Tag Archives: student conservation assocation

No terning back!

I’ve caught it.

Safety first! Credit: Jackie

Credit:Jackie Claver

I’ve caught what some people call the “bird bug” – AKA the overwhelming joy that follows after working with cool avian critters.

I took in the full expanse of the beach, with lapping waves and a calm endless stretch of sea. It was about 8 in the morning.  I waded up to my knees carrying my provisions above my head. As I climbed aboard the boat, I buckled my life vest and grabbed the metal pole beside the steering wheel. Kate Iaquinto, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge’s wildlife biologist, took the helm and we started across the open water. The ocean smelled amazing. It was clear skies and sunny, and the rush of the speed and ocean breeze made it very comfortable. The little furry brown heads of seals popped up from time to time, curious about our passing.

After about 10 minutes, we dropped anchor and we waded our way through the water past trails of horseshoe crabs and onto shore.  As I looked ahead, birds were everywhere.  As I wasn’t too confident in my bird identification abilities yet, I asked myself were all of these birds terns?

I followed behind Kate until we came to the camp site set up with tents. In a stretch of sand about 7 miles long, I was informed there were 11,723 pairs of common terns on the island! After not being in the tern colony for more than 2 minutes, poop flew down from the sky onto Kate’s face barely missing her mouth. It was inevitable really, and it could only mean good luck, right?IMG_8603

I was informed to grab a yellow hard hat with marker flags to protect the terns and my head, and off I went with Kate and four Student Conservation Association interns.

Four speckled white and black eggs in the sand. I was surprised at the tern interns’ intense enthusiasm about these eggs. We had passed dozens of nests already. I shortly learned, these were very different. The four interns told me this was a skimmer’s nest. I had never heard of a skimmer bird. Apparently, there had not been a skimmer’s nest observed on the island for quite a long time. What a success!

 

As we went out into the field, we surveyed the nesting plots where nesting adult terns and their chicks resided.  And boy are the little ones expert hiders. They can find the smallest pieces of vegetation, and under its protective cover they blend in perfectly with the sand.

I read off their band numbers ensuring they were present and healthy, while admiringly looking at the squirmy bodies of fluff. This process of surveying helps Kate and the tern interns identify success of terns nesting on the island. As we moved from plot to plot, laughing gulls called out in hysterical ‘has’ and I couldn’t help but also laugh myself.

Common terns fledge, developing feathers for flight, between 22-28 days old. Their eggs come in a variety of colors: green, creme, turquoise, and brown, with speckled dark spots. They generally have a clutch size of about 1-4 eggs. Roseate terns, a federally endangered species, often reside within common tern colonies. Although common terns are not endangered, they are a species of concern in Massachusetts.

Throughout the course of the day, I had banded four birds with the help of Kate. As I sat on the beach taking pictures, the sun cast a fine glow of colors across the horizon and a pair of oystercatchers moved along the shoreline nearby.

Overall, it was amazing going out into the field at Monomoy and I am grateful to have experienced this unique adventure during my inTERNship.

Great Swamp’s wilderness is one wild place

If you haven’t heard, the Wilderness Act is turning 50. It’s big news for us here in the Northeast, since Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey is the first designated wilderness in the Department of the Interior. We partnered with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to get a crew out on the refuge to clear trails that sustained damages from Hurricane Sandy. Hear from Emily Bowles, a member of the crew, as she reflects on her experience working in one wilderness treasure.

Emily (right) will be sharing her experience about her and the crew’s work at Great Swamp. Never miss a post!

In the most famous passage of the Wilderness Act, writer Howard Zahniser defines wilderness beautifully and concisely: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” As my crewmates and I work to prepare Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge to host the Wilderness Act’s 50th birthday party—which will include a visit from the public lands manager to all public lands managers, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell—we’re finding Zahniser’s words to be astonishingly accurate.

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Great Swamp Refuge has 8 miles of public trails and some are in the wilderness area. All refuge trails sustained damages from Hurricane Sandy with fallen trees and debris, but cleanup in the wilderness area isn’t so easy. The crew has a unique challenge, as hand tools, not power tools, have to get the job done, to maintain wilderness character. Learn more

Over the course of our efforts, the Great Swamp’s untrammeled community of life has been on impressive display. Yesterday we saw a juvenile bald eagle first thing in the morning, followed by a native praying mantis. As the day progressed and some dead and dangerously inclined trees were felled, the crew and I came across dragonflies, and a katydid (Tettigoniidae: a bug that to me looks like a cross between a grasshopper and a preying mantis). While we chopped apart an all day blowdown, Ed, strangely, found a spotted turtle… odd since our worksite was a considerable distance from water.

On the way back to the car the crew spotted a large bird in the woods. We couldn’t quite identify it, but the wingspan was large enough for it to have been a hawk. Early this morning, a gray catbird observed us stretching from its nearby perch. “Meow, meow!”  After lunch we spotted a little goldfinch eyeing a puddle to make his birdbath.

The highlight of the day came when we…finish reading this post at SCA’s Follow Me Field Blog!

My life after the internship: Gabriel Harper

This year, we checked in with some of our past interns to find out what came next after their internship ended. Did they stay with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or land another sweet job? We hope they put those skills to good use! Look out for these stories to find out about their life after the internship. Today, meet Gabriel Harper, a superstar federal wildlife officer. Below, find out where he started with us and how he got where he is now.

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Gabriel Harper began his career with the Service through the Conservation Internship Program, now the Career Discovery Internship Program, a partnership between the Service and The Student Conservation Association to help prepare the next generation of wildlife professionals and managers.

The Student Conservation Association allowed for my first true glimpse into the world of conservation. I began my internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in May 2009, at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach. With minimal prior knowledge of the agency, I approached this venture with an open mind and eager attitude. It was the summer of many “firsts” for me! Back Bay afforded me my first time camping, fishing, kayaking, and birding, while also having the duties of giving interpretive speeches and leading guided tours throughout the refuge.

From what was initially intended to be a 12-week internship, with the support from my supervisors, I was converted to a federal career intern position as a park ranger with the Service within a year of my arrival. Shortly thereafter, I transitioned to permanent employee status, where I led guided tours for schools and other large groups, providing information on wildlife and habitat management. Some of my other job duties included assisting the biology staff members with the threatened sea turtle protection program, wildlife surveys, and invasive species control. I developed a passion for outreach, and it led me to look for new innovative ways to bring minorities to experience all the opportunities the great outdoors have to offer.

NCTC broadcast

Gabriel during a broadcast at the National Conservation Training Center about illegal wildlife trade.

In 2011, my passion for the environment led me to pursue a career in law enforcement. After close to a year in training, I was sworn in as a federal wildlife officer with the Service. This unique career field equipped me with the tools and skills necessary to confront illegal hunting, trapping, and harvesting of wildlife and plants. I found that I wasn’t too far from my foundation. A typical day could consist of me teaching youth how to fish, conduct a deer poaching investigation, meet with state conservation officers to discuss an upcoming deer decoy operation, stop and investigate a DUI (driving under the influence) on a refuge, or even assist in natural disaster relief efforts anywhere in the US.

Now in my fourth year with the Service, I work at Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland. I continue to manifest fervent hunger that propelled me in the past days when I was seeking employment. There is still so much I feel needs to be done to bring awareness about our mission. On an individual level, I have made myself available to different programs throughout the agency such as the Service Honor Guard, the special operations response team, and the diversity change agents. My commitment to protect our natural resources is rejuvenated every time I step foot on my refuge.

Full HG Team John TAYLOR funeral

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Honor Guard.