Knopka ‘14 Protecting Endangered Birds – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Knopka ‘14 Protecting Endangered Birds

Spending his summer on the beaches of Cape Cod, Sam Knopka ’14 was thrilled to recently be hired by the Trustees of Reservations as a shorebird technician. He is working to help protect the dwindling population of Piping Plovers, an endangered bird species that nests on the shores of Cape Cod, Mass.

The Trustees of Reservations is a non-profit organization that owns land throughout Massachusetts and works to allow public use of their land while also protecting wildlife. The organization owns nearly 25,000 acres of land that is exceptionally scenic, historic, or of ecological value in Massachusetts.

As a shorebird technician for the ecology department, Knopka is tasked with several assignments that all contribute to protecting the species and preserving their population, which currently stands at fewer than 2,000 pairs for the Atlantic population. His main responsibility is to monitor the population of Piping Plovers that nest on the beach, a process that Knopka and his colleagues began in May and will finish in August.

“We follow the Plovers throughout the nesting season to protect them from predators and people,” say Knopka, who majored in biology and environmental studies. They search for nesting areas at the beginning of the season, and then identify eggs and chicks that they track until the chicks “fledge” in August.

To ensure the eggs and fully-grown Plovers stay protected, Knopka works to protect the Plovers from predators by installing fences around the nesting areas, and also works to educate the public on the endangered species. He says this is especially important as the beaches are reaching their peak tourist season: “Although some beach goers are aware of the Plovers, many are not, so it’s important for them to understand why we close parts of the beach and restrict certain activities,” says Knopka.

Knopka beat out more than 75 applicants for the position, and he largely credits the experiences and skills garnered throughout his four years at HWS for distinguishing him from the other applicants. 

“There’s no question that I would not have gotten this position without a previous internship I had gotten through HWS,” says Knopka of an internship he completed with Project Puffin. “I learned many important skills during my time with Project Puffin that were invaluable.”

Project Puffin is an effort headed by the National Audubon Society to restore puffins to historic nesting islands in the Gulf of Maine. Knopka’s position with the organization, which he found with the assistance of Associate Professor of Biology Mark Deutschlander, helped him develop the birding skills and gain the field experience that he has been able to apply to his current position.

Though not directly related to birds, Knopka also believes his honors project on amphibians proved to be a valuable experience by helping him learn “how to tackle complex problems.” Similar to his job as a shorebird technician, Knopka says there was not always a “right way” or clearly defined path to take while working on his honors project.

“I’m glad I was able to confront similar situations at HWS because now I feel more comfortable dealing with real world examples,” says Knopka. “I’m certain that many of my experiences at HWS were influential in making me stand out for the position.”