your area feel rough, dry, moist, smooth? Is the air salty to taste?”



If you are thinking about attending this camp or another amazing week on Hog Island, be sure to check out Sharing Nature: An Educator’s Week and other programs for teens, families, birders, and artists. For those who are interested in learning more about the experiences and backgrounds of the Hog Island crew, check out the Staff, Instructors, and Guest Speakers page.


Coming Full Circle, or, “6 Degrees of Hog Island”

Lastly, I discovered I have an interesting personal connection to Hog Island. You could call this “6 Degrees of Hog Island.” The day after I departed camp, my step-mother, Carolyn, and her friend, Elsie, motorboated over to camp to enjoy a day’s adventure on the island and rendezvous with Dr. Kress. Not only had Elsie previously worked at Hog Island and met her future husband Doug there, but it also turns out that Elsie’s mother was Juliet Richardson, the very first camper to arrive at Hog Island! Back in 1936, Roger Tory Peterson picked up Juliet from the train station and the rest is history! An interesting side note is that RTP took a photo of first camper Juliet....but forgot to put film in his camera. Nevertheless, Juliet and RTP remained lifelong friends. 

Elsie Morse and Dr. Kress reminisce! - Credit: Carolyn Peirce

Elsie Morse and Dr. Kress reminisce! - Credit: Carolyn Peirce


Many Thanks for a Magnificent Experience

A huge Thank You to the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV) for making this amazing experience possible! I am looking forward to partnering with ASNV this coming school year as we work to bring all grades K-6 outside at Mantua ES for hands-on, experiential learning about birds, nature, and conservation!


Cream Puffins, a camp tradition! - Credit: Eva Matthews

Cream Puffins, a camp tradition! - Credit: Eva Matthews

Additional Photos

No trip report would be complete without a photo album! Click here for my pictures from the trip.