From the city to the country

Today you’re hearing from Marly Thomas, an intern that worked at Erie National Wildlife Refuge this summer. She went through a little transformation, as she experienced western Pennsylvania, quite a change from her city roots of Brockton, Massachusetts. 

One can never know what to expect when you walk into the office at 6:55 in the morning. As a visitor services intern at Erie National Wildlife Refuge in Pennsylvania, I expected organizing visitor programs and outreach tasks. But the range is really endless, from inspecting bluebird boxes to creating a young forest management display for our refuge’s Summerfest event, or even wearing chest waders in a swamp to tear down a beaver dam that is flooding visitor trails.


That’s me inspecting a bluebird box.

Coming from the city to the country was quite a transition. My first real “hands on” experience with wildlife was when I helped inspect bluebird boxes. I had never held a bluebird nestling before (or any nestlings for that matter). It was interesting to see what their nest looked like because it was built on top of moss. The hatchlings were about 6-7 days old and had to be inspected for infection. Blow flies love to breed in damp dark areas and underneath the nest was perfect conditions for blow flies to grow and feed off of the defenseless nestlings. We did an in-depth inspection of each hatchling (about 5-7 in each nest).  When I held my first hatchling, he rolled out of my hand because I did not secure it while I was holding it (lesson learned).  But he landed on his feet so all is well! They trusted me with another hatchling from a different nest and this time I made sure that it was secured. In addition to inspecting them, we also made new dry nests for the bluebirds. I learned that they could never tell the difference in the nest so that was reassuring. Never would I have expected to be so close in contact with a bluebird. I was more afraid of it than it was of me but it was still a great experience. The way that I think of it, I was inspecting the birds so visitors would be able to see them while on bird walks.


I was also in charge of making chocolate leaf prizes for those who were able to complete a nature passport in our Summerfest event. Some days I was even helping replace shocks on an F-450 or other vehicle maintenance. One moment you could be planning a library program, and the next you could be going out into the field to pull a tractor from a ditch (completely possible).


Just a glimpse of all the things I got to do!

I have learned that working in visitor services can mean working in other roles.  Every day there is a plan, but most certainly it could change, and that’s ok.  I enjoyed  the various things that I did each day.  It helped me practice being flexible. One thing that I am taking away from this summer is a whole new definition of: “finagle a bagel,” which means if one way doesn’t work, try another!


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