Going South for the Winter

My time in Newport has come to an end, but thanks to Environment for the Americas my adventure in Oregon is still on the horizon. I was invited to work under the auspices of Klamath Bird Observatory to band birds during the Fall migration. Within the world of ornithology, KBBO is a powerhouse of scientific data purposed for the conservation of migratory bird species. Research coming out of the center contributes to understanding the habitat needs of wildlife, resulting in the publication of bird databases, the development of policy suggestions for documents like the upcoming State of the Birds report, the founding of citizen science projects, and the creation of education programs. Knowing their dedication to a higher caliber of science, I’m incredibly happy to be involved with KBBO projects on migratory birds. The Shorebird surveys of the EFTA Internship was a great segue into learning about the biology of birds through field research with KBBO. It is humbling to know that both EFTA and KBBO have confidence in my birding experience and skills to take on the task of catching and banding birds. Packing my bags in Newport was done with much anticipation for what lied ahead.

Bolting from the coast to the land they call “Southern Oregon” was a trip, to say the least; as soon as I passed the Cascades it was hard to believe that I was still in the same state, let alone the same continent. Within thirty minutes the landscape changed drastically. In place of lush temperate rain forests, violently windblown headlands, and the lingering scent of wet mud were conifers sparsely clinging to towering cliff sides, scrub and bush sucking the land dry, and the haze of dust getting flung up by pick-up trucks zipping down highway 97. Coming from D.C., where the humidity stubbornly reminds nature’s conquerors of the swamplands it once derived from, my body craves moisture. In Newport, as wet as it is, I already felt the strain of a dryer climate on my skin, leading me to immediately invest in a bottle of heavy duty moisturizer. Now that I’m in Klamath I realize that I am a wimp–the additional three bottles of Cocoa Butter in my shopping cart last week confirms that I am indeed in a new, much dryer, place and there’s a lot of new things yet to learn and discover about Oregon.

We didn’t spare any time. En route to Klamath Falls my friend and I stopped by Bend, Oregon to hike in Smith Rock State Park. It seemed too easy to not take advantage of. The route between Newport and Klamath practically invited us to take the mountainous detour; we would only be 45 minutes away. The park was epic, with lots of scenic views and trails for all sorts of recreational activities. In one path alone we crossed paths with birders, rock climbers, mountaineers, tourists, photographers, and adrenaline junkies hurling themselves off of the cliff side with a harnessed pulley system. The last of these outdoorist groups kindly dared us to take a leap. Cautiously scanning the drop from Smith Rock to the hiking trails [what seemed like] thousands of feet below, I decided against the impulsive temptation: I had places to go and birds to band.

The destination was a U.S. Fish & Wildlife cabin tucked away in mountainous forest alongside a big lake. I imagine a real estate agent would describe the place as “rustic.” It’s made of all wood, with cute little windows, picnic tables outside in the yard, and a back porch. Inside there is aged furniture to lounge on and an abundance of birding books, everywhere! It’s practically a birder’s dream here. There’s all sorts of cool birds that I’ve never seen before that hang out right outside our windows and all of the resources you can imagine available to you to identify them. On the drive in I already saw six species that were new to me. Little did I know what the next week would bring…

To be continued. Maybe there will be some bird pictures, maybe some videos…I hope the anticipation doesn’t kill you. Tune in soon.

Bird on!

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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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!

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!

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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

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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.

Variable conditions

As my internship comes to a close, I find myself spending [possibly] an obsessive amount of time looking at Field Technician positions.  Strolling through the different list-serves is eye-opening to the assortment of positions out there for biology nerds: a tech to search for dead birds along power lines, a tech to lunge themselves into the depths of underground caves in search of resting bats, a tech to spend two months in an isolated island that is regularly inundated by tsunamis to survey migratory birds (yes, this is a real job). Some of the announcements sound like something out of an episode of Bear Grills, fascinating, but terrifying to imagine yourself doing. One thing is for certain: you must be really passionate about biology if you’re going to withstand 120○F weather for 7 hours on end for the sake of finding one or two rare lizards.

A common theme shared by all of these posts, besides needing to be head-deep in the pursuit of knowledge, is a basic skill: “must be able to withstand variable conditions.” Growing up I watched a lot of Animal Planet and National Geographic. There was a Saturday-morning broadcast where a strapping young man would take the audience on journeys deep into the jungles of Southeast Asia, where he would stealthily creep up behind a grotesquely huge python and mutter information about how easily the beast could strangle him to death. Enthralled, I watched every second at the edge of my seat, fantasizing about the day that I could jet set off to some faraway land to crawl through raggedy bushes in pursuit of neat animals. He made it look so cool, and so ruggedly glamorous.

No field biologist is as elegant as the adventurists you see on TV. Those shows are just that: glamor. I would love to see a show that represented what field work can really look like: walking on a sand dune during 50 mph wind gusts and getting knocked over consistently by dust devils while losing tissue samples of the birds you painstakingly hiked to find to the wind; drinking the salty sweat dripping down your face in the blistering heat of a mosquito-infested lagoon while slowly contemplating exposing your skin to the swaths of hungry insects to walk your transect completely naked for the sake of temporary relief; walking for weeks on end with 50+ pounds stuffed into your backpack to find waterfowl nests, all the while not showering and hoping you don’t get attacked by a bear and praying the worms eating your away at your hand can be killed off with a simple cream; crossing paths with potential murderers as you creep through urban neighborhoods and forests in the middle of the night in search of bats surviving in human-altered habitats. The list of scenarios that I’ve heard of and experienced goes on and on, yet there’s hundreds of people across the country that line up for these jobs. Are we all crazy?

Possibly.

No, we’re all mission-oriented. When you have an idea in mind, that is burned into your very core, you are capable of doing anything to hold true to your values. I’ve met technicians sorting through bird poop who looked up and smiled at me, excited to take the samples back to the lab and see what insects that animal was eating. Her goal was to assess the impact of ornamental plants in urban gardens, invasive species that do not host the same insect community and thus limits the availability of prey for migrating birds. While this sounds all hunky-dory, what’s the point? To borrow from the National Park Service, the mission is to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values…for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” This phrase may not pin on the head for every professional in the life sciences, but the sentiment speaks true to the ideal that Field Technicians are seeking: a way to understand and protect what we have.

Walking down from the lighthouse I realize I must look ridiculous. Standing at 5’2, I stack on at least four layers of clothing to shield as much of my body as possible from the bitter cold wind. This effort ends up making me look like the ice-climber. In fact, my look comes complete with the big poofy rain pants, the round hiking shoes, the hooded bomb jacket, the scarf wrapped around my entire neck and face, and a scope hinged over my shoulder in place of a hammer. Visitors pass me by and always chuckle a little. Putting myself in their shoes, I laugh too, I know very well that my disdain for cold weather inspires a pathetic look in my eyes like the gaze of a sad, lost puppy.

Scanning the parking lot, the fog violently slaps itself on to the paved plateau. I don’t blame it; particles of salt water get torn away from the surface of the Pacific from miles away, tossed together into a wind tunnel, and molded into a massive hand that berates the headland. The tsunami everyone fears has happened at Yaquina Head multiple times in the form of this fogged beast. Once relieved from its savage upbringing, the fog consumes the park, reminding each being–animal, plant, and human–the power of the elements. This is not the kind of day that one would want to be outside. And when I say “one,” I’m talking about me.

Or so I thought. Once upon a time I convinced myself that I could only function in weather above 80 degrees. From working out here, I’ve learned that I am capable of withstanding anything because a little crummy weather is minimal to deal with in comparison to an unsettled conscience. The mission is what counts, an ideal for which many have and will continue to willingly sacrifice their comfort, sanity, and sometimes even pride. Putting my personal preferences aside has given me opportunities beyond my imagination. In only six months, I went from a total newcomer in an unknown land to a kayak guide on local birds, became a seabird observer on an open-ocean boat, got called a scientist by little kids (this occurrence was too cute not to mention), experimented with parasitology, hiked the Cascades for rare plants…the list goes on and on. While to you this may not sound incredible, being able to see the world from multiple perspectives has been the most rewarding learning experience I’ve had thus far. Had I stayed at home, in the comforts of my humid, hot summers, I would still be reeling under the wheels of regret and unsatisfied curiosity. Now there is something that is pointless.

Settling my gaze upon the scene, I chuckle back at the visitors. As variable as the conditions are, it doesn’t prevent me from being excited…I cannot wait to see what awaits me next in my mission to understand and protect nature.

Bird on!