Tag Archives: monarchs

Grant funding gets students outdoors

More students are experiencing all the wonders nature has to offer thanks to new grant funding. It all started last year with the Big Share meeting, convened by Margaret Van Clief of The Nature Conservancy. This meeting brings together environmental educators on the Eastern Shore  to share ideas, brainstorm creative topics to promote learning, enjoy networking and lunch, and in this case last year; tour the rocket launch facility at NASA Wallops Island. It was during this meeting that Lynn Bowen of the ES Migrant Head Start broached the need for outdoor education and off site field trips for her students. And it was during this meeting where the idea of bringing migrant students to the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge took off.

The refuge applied for grant funding from the ES Soil and Water District and was awarded the funds earlier this year. The goal was to support a Monarch Education program for the Migrant Head Start Students in Cheriton, and transportation to and from field trip sites. Migrant students move throughout the year with seasonal crops. So does the monarch butterfly.  Monarchs inspire people; their habitat provides outdoor recreation opportunities like hunting and wildlife observation. Unfortunately, habitat loss and fragmentation has occurred throughout the monarch’s range; and field trips to the refuge for migrant students was a great way to educate future generations.

Grant funds were utilized to purchase bus passes from STAR Transit. John Maher, transit manager, gave the first group of 17 students aged 3-4 and adults a rare treat of riding in their brand new bus down to the refuge. It was during that field trip in late June of this year that students learned about the monarch’s lifecycle, habitat, and their migration from the U.S. to Mexico. Students also had the opportunity to take a butterfly walk to the pollinator gardens with Refuge Volunteers Barry and Caroline Hughes, both vacationing work camping volunteers from Texas. A second field trip in late July allowed the students to assemble huge butterfly life-cycle floor puzzles, observe butterflies and birds from the indoor wildlife viewing area with Park Ranger Rosalie Valente.  Dedicated Refuge Volunteers Kathy Fountaine, Bob Toner and Susan Russell facilitated learning stations which included an indoor touch tank and an interactive story about butterflies. Another outdoor pollinator garden walk was also facilitated.

As if two field trips weren’t enough, students were treated again to a third trip in early September to the Cape Charles Memorial Library. There, Librarians Anne Routledge and Sharon Silvey facilitated story and song time, along with indoor crafts with the group of 12 3-4 year old students. Many of the students had never visited a library before. Students also went on a birding walk to the Cape Charles Fishing Pier, where Refuge Volunteers Joe Woodward and Midge Franco pointed out Ospreys and Gulls to the students.

Throughout this series of three field trips, students had the opportunity to experience the outdoors and connect with nature in a unique way. The language barrier didn’t prove to be a challenge, as once students saw Butterflies (or Mariposas-in Spanish) and Birds (pajaros-in Spanish);  their curiosities were sparked and this allowed for a unique learning opportunity that is experienced outdoors and with the assistance of dedicated volunteers, staff members, and agencies on the shore. The results of this was possible due in large part to Margret Van Clief’s Big Share meeting, where not only the need for outdoor education for migrant students was shared, but also new partnerships.

You wouldn’t have these, without the bees (and other pollinators)!

Pollinators are insects or animals that move pollen from one flower to another…but did you know that 1 out of every 3 bites we consume comes from food that has been grown with the helping hand of a pollinator? That about 75% of our agricultural crops depend on pollinators such as bees, bats, wasps, flies, moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies? That without pollinators, we would lose many of our favorite foods?

Credit: Whole Foods Market

As a Student Conservation Association (SCA) intern at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,  I had the opportunity of putting together a pollinator exhibit booth at the local Whole Foods in Hadley, MA during Earth Day on April 22nd. I couldn’t have done it without the help and guidance of many others, and it was a success! On a cold, cloudy Saturday, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Visitor Services Coordinator, Chelsi Burns, and I spoke to about 75 visitors, many of whom came into the Whole Foods classroom where we had numerous activities set up from 11-2pm.

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The goal of this project was to engage children and adults alike in a hands-on activity that will get them thinking about pollinators, make them aware of the importance of pollinators, and show what they themselves can do to help some pollinator species of concern. Reading is an important tool across all ages, and on one side of the giveaway bookmark, there is an intricate black and white (pollinator related) design, and the other side has facts about pollinators , and what you can do to help. I received three very diverse art submissions on top of having one that I drew, and I left some bookmarks blank for the little artists out there who wanted to do their own designs. One of the submissions was even from local art student, Amy Hambrecht, who currently attends the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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From left to right: chosen pollinator art submissions from Thi Tran, Amy Hambrecht, Chloe Doe, and Greg Corbin. Thanks to all who contributed!

I also had an interactive PowerPoint with questions and facts about pollinators. Monarch butterflies, a pollinator, lay their eggs on milkweed, but much of milkweed has been lost due to pesticides and herbicides. Monarch caterpillars are specialists, which means they solely rely on one food source, milkweed. There were milkweed and dwarf sunflower seed packets, as well as very detailed instructions on how to plant milkweed. Milkweed plants undergo a process called vernalization/stratification, which means they sprout faster after they have cooled.

At the Whole Foods event on Earth Day, there were bumble bee posters, bumble bee “Save the Pollinators” stickers, and garden books to peruse through. There were numerous families with kids, a large college group, and a couple of older individuals who came in to enjoy the coloring fun and ask some questions. We had a very diverse audience and a wide range of ages of individuals who were really inquisitive about what they could do to help. Seemed like there was something for everyone!

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A discovery of finding out that the carrots growing in his yard were in fact pollinated by bees! Credit: Tash Lynch

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Kids coloring in their bookmarks, one of which was doing her own pollinator design of a flowering tree. Credit: Tash Lynch

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Justin Sokun checking out the selection of bookmarks. His friends and he were intrigued to come in after they were given “Save the Pollinators” bumble bee stickers. You can never be too old for stickers, right? 🙂 Credit: Chloe Doe

Pollinators annually contribute billions of dollars to the U.S. food economy supply, and without them, we wouldn’t have so many of delicious foods we eat today. Apples? Nope.. Carrots, blueberries, avocados, chocolate, wine, coffee? No way! Thanks to our pollinator friends, we have all of these foods available to us, so a huge shout out to them. The Rusty patched bumble bee population has declined 87% and Monarch Butterflies by 90% from 1990.  Their population numbers have drastically declined due to pesticides and loss of habitat/food sources, so it is time for us to take action and show our appreciation by helping them out! Listed below are a few ways how:

1.) Bee a proactive gardener and plant native plants native to YOUR area. Include a diversity of plants that also bloom during different seasons, so that pollinators have an abudance of food sources. If you are unsure about a specific plant, you can always reference http://www.plants.usda.gov.

2.) Avoid or reduce your use of pesticides.

3.) If you do not have the yard space, you can always create a window box. 

4.) Reduce the number of Invasive species.

5.) Get involved in your community, spread all the buzz about pollinators with friends!

Capturing the Mission: Science Communications Internships

Interning with Student Conservation Association was the best opportunity I could have experienced as a recent college graduate. I was exposed to some amazing people and places that made my internship truly memorable. Working alongside the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s External Affairs team allowed me to tell the amazing stories of projects happening all throughout the Northeast Region, sometimes travelling to do so! On one occasion, I traveled to Maine to meet a biologist to see how far their monarch and woodcock project had come! It was rewarding to highlight their amazing story and hard work to preserve land for two species in need.

Don’t just take my word for it! SCA interns from all over have experienced everything from broadcasting to endangered species work! Let’s hear from Beth Decker, her full story is here.

We were headed out to get footage of the Puritan tiger beetles and the beaches they live on.

“For the past two summers, I have been working at the Service’s Northeast Regional Office in Hadley, Mass. in our broadcast department. We’re the side of the Service that most people may not know about- we work with our public affairs team to tell our stories using multimedia. I have had the privilege to see conservation in action, and document it so people are aware of the work we do.  I’ve documented red knots, Puritan tiger beetles, and Karner blue butterflies. I’m always excited to start my next project and show our mission in action!”

Rani Jacobson has an incredible story to tell too! Her story begins on Great Gull Island in New York.  Here’s what she learned!

Rani Jacobson with a tern chick. Credit: Venice Wong

“We learned how to trap and handle adult terns and how to record certain information, such as weight, beak length and band number. The next part of the day was devoted to banding tern chicks, which was a bit easier and much more fun. We used pliers to put bands on the legs of the chicks and recorded the band number and how many chicks and eggs were in the nest, all while being dive-bombed by the adults.  I had a fantastic week on the island.”

Here’s a look at one last intern that can turn a serious matter into a call for action. Tom Barnes communicated the seriousness of white-nose syndrome in bats in this blog, and brought a serious conservation concern to light.

Healthy Virginia big-eared bats. Bats are fascinating animals that are vital for a health environment, eating tons of insects nightly, benefiting our crops, our forests and us. Credit: Craig Stihler / WVDNR

“Despite their long association with vampires, haunted houses and the uncanny in general, bats are facing a horror story of their own. The disease white-nose syndrome has decimated bat populations in our region, killing nearly all hibernating bats in some areas. And it’s spreading — first documented in a New York cave in the winter of 2006-2007, the disease or the fungus that causes it (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) is now found in 33 states. Experts fear that some bats are even becoming extinct in certain areas. If one thing’s clear, we shouldn’t be afraid of bats. We should be afraid for them.”

As interns, it’s our job to share these stories and learn from the incredible adventures along the way. Interested ? We’re looking for two communication interns for our Fisheries & Aquatic Connectivity and Ecological Services programs. These 10-month paid positions will be located at our regional office in Hadley, Massachusetts. Click here for more information.

More great intern stories with USFWS External Affairs!