Tag Archives: university of maine

Inspiring Others Through Art

Today we’re hearing from Logan Sauer, a University of Maine student and former Youth Conservation Corps intern at Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Virginia. Logan shares his love for the outdoors with others through his artwork and culinary skills, and his story is one you won’t soon forget.

Logan is making waves, and certainly enjoying them while studying abroad in Australia. His experience with YCC has influenced his major and his daily life, while his artwork continues to inspire ours. When Logan gifted Potomac River NWR Complex his beautiful painting of native wildlife, it was too good not to share with everyone! We’ve asked him a few questions about his art, his time with YCC, and his connection to the natural world.

What do you enjoy doing most in the outdoors and why?

“I enjoy hiking, creating art, being with family and friends, and traveling. I enjoy hiking because it takes me to places I’ve never been and especially somewhere to escape all the noise. Hiking is a great time to think a lot of things over and it can also provide a place to not think at all and just embrace the beauty of the natural world.

“Whenever I am home for break I always visit the refuge. How could I not? The refuge staff gave me a priceless experience and I felt the need to give back. During the spring semester of my sophomore year I had the idea of creating a painting for the refuge. My initial idea was to create a painting that showcased one major animal from different refuges all across the country, but I felt that this painting needed to be more personal, so I came up with the idea of painting the major fauna that are found within the Potomac River NWR Complex.”

What inspires your art and what is your favorite medium?

“I’ve been interested in art ever since I was little and my artwork developed over time through a variety of mediums.  In grades 6-12 I was more interested in using pencils and I would never want to use any other medium. In grade 10 I got my first set of Prismacolor pencils, which are better at blending seamlessly and that is when my artwork started to transform. Animals and landscapes really inspire me. The natural beauty that we are surrounded by is unlike anything that can be replicated in our world of technology.

“Also, watching the Food Network might have influenced my artistic talents. My mother and I enjoyed watching baking shows together and over time I developed a love for baking.  Baking and cooking and creating art are awesome stress relievers for me. I often stress bake at school before an assignment is due. Both activities require patience and attention to detail which brings me to a calm state of mind. ”

Do you think Youth Conservation Corps has helped shape you or your academic or career choices or strengthened your relationship with the outdoors?

“I definitely think that YCC brought me closer to the outdoors. For most of the day our crew was outside completing our assigned tasks. One thing that our crew was interested in was species identification. We identified many plants, fungi, insects, reptiles, and birds. We even had a Facebook page dedicated to the work we had done on the refuge and the flora/fauna we identified along the way. Knowing what surrounds you in nature feels rewarding instead of just walking down a trail and passing all these amazing organisms.”

What would you tell someone who is interested in trying YCC?

“For anyone interested in trying YCC I would say go for it! I must warn you that not all YCC programs are the same. It was my coworkers and the refuge employees that made my experience enjoyable and worth every minute. I would say go in with an open mind just as with anything in life and try to make the most out of the time while being a part of YCC.

I want to work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Park Service in the future. I want to do what I love while I search for the perfect workplace family and can recognize that I am happy and that I am in the right place. Only a few places that I have worked have I actually enjoyed but nothing comes close to being in the YCC at the Potomac River  NWR Complex.”

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.



Men dressed in colonial wear in a boat with an American flag

Silent witnesses to the historic Christmas night crossing of the Delaware


Fisheries Biologist Catherine Gatenby dishes about fish!

On December 25, 1776 the watermen of Massachusetts navigated George Washington and his Continental Army across the Delaware River in the dark of the night. Below, huddling together in the depths of the river, were likely hundreds of witnesses to this historic event, shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum).

Men dressed in colonial wear in a boat with an American flag

Reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas. Credit: Bucks County CVB.

At 55 pounds and five feet long, shortnose sturgeon are large fish, but they are the smallest of the three species of sturgeon in eastern North America. Like their cousins the Atlantic sturgeon, they once occurred by the thousands in coastal rivers from Canada to Florida.  Unlike Atlantic sturgeon, however, the shortnose spends most of its life in rivers – even in the cold of December.

By the end of the 19th century, overharvest had seriously depleted shortnose sturgeon populations. Damming rivers and using them as dumping grounds during the industrialization of the U.S. were final blows to sturgeon and their habitat.  By 1967 only a few remnant populations existed, so shortnose sturgeon were included on the original endangered species list. 

A large fish with a flattened nose lurks.

Shortnose sturgeon. Credit: USFWS

Today, after 40 years of protection by the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, shortnose sturgeon seem to be doing better in northern rivers. The Hudson River population alone has increased by over 400 percent since 1973.

 Shortnose sturgeon have been found again in the Penobscot River in Maine.  “Finding them at all is big; they haven’t been seen in the Penobscot since 1970” said Dr. Joe Zydlewski, Maine Cooperative Research Unit, U.S. Geological Survey – as he quickly suggested I speak with his wife, Dr. Gail Zydlewski, at the University of Maine.

In 2005 Dr. Zydlewski began a tagging program to monitor shortnose migratory behaviors and use of rivers in Maine after a fisherman hauled in a shortnose from the Penobscot. She and her team found that shortnose sturgeon in the Penobscot may migrate to the Kennebec River to spawn. 

Once upon a time, the Penobscot River had huge populations of spawning shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon and the fish may yet live happily ever after there. Removal of the Veazie and other dams will restore access to 100 percent of historic spawning habitat for all sturgeon in the Penobscot River.  

A biologist handles a fish in a trough.

This shortnose sturgeon was caught in the Delaware River during a population health assessment
by the Service and Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Credit: USFWS

In the Delaware River, shortnose sturgeon may be rebounding as well, helping to repopulate the Potomac River via the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.  Shortnose were thought to be gone from the Potomac, but fishermen have reported catching them in the past 10 years and scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified a shortnose making a pre-spawning migration run in the Potomac River. “Although, we aren’t yet certain whether shortnose are spawning in the Potomac, we are certain suitable habitat exists for foraging, wintering and spawning,” said Mike Mangold, Service Biologist.

A biologist handles a fish on a dock.

Shortnose sturgeon captured in the upper Chesapeake Bay by a commercial fisherman was tagged to monitor behavior and identify potential suitable habitat. Credit: USFWS

In 1992, the Service’s Maryland Fisheries Resource Office began managing the Atlantic Coast Cooperative Sturgeon Tagging program. “We are building a better understanding of how populations are faring in the wild, and where to focus efforts on restoring additional habitat for sturgeon” said Sheila Eyler, program coordinator. 

As we reflect back upon the historic crossing of the Delaware this holiday season, let’s also reflect how fortunate we are to enjoy the heritage of our native fish populations and  healthy, rich and productive rivers now and always.