Tag Archives: University of Delaware

Get a look inside the mind of a new hunter


Students from the University of Delaware pose for a group photo during their waterfowl hunting education course at Blackwater NWR, Credit: Chris Williams

Recently, a group of University of Delaware students visited Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland to learn about waterfowl hunting and wildlife conservation. Although they’re each pursuing studies in natural resources, all of them were first-time hunters.

The program, offered through a new partnership among Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, offered hunter education, shotgun safety training, and background on managing waterfowl populations.

Aside from the practical training and experience in the field, the program prompted the students to explore their feelings about hunting in general. Here are some of their individual thoughts about the experience.

How I dealt with feelings of  guilt:

“My fears spawned from the action of the hunt itself; if I do succeed, how will taking that life affect me, either on site or after I come home? Can I personally consider taking a life, “success”? Will I let my leaders down if I cannot bring myself to squeeze the trigger after all the effort in training me?”

– Dawn Davin


Credit: Chris Williams

How I made it through my first hunting trip:

“In fact, I was calm up until it was time to shoot. Everything happened so quickly. I am not used to shooting a gun, I am used to shooting clay birds, and I have no idea how a bird even lands in the water. I shortly found out, very quickly. I am up first. I see birds coming in as Jerry tells me to get ready. I respond as if I have never shot a gun before. I forget how to even hold the stock into my shoulder. As I am struggling to think straight, the birds see us and fly away.”

– Morgan Cochran


Students pose with a collection of duck decoys, Credit: Chris Williams

How my opinion on hunting has changed:

“I find that my opinion of hunting has changed considerably through the course. I always knew intellectually that hunting was an integral part of managing many species across the globe, but really honing in on the specifics and taking a part in that management connected me to the topic more. I learned so much about how setting goals for certain waterfowl species can aim to stabilize their population, and I got to participate in making those goals a reality.”

–Josh Zalewski


Two students prepare for their hunt, Credit: Chris Williams

My final reflections on the day:

“The one time I began to feel guilty and question exactly why I went hunting was when I talked to my boss about it. She knows there are population control benefits to hunting, but wasn’t sure why I personally wanted to be a part of it. Like many of my friends and family members, she was surprised to hear that I, animal lover extraordinaire, truly enjoyed killing an animal. It was difficult to explain why I wanted to and enjoyed the hunt when put that way, but I was able to “change her mind a bit” after I told her about the economic benefits, the reasoning behind certain policies, impact of invasive species, and so on. I will certainly have to do some more self-examination to determine my true stance, but that is a challenge I welcome.”

– Samantha McGonigle




Research Specialist Christina Cerino measures a captured bird for the SHARP survey. Credit: Charlotte Murtishaw/USFWS

Looking SHARP: Students, salt marshes, and that elusive sparrow

Charlotte and ZucchiniABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charlotte Murtishaw is a Student Conservation Association and Hurricane Sandy youth story corps intern, serving as a communications specialist for the Service’s Hurricane Sandy recovery program. She grew up in New Jersey and currently attends Barnard College in New York, where she’s an American Studies major focusing on postwar media and culture as well as environmental history (independently and in conjunction with each other). You can find her biking, swimming, and hiking around the Pioneer Valley this summer, usually on the way to the next best bookstore.


Emma Shelly probably wakes up earlier than you.

Every morning, the University of Connecticut PhD student gets out of bed at 4:30 and hops in the car. She leaves her home near UConn, and drives nearly an hour to Barn Island Wildlife Management Area in the coastal town of Stonington, Ct., picking up her assistants along the way.

The early start does have its perks for the group, though.

“The mornings are really beautiful,” says research specialist Christina Cerino. “You catch a lot of good sunrises.”

Site leader Emma Shelly, flanked by her research specialists Chistina Cerino (L) and Jeanna Mielcarek (R). Credit: Charlotte Murtishaw/USFWS

Site leader Emma Shelly, flanked by her research specialists Chistina Cerino (L) and Jeanna Mielcarek (R). Credit: Charlotte Murtishaw/USFWS

Emma and Christina are both in their second summer working for SHARP–the Saltmarsh Habitat & Avian Research Program. The program was founded by a group of academic, governmental, and non-profit collaborators to provide critical information for the conservation of tidal-marsh birds. It evolved from more than a decade of saltmarsh sparrow surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, states and other partners on national wildlife refuges throughout the Northeast, ultimately expanding to more than 900 current sites. The Refuge System’s Inventory and Monitoring (I&M) program is supporting development of standardized data collection methods and a database that will help SHARP participants evaluate population and habitat status and develop targets for future conservation needs.

Last year SHARP gained additional resources through a Hurricane Sandy grant from the Department of the Interior for a comprehensive tidal marsh bird project. The money not only continues to support SHARP efforts to gauge the effects of climate change on threatened species like the saltmarsh sparrow and clapper rail, but also engages youth and graduate students with Sandy projects. Opportunities often involve hands-on field experience collecting data, such as the work at Barn Island.

Because the project had already gathered so much data on tidal marsh birds and their habitat before Hurricane Sandy hit in October, 2012, researchers are able to make easy comparisons between healthy habitat and current conditions, such as sea levels and bird populations. But SHARP isn’t just for the birds. With more than 20 sites stretching from Maine to New Jersey, the program is a chance for students in environmental fields to get hands-on experience in conservation, as well as dabble in their own research. While she works on SHARP as a crew leader, Emma also gathers information for her Ph.D., on the mating preferences of the notoriously polyamorous saltmarsh sparrow.

In the field, Emma, Christina, and another research specialist, Jeanna Mielcarek, set up fine mist nets to catch incoming birds, and band the female saltmarsh sparrows with identification tags. They take weight, wingspan, and other measurements at the same time, and comb the marsh for nests to flag and track.

Other animals pop up in the salt marsh, which is among one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world, ranking up there with the tropical rainforest. Jeanna finds a praying mantis, and retrieves a bright goldfinch from the mist net. At Barn Island, anything goes.

“We catch a lot of birds we aren’t targeting for,” Christina says. “There are surprises every day.” Blackbirds, she said, are grabby and nippy; male sparrows are more aggressive (but she hastens to clarify all observations are anecdotal).

Christina got her start last summer under UConn professor and site leader Chris Elphick. “[Christina] came out as a volunteer last year and learned some basics and this year has picked up a lot more,” said Elphick, who’s been birding since childhood. “We have to stagger experience a little bit so we’re training people we can hire next year as the more experienced person.”

SHARP is a breeding ground for burgeoning biologists and conservationists. Though the main corps is made up of graduate students, UMaine assistant professor and principal investigator Brian Olsen emphasizes that exposing students to hands on experience is built into the framework of the project.

“We try to slide in an undergraduate or two as well to train somebody up, so we usually have at least one person who’s never done anything on the crew and then that mixes in with the experienced hands,” Olsen said.

In Emma’s case, that meant assisting as a field tech last summer before being promoted to her leadership position.

“I was really grateful to come out here the year before to learn the ropes and how to set up the arrays and do all the bird handling and things like that,” she said.

Now, she’s in charge, arranging the schedule and making decisions while shouldering her personal research. “You work really hard, but you don’t have anyone breathing down your shoulder about it, so it’s all up to you to be self-motivated.”

On-site, it doesn’t seem like anybody needs much extra motivation. “This is sort of what I want to do as an actual career, wildlife conservation,” Christina said.

“Everyday you’ll do something new. Every day there’ll be something exciting that happens, even small things, and it’s never boring. You do feel satisfied with your job, even if you’re tired and muddy and really hungry at the end of the day, you still had a great time out in the marsh and got to interact with animals.”

A salt marsh sparrow nest, full of newly hatched babies, is nestled in the tall grasses at Barn Island WMA. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

A salt marsh sparrow nest, full of newly hatched babies, is nestled in the tall grasses at Barn Island WMA. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS


View a video clip about the SHARP surveys at Barn Island

Read more about USFWS-funded avian science and the SHARP program

View more photos from the SHARP Barn Island survey


SCA intern Charlotte Murtishaw is part of the Service’s Hurricane Sandy youth story corps, which provides communications experience to college interns as a part of our agency’s commitment to engaging youth in conservation.