Hello my name is Zac Watson!!! I’m super excited to share all my most recent thoughts and experiences from the first half of field season! This is my very first time, not only in a field research position but, venturing out into nature extensively. Being immersed in a foreign environment has had some minor challenges, however my confidence in the field has grown exponentially since the start.

Previously, I have had little opportunity to fully immerse myself in woods that weren’t manicured and maintained for hiking purposes. So far I’ve been baffled by the expansive wilderness and density of life in Western Massachusetts. At every location I visit I seem to find some plant or animal species that are totally new to me! I’m starting to pick up on which organisms appear in which type of ecosystem and how the weather may impact the kinds of animals I may encounter. Some things I have learned so far from experience have been: always make sure to change into muck boots if you see a lot of sphagnum moss, if the forest cover becomes denser but the ground has little vegetation don’t hold onto tree branches because they are usually dead at your height, and always watch your step for the orange eastern newt!

Additionally, collecting hair samples and participating in a research project has been wholly fulfilling. I still find myself amazed that I get to look into the DNA of bears whose hair I collect!!! The child in me still thinks of DNA extraction as some convoluted and secret science kept locked away. My participation in this project has helped break down the barriers I imagine in my way.

Learning more about the people, bears, and forests or Western Mass. has served as a way for me to diversify my knowledge beyond a New Jersey perspective. I look forward to learning and seeing more in the weeks to come!!!

-Zac Watson