From Plains to Forests

I had a long weekend that was filled with sunny days, warm weather and the Colorado outdoors. For those who have never visited Colorado, it’s a very unique and beautiful place, even more in Boulder County. It’s the place where the Great Plains of the central US meet the Rocky Mountains. A great place to experience and learn about a wide variety of ecosystems and wildlife if you’re into that. In Boulder County you have five distinctive life zones and respective ecotones from east to west: Prairie/Grasslands, Foothills/Lower Montane, Montane, Sub-alpine/ Upper Mountain and at the very west Alpine/Tundra. I spent Saturday out east near my home in Lafayette, CO in the mixed-grass grasslands and Monday I was up in the Ponderosa Forests of the Foothills up the Canyon. It’s amazing how in a 35 min drive you can go from what looks like one world to another.

On Saturday I spent may day walking through the grasses, stopping at wetlands and lakes and looking for birds. Actually my first encounter with wildlife was a Black-tailed prairie dog colony on my way to some wetlands. I also saw a pair of Red-tail hawks soaring above, looking for a snack maybe? The most memorable thing I saw that day was a flock of about 60-80 Red-winged Blackbirds and European Starlings, they moved in unison from the grass to the cattails and back, often crossing my path leaving flashes of iridescences as they whizzed right by. They are so common I think some forget how special they still are.

The view from the loop trail atop of the Preserve.

The view from the loop trail atop of the Preserve.

On MLK day, I went up to the Ponderosa Forests several miles outside of Boulder, and hiked steep inclines through muddy trails and icy turns. It was a great time! You feel like a kid stomping through the mud, getting dirty with no worries. It wasn’t birding expedition, I didn’t even bring my binoculars, but that didn’t stop me from seeing and hearing them. The hike was quiet except for the pocket of chickadee chirps hear and there. They are such active little birds it’s always hard to get a good look at them, but their call is unmistakeable. While walking down through a more open part of the forest I could hear their chatter and see several of them bouncing among the branches of some pine and on the rocks below it. It look like they were having a good time too, can’t complain when the weather is working with you, right? Farther along on my way, in a slightly denser section of the forest I saw Abert’s Squirrels. They are very interesting critters of the Ponderosa pines, almost exclusively found in Ponderosa forest they have adapted to eat the pines year round, eating seed bearing cones in spring, summer and fall, and feasting on the inner bark of twigs during winter.

I had a great time exploring and learning a little more about the different regions that are at my reach. Learning about a place makes the connection to that place secure and longer lasting. Challenge yourself to learn about your surroundings, not just the birds, but the rocks, plants, trees, mammals and everything in between, will make the experience of walking through your ‘backyard’ much more meaningful.

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EFTA’s 2nd annual America’s Latino Eco Festival

This past weekend, the Environment for the Americas headquarters team in Boulder, CO participated in the 2nd annual America’s Latino Eco Festival.  The festival is one of the world’s first environmental festivals hosted by Latino Americans.  Last year was the first year the festival was put into action, and we were also a part of the pilot year so it was interesting to see the development and changes to the festival from last year to this year.  This year, the festival was hosted at The Dairy Center for the Arts.  The week leading up to the festival was very busy and consumed with finalizing details, logistics, and helping the Art Director, Mary Powell, with art installations throughout The Dairy all week.  Every spare evening was spent towards working with the festival in some sort of way.  Environment for the Americas took on the responsibility of coordinating the education stations during the festival where we coordinated the following tables:

City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks:
The Bird Migration Game and Why Birds Migrate

Mary Powell (Boulder Valley School District, Uni Hill) and America’s Latino Eco Festival Artist, Alfonso Piloto:
Art Station

University of Colorado-Boulder Museum of Natural History
The Power of Pollinators

Environment for the Americas (us!):
Get Banded!
Who am I?-Bird matching game
Turkey Vulture Stomach Acid Experiment
Conservation at Home: How to Conserve Birds Around your Home

I was responsible for the Turkey Vulture Stomach Acid Experiment, and it was really fun!  The CU Museum of Natural History was able to provide us with a mounted Turkey Vulture which was great to have to a life-size mount to show kids.  All the kids, and even parents, really enjoyed learning about the vultures…they are amazing creatures and are a great representation of nature’s ability to have ecosystem workers in a natural way.  Did you know: Turkey Vultures eat dead animals and can smell a rotting carcass miles away!  Their wing span can be up to 6-ft wide and they can live up to 20 years and can be found all throughout the Western Hemisphere.  The point of the experiment was to demonstrate the extremely acidic stomach juices Turkey Vultures have to be able to eat dead and/or diseased carrion without getting sick themselves.  Overall, Turkey Vultures have a stomach acid pH from 0-1 (which is basically as acidic as battery acid!), whereas humans have a stomach acid pH of about 2.  We mixed ground up dried pasta noodles to represent bones, red food dye to be blood, water, and Alka-Seltzer  together and poured it down the Turkey Vulture’s “throat” (a tube attached to a funnel that was inside of a plastic water bottle) to see how it reacted with the “stomach juices” (white vinegar, which as a pH of about 2).  Kids loved to see the Alka-Seltzer react with the vinegar…any gross with kids is always a hit!

This is my last week with Environment for the Americas, so I’ll be highlighting my experience with EFTA in my next blog and in the meanwhile, I will be really busy finishing all the final tasks I need to get done before moving on to my next chapter with CO Parks and Wildlife!

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The week with a good friend!

This week Cara, the intern from Boulder, came down to Alamosa to see what a day in the life of Deisy and Mianna was like. The good thing is she came down during one of our busier weeks. The three of us had the opportunity to go duck banding with an amazing bird biologist. We also had a class from Western College join us in duck banding. We were able learn how the ducks where captured, how to vent a duck, and how to band ducks. During the duck retrieval from the traps in the middle of a pond, I came to the conclusion that I am horrible and balancing myself when I am knee deep in water. I managed to fall four times in the same exact spot. Mianna and Cara simply laughed instead of helping me. What great friends they are, ha:). After a long struggle, Mike came over and helped me finally find my footing. Although walking through water was hard for me, what was even harder that day was venting the ducks. My first try at venting, I got pooped on! I had to walk around the rest of the day with a giant yellow greenish stain on my shirt. We finished off the day by teaching the Western College students how to do macro surveys at the Blanca wetlands. Overall it was an amazing day 🙂 I have such a blast learning new things here. I am going to be sad when I have to go back home to Denver.

The following day, Mianna and I took Cara on a shorebird survey. She was amazed by the large quantities of Wilson’s Phalaropes we had to count that day. There where over 2,000 in one single area! My head was spinning after counting so many birds. After our survey we went home to nap and prepare for our night amphibian survey. As the sun set, we prepared to head out to the field. I was hoping Cara would hear the large multitude of frogs we usually hear out at the wetlands. Unfortunately, the frog were very shy that night. Looks like the amphibian season is over!
I will definitely miss our night surveys, but everything good must come to an end.

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Blanca Wetlands Blitz Pt.I

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The other week I had the awesome opportunity to travel down to the San Luis Valley to shadow the two EFTA interns working at the Blanca Wetlands with the BLM.  What a fun week!  I arrived to Alamosa on a Tuesday evening and spent the night with Deisy at the BLM bunkhouse where herself along with two other BLM seasonals (one is involved with grassland management and the other fire management).  I had not seen Deisy since this past February during the EFTA “Celebrate Shorebirds” training, so it was great to spend the evening catching up with her!

The next morning, Mianna met us at the BLM offices in La Jara so we could all drive together to the Blanca Wetlands (which is about 20 minutes away) to go duck banding!  We met Mike and Rachel, who are private contractors with a wetlands ecological team, who showed us the ropes on their season of duck banding…they band the ducks on the Blanca Wetlands ponds every day over a span of six weeks.  The purpose of the duck banding is to obtain data and knowledge on the Cinnamon Teal populations at the Blanca Wetlands.  Throughout the morning we saw Cinnamon Teals, Green-Winged Teals, Ruddy Duck, Coots, and Mallards.We were to collect ducks from a total of seven ponds and at the end of the day we would band them all together.  The first pond was quite the experience!  We put on our thigh-high waders and stomped through the muck and mud of the pond to reach the duck traps that are placed in the middle of the pond…Desiy demonstrated the correct way to loose balance while trudging through the muck and she fell multiple throughout the day!  Collecting the ducks from the trap was by far my favorite part of the trip.  Once all the ducks were collecting (around 60 total) we brought them all to a central pond where students from Western State met us and helped us in banding the ducks.  We  spent the rest of the afternoon learning how to handle the ducks, venting the ducks (determining the sex), and placing bands on the ducks.  After a long morning and afternoon of collecting and banding ducks, we shifted to another pond to see a mock macro-invertebrate survey demonstrated by Portland and Anjelica (2013 EFTA Blanca Wetlands interns).  After spending a day in the field we ended the day by going around the town of Alamosa to place fliers around to advertise the family event Deisy and Mianna are hosting in a couple of weeks (Good Luck!).

More to come about my Blanca Wetlands Blitz!

Rubber Duck in the Pond

After 44 long hours I now know that my job is such a privilege. I was able to participate in duck banding. I can truly say it was the greatest thing I have done all summer. We got to not only capture the ducks but we were also able to hold them and band them. The bands are for tracking the birds. I thought it would be simple, but venting the duck (determining the sex)  is much harder than I thought. Once the sex of the duck is determined, next is to identify if it is a juvenile or an adult. Both of these are factored into what size of band is used for the duck. The band must be able to grow with the bird and keep it from being restricted. I not only learned about banding but also different methods of holding the squirmy little things. It was a lot of fun and excitement to say the least.

We also had the privilege of having Cara down for some shorebird fun. It was such a great week to have her because not only was she able to help with duck banding but we also did a mock macro-invertebrate survey, shorebird survey, festival planning, and an amphibian survey. All the fun stuff that we do in a summer she was able to get sight of in a weeks time.

My life is starting to pick up pace. I will be a full time student, full time EFTA employee, and a part-time student life employee, as well as a full time event planner until September 13th. I am well aware that I am beyond crazy but the workload gets more exciting with every day that passes.

Life is never complete unless I have a Crazy Deisy May story. Here it goes! I have decided she has no coordination. This week she managed to stretch her legs far enough apart that she lost her balance while trying to shuffle her way through a pond to a duck trap. So, she lost her balance and fell not only once but three times. Her tan pants became a dark shade of gray from the soaking of water and muck. It is definitely apparent that her and I have become beyond close because instead of helping her and risking falling in myself I laughed and waited for her to get up and struggle her way out of it. It may be mean of me, I know, but she was able to finally get enough gusto to get unstuck and dry off somewhat and got back to the job. Love that girl!