Departing Alaska, My Unforgettable Experience

It is still hard for me to believe that I spent 5 months in Alaska, and that my internship has come to an end.. As a recent graduate undergraduate fresh out of college, this internship experience was a dream come true. Being part of Environment for the Americas and the USDA Forest Service allowed me to take my B.S. degree in Wildlife Conservation Biology and apply to the “real world”!

Not just any world, but only one of the wildest places in the United States, ALASKA!


Each month was so distinct and memorable. I was always working on something new. Whether it was preparing for shorebird surveys or traveling to an island to work on a fish pass. I always had the opportunity to learn a new skill or apply a skill had learned in school or on my own. For example, painting! I really enjoy painting and as a minor in Art in college I learned various techniques. Yet, I had never painted on windows! I had the opportunity to do in Cordova, for the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival. I also helped the Girl Scout’s earn their art badge by painting shorebirds too!IMG_1407



During the month of May I surveyed shorebirds for 3 consecutive weeks. Each day was also full of new surprises! Whether it was spotting my first black bellied plover or seeing the change from 100 to 2,000 shorebirds over night! Each day I felt thankful for the opportunity to witness the stopover of such amazing travelers.


I have a lot of great memories, and experiences which I could write about for days. I am sure you have read my previous blogs which reflect on those experiences. So I thank you for reading my blog! I have decided to summarize my internship experience with a few of my photographs that I took during my term in Alaska.

Thank You!

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Alaska is a very beautiful place. Which I hope continues to be conserved, appreciated, and protected for the wild place that it is.

Shorebirds of Newport, OR

If I had any doubts about my assimilation in Oregon, I confirmed my total transformation into a local yesterday afternoon by foraging a nature trail for berries. In season are the  Himalayan blackberries, an invasive fruiting plant that has taken hold of the coast. In my personal effort to control the pest, I found myself walking the Hatfield Estuary Trail. I know the area well: it was one of my shorebird survey sites. The migrating shorebirds are on their way back south now, and as I cautiously maneuvered my hands through the thorny depths of the blackberry bushes I could hear their “peeps” echoing through the mud flats. -Photo courtesy of Sheina Shim

Himalayan blackberry: -Photo courtesy of Sheina Shim

In my closing weeks I am prepping documents for my successor to learn from my experience here. One of these was inspired by a moment of nostalgia that hit me on the trail. The first day I walked the trail I did not know what to expect, or whether or not I would be able to put the training EFTA gave me on shorebird ID into practice. Throughout the season, I slowly came to learn and love the birds that visited the mud flats, a learning process that I hope to kick-start with this shorebird field guide made just for the Yaquina Bay survey sites. While I was lucky enough to have Stephanie around to show me the ropes, I’m hoping this will help the next intern out in case no one is available to walk through the surveys with them.

These do not depict all of the bids that it is possible to see along the Oregon coast, or even within the Yaquina Bay area. For example, Sanderlings are very common to the coastlines. These lists include species that are likely to be seen more frequently than others within the mud flats of a estuary sites a few miles inland from the mouth of the Yaquina River to the Pacific Ocean. Though it is very basic, this could be helpful for someone, like me, who starts off a season with no knowledge of shorebird ID in this area of Oregon.


Shorebird ID for Yaquina Bay-1  Shorebird ID for Yaquina Bay-3Shorebird ID for Yaquina Bay-2

Connecting People With [la] Naturaleza

To continue with a common theme in my recent posts, I’d like to share the perspective of another individual. Hey–I only have so many jokes to muse you with, so I brought in some reinforcements: Meagan, the fantabulous U.S. Wildlife Service Education Program Coordinator. She made my outreach dreams come true. I thought it may be interesting for you to hear from a partner on the initiatives coordinated by EFTA Interns and all of the amazing, capable professionals and institutions we cross paths with.

This is a reflection of our time working together on administering programs for the Connecting People With Nature Grant. This is an award we received from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop initiatives that would leverage partnerships to engage local audiences with national wildlife refuges and outdoor recreation sites. We completed this mission by organizing “tri-lingual” (Spanish, English, and Spanglish) off-site education visits to a summer school program, a science career panel, kayak tours for Spanish-speaking audiences and members of low-income housing units, and in organizing the various IMBD events on the coast. The scene opens on the second bilingual kayak tour we hosted in the Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a beautiful estuarine habitat full of birds, animals, plants, and magic:

After our first round of bilingual paddle tours, we were ready to take on the 2nd tour. Lucila and I learned specifics from our tour in July like: make sure you have a sturdy paddler in the front of your canoe-otherwise the person steering in the back will have to do twice as much work! Children have a lot more fun paddling in double kayaks with their parents, than sitting stagnant in canoes. In English “loose hips save ships” is a fun phrase, but bicultural people would rather demonstrate this understanding by showing you their “Shakira!” in the kayak. With a little experience, the second bilingual tour was a breeze.

Luckily, we had two helpful volunteers to support us with safety, and a bilingual observer with experience leading kayak trips. The group synthesized very well, and spirits were high. This could also have correlated with ideal weather conditions, but I would rather attribute it to the group.

The attendees of this tour were all from the Salem Albany area, or the Willamette Valley. My efforts with the camps in the area proved to be fruitful after finding out where people reserving the spots were coming from. It was a beautiful night, with sightings of beaver-Oregon’s State Mammal-and peeps! These peeps were Least Sandpiper, always a pleasure to have returning visitors. One thing this whole group had in common: a connection to a distant land. No participants were from an area close to the kayaking site, but we all traveled there to share this experience with the other animals stopping over in the estuary.

This theme carried on tour our lessons at the Taft 21st Century Summer Camp. After teaching this diverse group of students about birds and pollinators, we combined the material to demonstrate how birds and pollinators are important in many cultures. Introducing migratory birds in their schoolyard, we led students on a journey to the over-wintering grounds of the Common Yellowthroat in Chiapas Mexico. Students were able to see how a year in the life of a Common Yellowthroat ranged from the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, to the tropical rainforests of Mexico. The students had fun learning how to dance Merengue with movements imitating migratory bird behavior, making bracelets with colors coordinated to different countries’ bird bands,  dressing a student up to identify adaptations birds use to migrate, and walking the school grounds to find as many migrating birds as possible. By Lesson 3, we adapted to keeping activities interesting for such a wide age group, and the students learned that when we walked in the room, it’s bird time!

The summer camp with Taft was my last program with Lucila, and it was a blast. We were able to combine our creative minds, sharing our passion of connecting students with the outdoors. This summer has been full of collaboration, and what a fascinating journey. We met all kinds of community members, learned so much from people living here, and were able to spark an interest in conservation with those we worked with. Thanks to this grant, we have memories learning how to rescue kayakers on a cloudy June morning, successfully fording a river with new kayakers in July, and dancing Merengue in a rubber room pretending to be Warblers, Whimbrels, and Hummingbirds in August. Best. Summer. Ever.

Build-a-Bird: in this activity the students learn the adaptations of a migratory shorebird by flipping cue cards and reading each card. The card directs for a student, a willing victim, to be dressed up as a shorebird!

Build-a-Bird: in this activity the students learn the adaptations of a migratory shorebird by flipping cue cards and reading each card. The card directs for a student, a willing victim, to be dressed up as a shorebird!


Build-a-Bird: Our willing victim in full-gear and ready for his migration to the wintering grounds! This game comes from the US Fish & Wildlife Service Shorebird Sister Schools Program and was adapted for use in our summer programs.


Band yourself! In this activity, students select a country on a map that represents the official color bands for migratory shorebirds. They then get strings with the corresponding color, make a bracelet, and get “banded” as shorebirds landing in the corresponding country. We asked students to look at a National Geographic poster to see what kinds of migratory birds fly through the country they selected, which Flyway that bird migrates on, and where else that bird may be found along the Flyway. This is a fun game adapted from an activity developed during my time with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center 2013 IMBD Festival. It connects the cultural practice of making colorful threaded bracelets, an art form found in many Latin American countries, with the scientific concepts of shorebird migrations and bird banding.

Family Feathers Community Outreach

MiannaFlyer_eng MiannaFlyer_span

Our festival is sneaking up on us. It is only a month away! That seems far but in reality it’s not far at all. Donations, networking, and getting the word out have consumed a great amount of my time this week.
I was given the opportunity to go out with Portland and do water quality testing on the wells at the wetlands. I was sure it was going to be hard but after the first one I do not think it is an intimidating task. Basically the probe goes into the well or overflowing bucket, it connects to a machine that tells what the pH balance is and every other little detail the BOR wants from the sample. This also includes the metals in the water. Along with the Probe reading there are water samples to take, 4 of them at each well to be exact. That was my job and Portland handled the very expensive probe. We had a lot of fun but finding the wells was a challenge. Some are running and others are bone dry. We were unable to locate some of the wells shown on the map. We also were able to find a few that were none existent on the map. After we finished the ten wells for the day we headed back to the BOR to take the samples into the lab. It’s a magnificent sight to see. There are so many different processes they put the water through to test it. I know it would be such a fun, yet hard job to do. This week was pretty slow moving considering it was mobile work week for our BLM crew however, I know next week we will be back up and running around like chickens without their heads.

Saying Good Bye to Dusky Camp

Saying Goodbye to Dusky Camp was not easy!

During Monitoring and Maintenance for Dusky Canada Geese Nest Islands,

we often camped for 4-6 days in the Copper River Delta.

This was Dusky Camp!


These are the weather ports and tents we called home while working in the field. I think I had some of the best sleep while at camp! I’m not sure if it was a result from the hard work during the day, or because of the rain hitting the roof of the weather port at night. Maybe a combination of both!



On our last week at camp we had a few little visitors, red-backed voles! Dan (in the photo below) was surprised to find our furry friend in his snack bag where the vole enjoyed Dan’s M&Ms and other goodies. 


I really enjoyed Dusky Camp. We worked long days, but the work was rewarding, and the Delta was beautiful! After work each day at camp we got together for dinner. During that time we discussed our wild encounters from the Delta (if we had any), including lifers!

It is hard to believe that my summer at Dusky Camp has come to an end. It was an amazing summer with an awesome group of Wildlifers!

photo by Julia Reihs

photo by Julia Reihs

I will always remember the scenic views, my co-workers, and my first time :

  •  on an airboat
  • seeing leeches and taking them off my hands as they sucked my blood
  • slipping, sliding, and sinking in the Delta mud
  • being attacked by horse flies, no-see-ums, artic terns, and mew gulls
  • navigating through the Delta in search for Nest Islands!
  • spotting a beaver as he/she slapped it’s tail to scare me away
  • seeing a moose and calf (a very scary encounter)
  • being surrounded by cotton grass and Equisetum!



“BIRDS FIRST!” – James Benson