Tag Archives: nature photography

The adventures of Nulhegan’s new refuge manager

Steve Agius has traveled the globe visiting many exciting and interesting places, including working in Antarctica with penguins and elephant seals. He’s now recently settled in Vermont as the new manager of the Nulhegan Basin Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. I had the opportunity to ask Steve a few questions about his experiences, and I’m sharing some of his adventures here with you today.


Steve surveyed southern elephant seal colonies for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on King George Island in Antarctica

How did you end up on your career path? 

Growing up in New Jersey gave me the opportunity to explore the coast and many great state parks. In middle school I became interested in rock and ice climbing, and backpacking. I made a deal with my parents that if I could make the honor roll than I could take extended weekend backpacking trips to the Adirondack, Catskill and White mountains. By high school, my grades had dramatically improved and I was allowed the freedom to explore the mountains of New England. In the late 90s, I spent a month north of the Brooks Range in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. To be honest, I have never been the same person since visiting the Arctic. That refuge sparked a conservation passion inside of me that continues to this day.

King George Island Antarctica (1) - steve

Steve and some penguin buddies in Antarctica

Tell us more about your professional background? 

I have a B.S. in Ecology and a M.S. in Zoology. My formal training has focused on birds, specifically colonial nesting seabirds. As far as conservation jobs, I have worked for the Service in California, Maine and Vermont, and for NOAA in South America and Antarctica. I have also worked for the State of Maine’s wildlife program, and for the Peregrine Fund at the Grand Canyon and Zion national parks. I have dabbled as an adjunct professor at Unity College and the University of Maine.

steve agius - blog

Steve holding an american woodcock

How is the Nulhegan refuge different from other refuges where you’ve worked? 

From 2002 through 2010, I worked at the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex. In 2011, I moved inland and worked at the Northern Maine refuge complex. The forest management focus at the Conte refuge is VERY different from seabird management. I loved being on the water in the Gulf of Maine, but working to develop and implement long term forest management plans (though daunting) is exciting work. Trying to restore forests that have been substantially altered by more than a century of industrial timber practices, while promoting priority wildlife species is a not an easy task.

Delia on the Brothers

Steve out exploring with his dog

Would you share a story about your greatest accomplishment and what it meant to you?

It can be hard as a federal employee to immediately recognize our accomplishments. We spend so much time responding to emails and focused on a screen that it can be a challenge to come up for air and see the world around us. Often it’s not about the big success stories that make a difference, but the little triumphs that keep us smiling and motivated. I take pride in the simple accomplishments like finalizing an agreement that prevents the National Guard from driving hummers in upland sandpiper habitat at Aroostook refuge, or performing a logistics support role to improve aquatic organism passage on lands around Moosehorn refuge, or overseeing the installation of 600’ of boardwalk at Sunkhaze refuge. Sure, we all love flashy success stories, but my pride comes from the little triumphs that add up to a bigger success.

IMG_1009 (1)

Cross country skiing is a family affair!


Do you have a personal motto about your life and career?  

I believe in integrity.  A person has to be accountable for their actions, respectful of others, and honest at all times. Maybe it has to do with being an Eagle Scout, but I would say that integrity best defines how I operate.

Nature is the best medicine


That’s us mid-trail! Jeannette is on the left, that’s me in middle and Mariana on the right.

Even having an office at a national wildlife refuge, you can sometimes forget how amazing the places, wildlife and people that you’re working for are, even when they’re right outside the door. I’m fairly new to Philly and I’ve been saying forever that I’m going to go out and explore John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum more, and this month, thanks to a run challenge, I’ve been doing it. Yesterday was the perfect day- a busy day at the office coupled with a crisp spring breeze and partly cloudy sky. After work, I grabbed Jeannette Guess, the president of the Friends of Heinz Refuge and Mariana Bergerson, the deputy refuge manager, and we hit the trail!

Besides dropping some serious knowledge on me about the history of the refuge, I learned that these two ladies are the most amazing nature photographers. Either that, or I need a new phone! Every few hundred feet, we would comment on how beautiful the refuge was and how insane it was that we were both a few hundred yards from an international airport and a bald eagle’s nest. Keep reading to check out an awesome audio clip Jeanntte took of spring peepers!


One of my favorites of Jeannette’s great photos!

On our five mile trip, we didn’t see much wildlife so late in the afternoon, but we caught some beautiful sunset shots and saw a bunch of visitors going for a walk, running, biking, birdwatching and taking photos. They had the same idea we did.

I might be late to the party, but I had to share this experience from yesterday. The time out on the refuge was better than any time on my sofa. It shows just how important it is to conserve these urban green spaces.

From Jeannette…


What do you do when you’ve had a grueling week filled with deadlines, lots of meetings and extended workdays? You grab two employees after work and hit the trails. What an amazing five mile journey with Mariana and Tylar. We visited the new boardwalk, took some amazing photos and enjoyed every step as we made our way through this beautiful refuge.  I’m looking forward to the next Heinz Healthy Treks journey. We came up with a name to keep these walks going and maybe start them as a weekly event in the community! Below is one of my favorite photos.


Sunset over the impoundment.

And here is an audio clip of spring peepers. We were about 200 feet from a train station.

From Mariana…


John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tincum has been an important place in the southwest Philadelphia community for many years. I’ve been lucky enough to call this place home/work (the two can’t really be separated!) for the last six years. Every time that I get the opportunity to explore the refuge, it is amazing that every bend in the trail offers a new and memorable experience. Whether it is a beautiful sunset as I shared last night with coworkers and friends, an encounter with enthusiastic visitors seeing the bald eagle nest for the first time, or finding a sense of solitude in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city, the refuge provides a sense of stability in an ever changing world.


So artistic.

It’s safe to say we all love John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. I’m so glad our work is to conserve this special place, and introduce more people to it’s pure awesomeness!

Open plover mouth! Credit: Elizabeth Medina-Gray

Check out these piping plover photos!

Open plover mouth! Credit: Elizabeth Medina-Gray

Open plover mouth! Credit: Elizabeth Medina-Gray

Today we’re sharing posts from the Woods Walks and Wildlife blog by plover monitor volunteer Elizabeth Medina-Gray, who keeps an eye on threatened piping plovers at Silver Sands State Park in Connecticut. Laura Saucier with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection tells us that about 50 pairs of piping plovers have landed in the state to breed and raise chicks this summer, with the most–11 pairs–in Milford. While the pair at Silver Sands State Park didn’t put their nest in the state park, they’re sure to visit for food!

Piping Plover Up Close
During my visit to Silver Sands State Park yesterday, I took a bit of a detour to check on a pair of piping plovers that have set up a nest on the beach just east of the park. I’ve never walked out of the park’s boundaries in this direction before, and the shoreline’s definitely beautiful. I can see why people would want to have houses here:

Credit: Elizabeth Medina-Gray

Credit: Elizabeth Medina-Gray

The piping plovers (perhaps the same pair I saw at Silver Sands a few weeks ago?) were nicely settled on their sandy nest essentially in someone’s back yard. The nest is surrounded by protective fencing that the plovers can wander freely through but which keeps predators and people away. (I don’t have any pictures of the nest because I kept my distance.) The two plovers took turns incubating the eggs while the other bird went foraging. It was a little strange to see the plovers running past furniture as they hunted around their home:

Credit: Elizabeth Medina-Gray

Credit: Elizabeth Medina-Gray

After I’d finished watching the nest, as I was heading back along the shoreline, the male piping plover flew down to the water’s edge and landed right in front of me to hunt. I avoid approaching these birds so as not to disturb them (especially now that they’ve got a nest), but if they come to me, then OK!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Read the rest at Elizabeth’s blog, and check out another recent post on plovers! She’s got some incredible wildlife photos.