Tag Archives: new haven

Summer at Stewart B. McKinney: Crabs, birds, and more!

This post is part of of short summer series featuring blog posts from our Hispanic Access Foundation interns. Today, we are hearing from Ivette Lopez, who has been working at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in Connecticut. Read more posts in the series here

During the summer at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, I spent plenty of time outdoors at our different refuge and urban sites! In late May, we hosted Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. for Zeta Days, an initiative that encourages members to visit a national wildlife refuge. Our local chapter joined us on an island tour of the refuge.

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. and friends enjoy a beautiful day on the refuge’s Outer Island Unit.

On the tour, everyone learned about the history and wildlife of Falkner Island and Outer Island. At Falkner Island, we used binoculars to observe the nesting terns from the boat. Participants learned about the endangered roseate/common terns and their threats such as the black-crowned night heron and habitat loss. Then we sailed across Long Island Sound to Outer Island, where we toured the island’s habitats and enjoyed lunch. It was a beautiful day to be outside!

In June, we had youth from New Haven also visit Outer Island as a part of our urban wildlife refuge partnership. Every year, the refuge offers the Nature of Learning Program to schools across Connecticut. This year five New Haven public schools participated the program, which includes two in-class lessons and a final field trip to the refuge’s Outer Island Unit. During the months of April and May, students learned about their local wildlife refuge, migratory birds, and adaptations through interactive lessons. Some students searched for the invasive Asian shore crab on the rocky beach as a part of a study, while others looked through their binoculars for great egrets, cormorants, and other shorebirds. Other activities included seining for marine wildlife and looking at artifacts from Outer Island.

A fourth grade student from Columbus Family Academy holds an invasive Asian shore crab during an activity on Outer Island.

Aside from providing educational activities on the refuge’s island unit, I also spent a lot of time in New Haven connecting students to their local nature preserves and parks. In early June, Conte West Hills Magnet School first graders had their final expedition to the Quinnipiac Meadows Preserve. Over the last year, students have learned about different aspects of the salt marsh such as the habitat, wildlife, and food chain. Once we arrived at the salt marsh, every student received a pair of binoculars for bird watching. We walked down the trail, saw several osprey flying overhead, and used our binoculars for a closer look at the osprey’s wingspan, bill, and talons. At the marsh, students had a fun time picking up fiddler crabs and mussels!

Conte West Hills Magnet School first grade class enjoy the salt marsh at Quinnipiac Meadows Nature Preserve in New Haven.

Across town, third graders at King Robinson School have learned about the Service and our mission throughout the school year. For our final trip, we walked right next door to explore one of our urban wildlife refuge sites, Cherry Ann St. Park. Over the years, this site has been transformed from an area covered with invasive species and trash to a park with a playground, trails, and native plantings. Students toured the park and learned more about the forest, the freshwater, and meadow ecosystem. We also used binoculars to identify birds at the park such as the American robin, the cardinal, and we even saw a heron flying overhead! At the end of the lesson, everyone had a great time running around the playground. It’s been such a busy and fun summer!

Third graders use the viewing platform to search for wildlife around Cherry Ann St. Park!


Bienvenidos a McKinney NWR

Ivette first joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Yale graduate and a summer intern through our Hispanic Access Foundation partnership. She’s now joined the team full time at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, and is making great strides in connecting with the local Hispanic community in New Haven, CT.

The transition from my summer internship to working full-time at McKinney has been great. I am thankful for the supportive staff who constantly check-in with me and provide me with the necessary resources and guidance to succeed. As the New Haven Urban Wildlife Refuge Coordinator, my responsibilities include collaborating with partners such as Yale Peabody Museum and New Haven Parks, providing environmental education at local New Haven schools, establishing new connections with community organizations, and engaging underrepresented audiences. I love working primarily on the urban wildlife refuge partnership because every day I get to do something new. One day I’m helping cleanup an island, the next I’m attending a conference, and then I get to lead activities in Spanish at the Peabody. I am also very excited because McKinney has recently gone bilingual on Facebook. Check us out!

Earlier this fall, Ivette represented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at ¡Fiesta Latina!, an annual event at the Yale Peabody Museum that celebrates Hispanic culture. The Museum has been an integral participant of the New Haven Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, established to connect urban communities with the National Wildlife Refuge System and nature. The event, held on October 8th, featured family activities, crafts and live music, and was attended by more than 2,250 visitors!


Ivette manned an interactive and informative station featuring pelts and bilingual information about Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mission.

The visitors loved learning about the animal pelts, tracks, and scat. It was a rare opportunity for many of them to feel the pelts of local CT wildlife. They also enjoyed learning the Spanish name of each animal (beaver-castor, fox-zorro, coyote-coyote, skunk-zorrillo, and raccoon-mapache). My favorite part was when a visitor refused to touch any of the pelts because she had a slight fear of the animals, but after chatting about the importance of protecting wildlife she felt comfortable enough to touch the pelts.


The majority of visitors at the event were unaware of the USFWS and the National Wildlife Refuge System, but once they heard about all the opportunities refuges have to offer they were very excited to learn about their local refuge. A lot of them brought home maps of the refuge and couldn’t believe they didn’t know about this hidden gem in their backyard. A lot of visitors mentioned that they were looking forward to bringing their families to view the salt marsh at Stewart B. McKinney.

¡Fiesta Latina! served as a great opportunity for Ivette and other Service employees to share our mission and invite Latino families to visit their local refuge. Since the event, Ivette and other members of McKinney NWR staff have participated in a number of community service events and received a number of inquiries about how the Service can tie in to events at local community and school organizations. Most recently, McKinney NWR hosted a Fall Foliage walk, and Ivetta assisted Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity with a cleanup event at Norwalk Shea Island.

Check back soon for an update from Michael Bonilla, another Hispanic Access Foundation superstar whose work has expanded at at Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership.

Reflections from a busy summer at Stewart B. McKinney NWR

by: Ivette Lopez

Ivette is one of our six Hispanic Access Foundation interns, doing an absolutely bang-up job at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in New Haven, CT. As the interns wrap up the summer, we are sharing their reflections and highlighting their achievements across the Northeast Region.


Ivette (left) talks to a visitor at Cherry Ann St. Park in New Haven, CT

Here’s a bit about what Ivette’s been up to:

Earlier this summer I started working for Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge as a Hispanic Access Foundation intern, and it has been a great experience! My first week at the refuge consisted of intern training and then I transitioned into working at the Yale Peabody Museum doing community outreach and conservation work.

I am leading activities with Environmental Leaders for a group of New Haven high school students who are passionate about science and environmental justice, but also part of a demographic group typically underrepresented in STEM careers. I teach activities related to air and water quality and we’ll be collecting data on mercury in New Haven Harbor.

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Running through some data with the students

I also work closely with Outdoor CORPS, a pilot program designed to expose New Haven urban youth to outdoor education. I implement educational activities in urban and rural habitats focused on plants and animals, ecosystems, and the Service mission. I also help out in the Discovery Room, welcoming visitors and feeding the critters on display (including the poison dart frogs)!

I also recently began working with New Haven Parks and Recreation to bring Service programs and environmental education to the local summer camps. Every week, I attend 2-3 camps and lead them in activities related to environmental science and conservation. Last week we talked about habitats, ecosystems, and food webs and then used these ideas to play the game “Oh Deer!”, which the kids really enjoyed! This week I’ll work with local schoolyard habitats to identify invasive and non-invasive species and I’ll be at the Refuge to assist with environmental education for boy scouts.

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I am also developing wayside signs for Cherry Ann Street Park, a relatively new project that the Service and partner organizations helped establish about 2 years ago. This local park is where my Latino Conservation Action Week event was held on July 16th.


The entrance to Cherry Ann St Park was adorned with perennial plants courtesy of Urban Resource Initiative (Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies)

The area actually used to be a scrap yard for metal and other junk and has since been transformed into a beautiful community park where volunteers, Service staff and partners come out every weekend to work on new additions. So far, the space includes playgrounds, trails and two urban oasis gardens that attract a lot of local songbirds. Soon, a pollinator meadow will be seeded and the residents hope to install a splash pad and a community garden space.

We gathered on a Saturday morning at the park and planted some perennials near the park entrance, enjoyed lunch, and did a scavenger hunt. The plants were generously donated by the Urban Resource Initiative and planted with help from Community Greenspace grounds crews.

Miss Connie is a neighborhood resident and the visionary behind Cherry Ann Street Park. She wanted to create a safe space for the kids in the neighborhood, so she went to the mayor’s office every Thursday until her proposal to clean up the abandoned lot at the end of Cherry Ann Street was accepted. Throughout the morning, kids from the neighborhood came out to help her with the plantings, as they often do on weekends.


Miss Connie and Mr. Mike discuss perennial plantings with Max Webster (far left; URI)


Children from the neighborhood made decorative bricks for the garden.

Miss Connie and the kids have been known to perform this call-back while they’re working in the park together.

Who’s park is this?

Our park!


Join us next year for Latino Conservation Action Week!

That’s a wrap!