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!

Early Mornings and Late Nights

Between the early morning SWFL (Southwestern Willow Flycatcher) surveys and the night amphibian surveys, my sleep cycle has been completely messed up. Wake up at three a.m….work ’til noon….sleep….work at 7 p.m…..and then get home at 3 a.m…CRAZY!! But completely worth it.

This week I would like to give the “bad luck” award to my dear friend and co-worker, Mianna Maestas. I have come to the conclusion that she does not work well early in the morning or late at night. During our SWFL survey, while we all walked around in dry clothing and shoes, all you could hear was the “squish…squish” sound coming from Mianna. Somehow she managed to get completely wet, even with hip-high waders on. That’s not where her bad luck ended though. During our night amphibian survey, while sitting on the side of the truck, she fell back into the trunk of the truck. No idea how she lost her balance, but it was pretty funny to watch. Excited to see what more will happen to her this week, haha. Much love Mianna 🙂

As my time here in Alamosa slowly comes to an end, my friendship with the amazing people I have meet here continues to grow. I’ll be sad to leave behind three amazing roommates, four hilarious BLM interns/seasonals, and two incredible bosses.

EFTA Retreats to the Mountains

What a busy week it has been!  The EFTA headquarters staff took an office retreat yesterday to Silverthorne, CO (about 1 1/2 hrs from Boulder).  You may be asking: who exactly makes up the EFTA headquarters staff?

[Dr.] Sue Bonfield – Executive Director
Natasha Kerr – Program and Outreach Coordinator
Diane Winters – Customer Service guru
Djavan Nascimento- Digital Art/Media Intern
…and myself!…Cara Ascarrunz- Communications and Intern Liaison

Our retreat location was bea-u-ti-ful!  The mountain home is tucked away behind an aspen grove and is accessible by a long and windy dirt and gravel road.

A beautiful view near the retreat home

A beautiful view near the retreat home

The day consisted of each staff member going over why we work for EFTA, the responsibilities of our position, and how to improve the position in the future.  While we all work in the office together and have an idea of what everyone does daily, it was great to hear everyone talk about EFTA from their own point of view.

Morning work discussions!

Morning work discussions!

For me, I stumbled upon my opportunity with EFTA by chance from seeing an ad on Craigslist and I thought it would be the perfect transition of my biology background to gain experience working in an environmental nonprofit.  …and I am SO happy how it worked out!  I have really enjoyed learning the inner responsibilities of a small, environmental nonprofit.  EFTA has given me so many opportunities since I was hired last October and I am looking forward to the remainder of my internship.

Another favorite and interesting part of the retreat was hearing from Sue the history behind EFTA.  Long story short, EFTA was formalized as a separate nonprofit seven years ago as a way to help manage International Migratory Bird Day.  Sue has really developed EFTA to be a unique and special organization and, of course, I am happy the internship program evolved out of Environment for the Americas or none of us interns would be blogging to you today!  My other supervisor, Natasha, works long distance from California so it was awesome to spend the retreat day with her and hear about all the great international work she is coordinating.  ….(stayed tuned for my hopeful supervisor interviews with Sue and Natasha!)

Lastly, the day concluded with a beautiful hike to Boulder Lake.  While we attempted to stay to a time-limit of hiking for 1hr1/2 and turning back for dinner…we were TOO close to the lake to turn around and I was determined to see it!  Djavan and I (with Natasha close behind) sprinted through the woods on the trail next to the river (sprinted as fast as we could at about 10,000 elevation) to get to the lake.  I am so happy we did, because the view was amazing!

A beautiful view after a long hike and successful retreat day!

A beautiful view after a long hike and successful retreat day!

 

I feel the EFTA office is now rejuvenated to finish the summer!  Stay tuned for more of the fun happening in the EFTA office.

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Summer Goals

As the start of summer officially begins (this Saturday, June 21st!), I am reflecting on the past months of my internship here with Environment for the Americas along with the goals I have for the final stretch of my internship.  The wrap up of our International Migratory Bird Day: Walk in the Wild event is giving us a lot of ideas and inspiration on how to make it even better and bigger for 2015.  Overall, the final numbers are that we had over 300 participants and raised over $1,400 for habitat restoration at Walden Ponds!

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2014 Boulder County, CO International Migratory Bird Day: Walk in the Wild report

Find the full report here: 2014WalkathonBoulderReport

Also, the other in-office intern, Djavan Nascimento, created this awesome video of our event: (Djavan can do anything media/art related!)

Upon the completion of the event, we sent a survey out to participants and there was a lot of interest in EFTA offering some summer Jr. Birder educational programs this summer!  Our first Jr. Birder activity will be next Friday, June 27th at Sawhill Ponds with a nature walk hosted by City of Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks and Americas Latino Eco Festival.  (If you are unfamiliar with Americas Latino Eco Festival…check it out; it is largest Latino themed Environmental Festival in the world: http://americaslatinoecofestival.org/) After the nature hike, I will lead a bird-related activity from our Jr. Birder booklets…I hope we have some kids attend!  There will be a total of 3 activities throughout the summer and I am really excited to get some more hands-on experience in leading activities with children.  Stayed tuned for more updates of my sure-to-be-great summer here in the EFTA office!

Jr. Birder booklet-lots of great activities to do with kids!  (You can find at: http://www.birdday.org/shop?page=shop.product_details&category_id=64&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=696)

Jr. Birder booklet-lots of great activities to do with kids! (You can find at: http://www.birdday.org/shop?page=shop.product_details&category_id=64&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=696)

 

High School and Dolphins :O

This week I had the pleasure of doing a presentation at my high school about Environment for the Americas and what our internship is all about. A lot of the students seemed quite interested in the work we are doing and what EFTA stands for. It was refreshing talking to older students who you can relate to much more than elementary students…since it hasn’t been that long since I was in high school. It was quite nostalgic.

I remember in high school we would have visitors come to our classes and do presentations but the guests where always much older and a little bit hard to relate to. I think that when talking to a student who is in high school, you need to be relatable and engaging so they actually pay attention and ask questions. I tried to make them feel like I understood where they stand and how they feel because, of course, I was a high school student as well. It was pleasure being able to walk around my old campus and see how much it has changed along with how much our native plant garden has grown since we started back in 2007!!! I can’t wait to pay them a visit again.

In addition, Carlos and I went out to Zuma and Long Beach to survey Snowy Plovers. We had no luck in Zuma, BUT we did see a pod of 7 dolphins and 2 sea lions. It was quiet a beautiful day as well.

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Until next time 🙂