Today marks the end of my CDIP internship at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. Hmm, bit of a dramatic opening sentence. I loved working at the refuge this summer, and it’s definitely been my favorite summer through the SCA program so far. Just today I saw two birds I’ve never seen before (Black-Crowned Night Heron and Forster’s Tern)–where else could I have an experience like this? I can’t wait to head up to school this Sunday and brag to my friends about my awesome summer, and push them into applying for this internship at refuges across the country. This past week or so has kind of been a wrap up of the projects I’ve been working on this summer. The sign painting is finally finished! In total, I repainted 10 life size signs of birds and turtles seen on the refuge, with the help of volunteers. These signs include the bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, osprey, Canada goose, kingfisher, barn swallow, double crested cormorant, Forster’s tern, great blue heron, snapping turtle, red bellied turtle, musk turtle. painted turtle, and the red eared slider. I’m so glad that I got to do this project, partly because it was an art project, and partly because it’s something that will help visitors see and understand what they are looking at when they visit the refuge. It’s all a learning experience, and I’m happy to be a part of that. Those signs will hopefully go back up on the boardwalk soon, and I can’t wait until I get to visit the refuge again and see the paintings back up on the boardwalk.
For me personally, this summer has been an eye opener as to all of the things I can do in conservation and environmental science. Rather than help me narrow down what I want to concentrate in, my options instead have blown up; I’ve yet to find a project on this refuge that I didn’t enjoy. I loved to work with the summer camps, although the kids drove me (and everyone else) a little crazy at times. There’s always been a great project going on with maintenance, whether it’s painting the signs or spreading grass seed. I got to work with the biology intern Megan this week in collecting wild rice seeds from the plants and spreading them around the refuge, both to provide more food for birds and combat the phragmites and purple loose strife populations. That was an awesome field experience to have, although I was up to my knees in mud most of the time (hip waders kept me pretty clean, luckily). These kinds of projects are what make the John Heinz NWR such a great place to visit. There’s always a project going on, always someone to tell you about the new bird species flying over the Impoundment, or a turtle making its way across the trail. John Heinz is the kind of place I want to work at for my career one day, whatever that ends up being.
To learn more about the refuge, and about upcoming projects, visit www.fws.gov/heinz!
This week, I was able to go on a 3 day camping trip with the John Heinz Refuge SCA crew. At the end of every summer program, the Student Conservation Association crews go on a camping trip to celebrate the end of the program, and have a bit of fun. Frankie, Jenelle, and I went with Chuck’s crew to Hickory Run State Park, a beautiful camping spot in White Haven, Pennsylvania. After helping the crew finish up preparations for their final presentation, we headed off to camp, where the weather was nearly perfect for us. We spent the first day setting up camp, and it was a fierce competition between the boys and girls to see who could set up all of their tents faster–we won, then went over to help them set up their last tent. After that, we ran over to the field near our camp, where we played wiffle ball and in the playground. It was back to camp after that to cook dinner and start a fire for s’mores. Everyone called it an early night and turned in after that.
The next day, we went on a hike on the Shades of Death trail–promising name, right? It was actually a really nice trail. It ran next to the creek most of the time, but had very tricky footing in some parts, due to tree roots and erosion. We saw a man-made waterfall/dam, and hiked across an area filled with rocks. The kids enjoyed the hike; they also enjoyed jumping out and scaring us. After the hike, we went swimming in the lake, then back to the playground for more time on the swings. We stayed out there until dark, and watched all of the bats fly around. I’m not sure what kind of bats they were, but there were dozens, flying over our heads and from one side of the clearing to another.
The weather decided to not like us on the last day (chilly and rainy) so we packed up pretty early and came home. Now, I’m back at the refuge, to help out with the SCA crews’ graduation and work on more painting. Why is the summer already almost done?
Of the three camps we’ve run this summer, this last one has definitely been the most challenging. We planned on this camp being composed of 12-14 year old kids; instead, we had twelve 10-15 year old kids, which made it a bit challenging to do all of our activities, because we were counting on having all older kids. It worked out pretty well though. The games and walks we did all had some sort of focus on careers in the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, from biology to maintenance, and management to law enforcement. On day 1, the kids were mini wildlife biologists. They gathered samples of microscopic life from the small boardwalk on the Impoundment, and learned to prepare their own sample slides to view under microscopes. Day 2 was our usual recycling day, with the Object Scavenger Hunt and Recycle Relay. The kids enjoyed the games, but you could tell the older kids wanted more of a challenge. Day 3 was just a huge walking day. We took the kids out with binoculars, and from 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon, we walked around the refuge. We walked about 2 miles round trip, and the kids saw some pretty awesome sights, such as the Great Blue Herons and White Egrets fishing right next to each other. It was a long walk, and it tired the group out (me included), but they enjoyed getting to see so much of the refuge. We had nice weather all week, thanks to the end of the heat wave, but it rained all day on Thursday, the last day of camp. Day 4 was just going to be en environmental game day, but we planned all of our games to be done outdoors. It was a challenge to adapt our schedule and activities into being all indoors, but it worked out. We started the day off playing our own version of the card game Slap Jack, using a deck of cards decorated with different USFWS careers. We read off a description of a career option, then flipped over the cards one at a time. The kids had to smack the card they thought matched the career we described, and earned a point for every right answer. Each kid also received their own deck of cards, so they can play this game at home. After that, the kid worked on their nature journals. The journals were composed of drawings and short paragraphs about their favorite parts of camp. The final activity was an obstacle course about the life cycle of semelparous fish (fish that only breed once in their lifetime, then die). The game is called Hooks and Ladders, and allowed each kid to be an American Shad, trying to get from their freshwater river to the ocean, where they lived for four years, then returning back to the river for spawning. Obstacles included getting under a limbo pole (ie., our broom), getting past predatory animals (two campers), a fisherman (another camper), up the fish ladder of the river (hula hoops), and over a waterfall (a scarf tied to two chairs at knee height). We did this course indoors, using the hallway and a classroom, and it worked pretty well. The kids were full of energy, so they just enjoyed the fact that they could run around, but they learned a lot from the activity. I questioned them afterwards about different parts of the fish’s life cycle, and they answered everything.
a huge snapping turtle the St. Joe’s University group showed us
object scavenger hunt
The biggest event this week was another teacher training conference, this time at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education–conveniently located in Philadelphia. The other interns and myself attended the conference, and it was their first time at the Center. I’ve been there a lot over the years, because I participated in the Philadelphia Envirothon, a high school competition about environmental science. It was pretty awesome to see the Center again, especially with all of the changes they have made. The visitor center has been expanded, with a new exhibit all about rainfall. There is also a new sculpture of slides, which capture rainfall and allow it to filter into a rain garden located just below it. This training event focused on how to bring environmental science into the classroom. We went over lesson plans that could be used, such as creating nature journals and conducting observations. Our favorite part of the conference was the outdoor classroom that the Schuylkill Center has. The classroom is a section of the forest enclosed in deer fencing, which delineates the classroom’s boundaries, but allows visitors to still see the overall forest. There is an actual door set into the deer fencing, with a doormat and everything, so that when you step into the classroom, it feels as though you really are going into someone’s home. The goal of the classroom is to impress upon visitors that the forest is a safe place, an open place, and it deserves to be respected just like your own home.
a cool water snake we saw on a walk
And I thought the 6-8 year old kids tired me out– I was wrong! This week we had a second summer camp session, this time for 9-11 year old children. This group had an overwhelming amount of boys compared to girls, and every single kid had an endless amount of energy. We used more or less the same activities for this camp as we did the last one, but we made them a little bit more challenging. There were days when I thought we hadn’t made them challenging enough, since the kids were having such an easy time of it. I don’t think I’ve ever met a group of kids who knew so much about the environment at that age. They knew all about composting and recycling and different kinds of energy; I even heard a few kids talk about different methods of bird banding! Day 1 was spent as an introduction day, so the kids could learn about the refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We did the puzzle activity again, this time with the pieces upside down, so they wouldn’t know which one they were choosing. We also took them on a long hike around the refuge. We had our recycle scavenger hunt on Day 2, which the kids treated as a serious competition. Our recycling relay game that afternoon was a big hit, since these kids were so competitive. They wanted to keep playing the game, so we started making it more and more challenging. The kids had to get their recyclable materials or trash to the right bin while completing various tasks: jumping on one foot the entire way, running backwards, crab walking, even a three-legged race. Day 3 was our bird day again, and the kids had a rare sight as soon as we walked out the doors–a fully mature bald eagle flying directly overhead! We have a nesting pair on the refuge, and this one decided to give the camp kids a treat while he/she went hunting. I think the birds all wanted to show off that day. We had a Great Blue Heron and a White Egret fishing in the Impoundment about 10 feet from each other, and in perfect view of the kids. They were able to compare the birds’ wingspans and sizes, and figure out how the birds were standing in the water. Day 4 was Parent day, and the hottest day we’d had so far in camp. We tired the kids out in the morning by taking them outside to play various environment-related games. We had a couple of games that simulated wildlife survival and hunting, but the kids were still full of energy after them. So, it turned into a giant game of tag until we took them inside for their presentation. We showed a PowerPoint of the week, gave out the kids’ certificates, and worked on some take-home arts and crafts.
This week, the interns of the refuge (me, Jenelle, and Frankie) were able to attend an Estuaries Education conference. The 3 day event is a professional development opportunity for teachers to learn more about the environment and the key roles estuaries play, focusing on the Delaware Estuary. We used the conference as a resource to learn new ways we can run our summer camps at the refuge. Day 1 was spent in Salem, New Jersey, at PSEG’s Energy and Environmental Resource Center. We had several lectures about various kinds of energy, such as nuclear, wind, and coal. We also had a lecture about the estuary and its structure, and we had a special lecture about oysters, in which we were able to open them up and examine the insides. Days 2 and 3 were spent in Delaware, learning about anything and everything relating to estuaries. We learned about horseshoe crabs, wind energy, invasive species, estuary enhancement, and oil spill clean up. It of course decided to rain our entire trip, but we still managed to do all of our activities. We went on a tour of an emergency oil spill clean up boat, where we talked firsthand to the operators of the ship. We also went onto the beach–in an absolute downpour–with two University of Delaware grad students, who showed us how to seine the water, and identify what we found. As we walked along the beach, I saw my very first horseshoe crab! It was a male, flipped over in the surf. We were able to examine him, then set him free in the water. We caught a bunch of stuff in the net, as well. There were at least 10 blue crabs, one of which was wrapped up in fishing line. Someone had a pair of scissors, so we were able to cut it loose. There was also a bunch of mummichogs (a little fish), and a big flounder. It was crazy; the net was only walked out about 10 feet from the shore–if that–yet we were able to see so much.
a horseshoe crab shell on the beach
pseg visitor center
The last week has been mostly indoors, partly because of the weather, and partly because of the project I’ve been working on. The refuge has a boardwalk stretching over the Impoundment, with a series of paintings of birds and turtles known to be seen around there. The paintings are a few years old, and extremely faded from the rain and heat. So, over the last week I have been repainting the signs. It’s slow going– even with Jenelle and another volunteer painting as well, only two are fully completed, and another two are half completed. The paintings look so much better for it though; just sanding down the wood made them look newer, and the touched up colors make the birds almost look real. I think it’s kind of funny that I get to do this project. I wanted to be an artist when I was younger, and I still draw and make stuff in my free time. Once I decided to pursue environmental science as a career though, I told myself that I would figure out a way to do art in my job, whether it was just for my own amusement or for the field I ended up working in. I thought this would be years down the road, when I had more control over my work. Instead, I get to fulfill that promise–which I made around age 14–right now, in an internship, because the refuge staff saw it was a project I would really enjoy doing, and they thought I could do a good job with it. So, thank you, John Heinz staff!!!
This past week was also the start of the Student Conservation Association community crew program for Philadelphia high school students. About 50 students came to the refuge for training on Monday and Tuesday, so that they could finish paperwork and get an idea of the work they would be doing this summer. On Tuesday, the refuge staff had to talk to the students, so that they could learn more about the refuge and the kinds of careers that could be available to them. This meant I had to talk as well, since I am an alumni of the community program and still a part of SCA for this internship. The funniest part of the day was introducing the students to the Teddy Roosevelt mascot of John Heinz refuge. Every year, someone has to dress up in the bear costume for the SCA event, and this year an alumni did it. The students thought it was pretty funny, especially when Mariana revealed who was in the costume. Ha ha!