Tag Archives: Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge

Welcoming Winter Birds to New Haven

It may be the beginning of springtime in New England, but our favorite winter birds can still be found by students in New Haven, CT. For first graders at Conte West Hills Magnet School, urban winter birds have been the focus of winter lessons and a welcomed opportunity to get outdoors and spruce up their schoolyard habitat.

Throughout the winter, students have worked with refuge staff from Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge to learn about migratory birds and began identifying local species that can be found near their school. The students are now able to differentiate between which birds spend time in Connecticut year round versus which ones migrate in search of food and warmer climate.

Students work together to create seed ornaments for local birds.

The student’s favorite local species to identify included the cardinal, blue jay, and goldfinch because of their bright colors, but many also enjoyed learning about the Baltimore oriole and osprey that spend their summers in Connecticut. An “Aha!” moment for students was when they learned that birds are the only organisms with feathers, which they discovered through a fun adaptation guessing game.

While winter took its toll on the schoolyard habitat at Conte West Hills, students kept the birds and squirrels happy by creating seed ornaments to provide food throughout the season. Everyone worked together in small teams to help one another create fun shapes while also learning the importance of wildlife habitat for animals that need it to survive through the winter.

Student show off their finished bird seed ornaments in the schoolyard habitat.

Next steps for these first graders will be a field trip to the local park where they hope to spot tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, and woodpeckers! Additionally, students will be planting native plants at their school and creating more feeders for birds in the spring.

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!


Reflecting on Latino Conservation Week

Over the last two weeks, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work in the Service’s Northeast regional office in External Affairs (EA). My primary focus during my time in EA was writing blog posts for this blog. I am especially proud to have covered Latino Conservation Week for my first authored blog post, as part of my personal mission is to engage, educate, and inspire people of all ethnicities to appreciate and conserve wildlife.

Latino Conservation Week, a Hispanic Access Foundation initiative, is of paramount importance for providing underrepresented communities with opportunities to connect with the environment. I truly believe that a passion for conservation is developed through personal experiences with nature, and Hispanic Access Foundation interns work to develop and execute events to foster this development. I was fortunate to have been able to attend two events during the week hosted by fellow interns Ivette Lopez and Michael Bonilla.

I visited the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in Connecticut for Ivette Lopez’s “Explorando la Naturaleza: New Haven Community Visit to Outer Island” event. For many of the 36 LEAP summer camp kids, traveling to Outer Island via boat was a first time experience. Their bravery and excitement was an inspiring way to kickoff the day.

Ivette Lopez pauses for a photo with participants who just collected crabs for the first time! Photo by Kelsey Mackey.

Upon arrival, the kids participated in a birding workshop where they learned to use binoculars to identify bird species that inhabit the island. Additionally, the kids learned how to sample water and test for water quality parameters, including pH. My favorite part of the day was when the kids were asked to collect crabs from the beach. Many of the participants had never had the opportunity to see crabs up close, never mind touch them! At first there were many screams and shrieks as kids got close to touching the crabs, but after just minutes they were eager to collect as many crabs as possible. It was extremely heartening and fulfilling to witness the transformation in these kids, in just a matter of minutes! They went from being genuinely afraid of these sea creatures to enthusiastically moving rocks to uncover the biggest crab they could find. Being able to witness their shift in perspective toward wildlife was a true honor, and instilled an incredible sense of pride in me to be able to be a part of such a powerful movement- Latino Conservation Week!

I also visited Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge in support of Michael Bonilla’s event, “Enseñame a Pescar: Providence Community Visit to Kettle Pond / Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge”. Michael led local families and Providence YWCA kids on guided walks around Kettle Pond, where participants learned to identify and distinguish native plant species, amphibians, and birds, many of which they had never seen before. Michael showed the kids how to use binoculars, and how to “silently” walk through the forest in search of birds. It was especially great to see the kids struggle to contain their immense excitement each time a bird was spotted, as they clearly wanted to jump for joy! It really exemplified how enthusiastic and passionate they were about seeing a different bird species for the first time, but also their ability to recognize the importance of respecting the birds’ environment as not to disturb it. They understood that minimizing disturbance was for the mutual benefit of both the bird and themselves, an invaluable lesson to encompass at such a young age on coexisting with wildlife. It was an imperative reminder that today’s youth are the future of conservation, and experiences like these help inspire them to love and appreciate nature, and to work to protect it throughout their lifetime.

Michael Bonilla leads a guided bird walk. Photo by Kelsey Mackey.

It’s opportunities like these that connect people with the natural world, and inspire them to become environmental stewards to ensure a future where people can have these same experiences with nature. For the participants, the Latino Conservation Week events instilled excitement toward interacting with the environment, and created positive, lasting memories for years to come. Thank you Ivette and Michael for bringing these opportunities to the New Haven and Providence communities, and for highlighting the Latino passion for the outdoors, role in conservation, and improving the lives for this generation and the next!

Follow these incredible interns all summer as they share their stories of conservation and outreach!