The Newcomers

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing about myself in this blog. So, to shake things up for a change, thought you may be interested in a new subject: the up-and-coming professionals of the natural resources world. I hope you have your rain gear ready, because these youngins are taking the field by storm.

On Monday we introduced the following young professionals to the community served by one of our partners, Lincoln City Development Corporation. The panel was meant to highlight the career paths of young scientists trying to break into the natural resources field as a means to offer advice, insight, and inspiration for the tenants of a housing project. The event was intimate: we had only a few guests, but those who showed up had a high interest in the endeavors of our panelists, and our panelists were nothing short of amazing. The partner is interested in hosting similar events in the future. It is my hope that this is beginning of a community of sharing, where professionals can turn around and offer a hand to the next generation of scientists.

With no further ado, I present our panelists:

Meagan Campbell, Wildlife Education Coordinator, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

This native Oregonian is a self-proclaimed enthusiast for the outdoors, a title well befitting of her passion for nature, wildlife, and expertise in environmental education. In her hometown of Eugene, Meagan often engaged in outdoor pursuits with her family, leading her to pursue a degree in Environmental Studies and Spanish from the University of Oregon. The formational experience of her career was an internship with the Bureau of Land Management, where she got to use her talent for the communication of science to implement education programs at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. Meagan went on to marry her love of nature, Latin American culture, and community development with her work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As a Program Coordinator, Meagan visits schools to teach children about the migrations of shorebirds from Latin America. Also, Meagan conducts public outreach, park interpretation, and fieldwork.

Dylan Beorchia, Botanist, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

Dylan has always held a fascination for plants. In Idaho, he learned about the biology of plants and quickly developed an intimate understanding of the medicinal, nutritional, and practical uses of different plant species. He went on to study Botany at Oregon State University and to serve as a WOOOF volunteer for organic farms in the United States. Dylan currently coordinates initiatives to protect the native flora of a Bureau of Land Management Natural Conservation Land. He impresses the staff on a daily basis with his profound knowledge of flowers, trees, grasses, and marine plants found within the park. Dylan will soon be entering the Peace Corps to work in sustainable agriculture in Senegal.

Bethany Cronin, Aquarist, Recipient of a Certification in Aquarium Studies from the Oregon Coast Community College

Bethany has traveled great distances to pursue her passion for marine biology as an aquarist. While working on her Bachelor’s of Science in Wildlife Biology from Missouri State University, Bethany took an internship with the Dickerson Park Zoo. This first internship was a launching pad of adventure, from which she would continue to take internships in zoos and aquariums like the Henry Doorly Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. She is currently stationed in Newport as a student with the Oregon Coast Community College Aquarium Science Program and working as a Student Intern and Aquarist with the Hatfield Marine Science Center. Her expertise in the care of aquarium animals and inviting personality makes Bethany a wonderful aquarist! She expects to continue pursuing her passion in Springfield, Missouri at the Wonder of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium.

Rolando Beorchia, Biology Technician (Plants), Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

Rolando has always held a fascination for plants, their structures and how they interact with other organisms. In Idaho, he studied Biology at the College of Southern Idaho earning an Associates of Science degree. He went on to graduate from Oregon State University with a Bachelors of Science in Botany. Rolando worked for two years in the Pankaj Jaiwsal lab at OSU working as a lab technician with bioinformatics and researching the genes responsible for environmental stress responses in Populus trichocarpa (black cottonwood). He has volunteered time through World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming (WWOOF) at multiple farms around western Oregon and with Growth International Volunteer Excursions (GIVE) building a school in Nicaragua.

Rolando currently coordinates initiatives to promote awareness of the importance of the native flora and manage invasive flora encroaching on the Bureau of Land Management Natural Conservation Lands. He impresses visitors on a daily basis with his knowledge of flowers, trees, grasses, and marine algae found within the park. Rolando will soon be leaving with the Peace Corps to work in sustainable agriculture in Senegal.

Alessandra Jimenez, Research Experience Undergraduate Intern, Oregon State University

Alessandra is an East coaster with roots in three different continents! Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Alessandra learned about the cultures of China and Panama through her mother. Elements of her background and natural disposition towards the sciences led her to fly west to Washington, where she now studies Biology in Whitworth University. Alessandra is a Research Experience Undergraduate scholar hosted by the Seabird Oceanography Lab of Oregon State University. This internship is National Science Foundation program that allows students to do research projects under the mentorship of university professors across the country. Alessandra’s is on the diet of seabirds that inhabit coastal rocks.

New Beginnings

Baby Chicks

Baby Chicks

Baby Simba

Baby Simba

Just when life seems to twist a problem into the mix, it also gives out little signs of hope to keep moving forward.

I was able to take the day off on Monday. My sister-in-law was in labor for two days and after a long wait, my niece Raygan Jo was finally born at 8:22pm. It was such an amazing sight to see her older sister instantly become protective and not let anyone hold the new bundle of joy. After a long night of helping them at the hospital, I made my way out of there the next morning at 1:00am.

As though Monday was not already exciting enough, Tuesday I was woken up by a clatter outside my window. I remembered back in June that a mother bird was making a nest outside my room. I stumbled out the door, climbed on top of my porch banister and found 3 baby chicks waiting for their mother to feed them. I snapped a picture just before the mother returned with worms to fill their tiny tummies.

I believe that life comes in all shapes and sizes. I will admit that the last few weeks have been a little extreme with the amount of stress I have taken on. I also will admit it’s signs such as these that rebuild me and take me to a level of being at peace again. I know that no matter what life may present,  life will always continue forward. I also know that it is the small things in life that should truly be treasured.

I am excited to see all the babies grow up, even though the ones out my window get a little too noisy a little too early in the morning.

Kayak your worries away

Kayak

Here I am paddling through the Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This stretch of the route shows the progress of restoration efforts. The left side of the refuge is a recent addition from a ranch tract that was donated 10 years ago. Within the first three years, all of the marsh vegetation already took hold again, though there is still a noticeable difference in the level of the recovering land vs. the original refuge tract on the right. (Photo credit to Florence Van Tulder)

Cedar waxwing

A “Chinito!” This is a Cedar Waxwing, a beautiful bird found in the twinberry trees that line the kayak route in the refuge. Chinito is a common Spanish name for this bird. The tours highlight the cultural connection made possible by the movements of birds through the exchange of language and tales of the cultural significance of species like the Cedar Waxwing. Photo credit to Florence Van Tulder.

Least Sandpiper, taken by Florence Van Tulder, a graduate student who joined me for a leisure ride in the Siletz Bay NWR.

A flock of Least sandpipers flew directly overheard us and landed in the marsh grasses. We passed by so close to these birds that we could almost touch them–not something I would personally recommend to my visitors, though. It is great to know that the refuge is fulfilling its function as viable estuary habitat for shorebirds, songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors.

Coordinating events can be stressful. What should we do? Where should we advertise? When should we do it? Who’s coming? How do we pay for it all? This can be a huge headache. The key, I’ve discovered, is to keep your eye on the prize: the result. Having a mission in mind is fuel for the roller coaster of event planning, and success.

Last week my partner in crime–Meagan–and I launched an initiative to lead bilingual kayak tours, targeted to low-income communities in Lincoln County. These tours have been months in the making: in May we turned in an application for a USFWS grant to foster partnerships with surrounding agencies and connect the public with the outdoors, in June we made the posters and plugged the event to every media outlet imaginable (no restaurant, community center, or newspaper was spared) and spent a whole day tossing ourselves in a lake to train, and in July we drove around town to personally invite members of the community to join in the fun. Finally, after weeks of coordinating, a sea of calls came flooding in and we booked our first tour! It was incredible to hear interest from people who we directly targeted. All of them were interested in not just the free kayaking, but also in learning about the birds in the refuge in both Spanish and English.

We ran the tour for 10 people from a housing unit next door to the refuge. The recruitment was the result of the tireless efforts of our partner, Lincoln County Development Coorporation, a nonprofit that offers classes, summer camps, and events for the residents of Lincoln County housing units. The Program Coordinator distributed our flyers and knocked on doors to tell people about our event. If it weren’t for her we would not have booked the tour with our target audience!

We took the visitors out on a .5 mile stretch of the Siletz River to enter the refuge from the back end. Depending on the winds and current, we judge on whether or not to reserve this hike on the river for the end of the tour. This particular evening had high winds, making it easier to paddle with the current than to fight it on the way back. Once in the refuge, we could bank out on the shore along the route and point out birds, plants, and animals to our guests. There is one point where you go under an old bridge. This bride is full of Barn and Cliff swallows, the latter which is nesting in the bridge’s supports. This is one of the only places in the Central Oregon Coast that Cliff swallows are nesting. The birds make for a good point of interpretation to illustrate the importance of protecting habitat for birds. It was also uplifting to see the guests make personal references to the Barn swallow, the Golondrina ranchera. One girl lit up with a big smile, recalling the bird from her grandmother’s farm in Mexico.

It is our hope to draw these types of connections and ultimately inspire transformational experiences for guests that otherwise would not have an opportunity to directly engage with nature. This particular tour was very special in that many of guests, despite living minutes from the coast, have very limited experience with the ocean; time, money, and family constraints keep them from exploring the natural treasures of their area. Programs such as the bilingual nature tours provide a culturally sensitive environment for guests to ask questions, explore, and simply enjoy the wonders of the outdoors.

 

 

Jr. Birding Pt. II

Continuing with my efforts in hosting some local Jr. Birder programs this summer, we had our second activity a couple of weeks ago.  The second activity focused more on the basics of bird ID:

Activity 2: “Bird Identification: Getting Started”
Saturday, July 12th; 10:00am-11:00 am; Bobolink Trail, (Near East Boulder Rec. Center-Trailhead starts off Baseline Rd.)
Learn the basics of bird identification!  We will talk about identifying birds based on their silhouettes or beaks, along with the learning how to properly use binoculars.

Screenshot 2014-07-29 11.07.01

English Flyer

 

Spanish Flyer

Spanish Flyer

While there were only a couple of kids there, it was still great practice and experience to lead an environmental activity.  The two activities I led were: “What is a Bird” and “Bird Topography” which are both free and downloadable from the EFTA http://www.birdday.org site (Links are below the pictures)!

 

 

 

 

 

“What is  Bird” – http://www.birdday.org/2011materials/whatisabird.pdf
“Bird Topography” – http://www.birdday.org/2011materials/BirdTopoActivity.pdf

The pre-made lesson plans helped me feel a lot more comfortable in leading the activities along with the Jr. Birder books that I’ve been using as an additional guide (also found through EFTA’s site).
My only hesitation in leading these activities is the fact I am not an expert birder, and I’ve learned how to handle questions I don’t know usually with a response like, “That is a GREAT question!  Let’s write that down and we can look it up later”.  However, when leading activities for young children, you would think you wouldn’t need to be an expert, right?  In my case, I had 6-year old Owen, who truly is a mini master birder!  While I did teach him some things, such as the bird topography activity and what specific parts of birds are called, when it came to the actual bird walk he really knew every single bird we sighted along with many calls!  He stumped me during the entire bird walk and there were many times he would confirm his bird sighting or call with me and I was not entirely sure on some of them.  Some little kids never cease to amaze me!  It was very good practice in leading an activity with a kid who knows a lot about the material, and I hope he learned something new from me.  For the meanwhile, I’ll try to learn more of the local birds to hopefully stump my friend Owen next time! :) Here are some of the birds that we heard and saw:

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Benthic Invertebrates

A lot of my time at the Elkhorn Slough Reserve has been spent in the plankton lab that is offered to school groups as part of their field trip. It is a really neat lab because it allows students to interact with microscopes, something that some students might not have a chance to do within their regular school year curriculum.

The key to a good lab is collecting a good sample from the slough. This usually requires a pair of rubber boots to get into the water and collect some big chunks of bryozoans, which are a plant-like colonial animals that the benthic invertebrates like to hang from.

Some of the most commons benthic invertebrates we see in the lab are Caprellids, also called skeleton shrimp. When most students first see them under the microscopes they are a little spooked because of their alien-like appearance. Most people think they look like mantises of some sort. Another critter we often see are sea spiders from the class Pycnogonida. Students usually ask if they’re actual spiders and they are not, they just look like land spiders. We also get brittle stars and small sea jellies.

The best part about the lab is seeing how excited the students are looking at their samples. Especially after they’ve had some initial trouble focusing the microscope but then eventually get it right and are able to see the critters clearly and sharply.

Helping in the labs was always a fun activity. And it was also a reminder about how we are surrounded by micro and macroscopic life, and that sometimes it’s important to appreciate it and observe it sometimes.

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