Archive for June, 2013

Summer Camp!

This week has been the most tiring so far, but also the most satisfying. Every day, about twenty 6-8 year old children have been coming to the refuge for summer camp. I’ve never seen kids with so much energy! Wide awake at 8 a.m., they ran around the entire visitor center, exploring, playing games, and continually hitting the buttons to light up our migration flyway map (they loved the colors). We spent the first day introducing the kids to the refuge and to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The first activity was the giant floor puzzle I talked about in my last blog post, which was a big hit with the kids. I think they liked that it was such a big puzzle, and so colorful; they could run around and work together to make a really big, pretty picture. Then, we went on a long walk on one of the trails, so the kids could observe wildlife. They saw turtles, fish, tadpoles, ducks, and an osprey. They all enjoyed taking turns using the big binoculars on the boardwalk. By lunchtime, the kids were all dragging their feet, but they perked right back up once they saw the snacks and juice we had set up.

On Tuesday, we were without power for most of the morning, due to the huge thunderstorm we had Monday night. It didn’t stop the kids though; they were still here bright and early, this time to do a scavenger hunt around the visitor center. The building is made from various recycled materials, such as rubber tires, plastic bottles, and wood chips, and we have a small sample of each kind of material. Each group received a sample, then ran around the building to find where that sample was used, and answer questions about it. The kids were really excited that they could find everything themselves, rather than just be told what the material was. Afterwards, Erika and Frankie introduced the kids to solar energy, first by showing them the solar exhibit we have on display. Then, the kids set up pizza box solar ovens with different materials inside, to see which material had the most heat. The day ended with the kids learning how to use a solar bag. It was more or less a giant black trash bag, which we filled up with air by having the kids run around holding the bag open. Then, we tied the bag closed and it actually floated! The kids thought it was the coolest thing ever, and were so excited.

Wednesday was focused on birds, particularly those seen at the refuge. The morning was spent teaching the kids how to identify some common species using the exhibits in the visitor center. Then, we went into the classroom and practiced using binoculars. Pictures of birds were taped around the room for the kids to find, and at different heights and distances so they could learn how to adjust their focus. After lunch, we took the group outside for a bird walk and to play Migration Headache. I worked with Frankie on the game, which is basically a bird version of Mother May I. The kids asked me (the mother) if they could move forward, and if I said yes, Frankie read off a card of some bird-related activity that the kids had to act out. Everything was related to migration, with some activities allowing the kids to migrate successfully, and some that resulted in the kids “dying.”

The final day of camp, Thursday, was a celebration of the week. The morning was spent on a service project, where the kids pulled weeds in front of the visitor center. They also decorated a giant version of the USFWS logo with their favorite activity of the week. Then, the parents arrived, and we presented a slide show of photos from the week. Each kid received a certificate for finishing the camp, as well as a patch from the refuge. To finish off the week, we made hummingbird feeders, bee bundles, and bird feeders for the kids to take home. When it came time to leave, all of the kids asked if they could stay, and several came up to me and asked if they’d see me again here. It was so sweet, and they promised to come visit with their families. Hopefully, this camp will have resulted in some new dedicated visitors to the refuge.

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Arts ‘N’ Crafts

This past week has been spent preparing for the refuge’s summer camps, starting next week. Starting tomorrow, twenty 6-8 year olds will arrive at the refuge for a week a fun-filled activities. This will include nature walks, crafts, scavenger hunts, games and much more. I spent most of the week with another intern, Jenelle, in creating the giant floor puzzle for our first activity. The puzzle centers around the USFWS logo, with each puzzle piece representing an activity the refuge does or doesn’t allow. We cut out every single piece and decorated them ourselves, and it took us forever, it seemed. We also made a giant version of the logo for the kids to decorate at the end of the week, with student employee Frankie. The refuge wants to hold onto our crafts for future use at the refuge, which is pretty awesome.

After work on Friday, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. with the Student Conservation Association, to participate in a clean up day. The event was in celebration of SCA’s 56th anniversary, and involved different conservation activities, including weeding and painting. Afterward, a park ranger took my group around some of the monuments for a brief tour.

All in all, a pretty good week. Next week’s post will be much longer, hopefully with more photos as well!IMG_1377

Pollinator Week!

Today marks the beginning of Pollinator Week, a celebration of local pollinators. I had the opportunity to write a blog post about Pollinator Week and how the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum will be celebrating, and it was posted on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region blog! Here’s the link, I hope you guys enjoy it!

Rain, Rain, Go Away

The weather this week has been fairly crazy. We’ve gone from sunny 90 degree weather, to torrential thunderstorms, and back again. As a result, not a lot of outdoor work could be accomplished. I’ve spent most of the week indoors doing inventory for the Maintenance department of the John Heinz. New supplies need to be ordered, but records have not been kept for some supplies, which is where I came in. On Monday, I recorded and tallied 80 different signs used around the refuge, while watching the rain pour down just outside the garage. And over the last two days, I’ve recorded all of the different chemicals the refuge uses (spray paint, cleaners, gasoline, etc.). All of that was written on paper, which I then copied in Excel, so that all refuge staff can see it. Exciting stuff, right? Ha ha  I still managed to have some fun outside, though. I spent a couple hours with another refuge intern, Jenelle, removing Stinging Nettle from one of the trails. I also managed to bump into the Nettles multiple times, of course, and was very itchy for a while. I helped plant an American Holly bush right outside the refuge, with Mike, Tom, and Brenda Lee. They let me use a Weed Wacker to clear out most of the weeds in the plot; then, we planted the bush and covered the area with tons of mulch. Hopefully, the bush will adjust well to its new home!

In addition to Maintenance work, I also spent a day with Brenda Lee, the park biologist, and conducted a bird survey. We went around the entire refuge, tallying the different waterfowl and shorebirds we saw on the Impoundment, the marshes, and Darby Creek. Ducks and geese were prevalent in large numbers pretty much everywhere. We also found 3 double-crested cormorants and several Great Blue Herons. The Herons were pretty awesome, and are the ones I managed to find the most.

For the next two weeks, I’ll be working with the Environmental Education/Visitor Services staff, in planning and running a summer day camp for 6-8 year olds. It’ll be two weeks of nature hikes, arts and crafts, and activities so that the kids can earn a patch from John Heinz NWR–can’t wait!

photo credit: Fish and Wildlife Service


an eastern box turtle we found on the trail


an eastern box turtle we found on the trail, with Tom

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the American Holly bush we planted

Week One

Today ends the first week of my internship, luckily with no injuries (knock on wood). Philadelphia’s getting some rain from the tropical storm coming up the coast, so I’m inside in my awesome cubicle working on this blog. It’s been a great week so far. I’ve gone on tours of the refuge with each employee, who covered different topics. Gary, the Refuge Manager, taught me some basic wildlife identification, mostly songbirds and tree species. I’m still working on remembering everything he identified, but it’s progress. We saw a blue-phase snow goose, the first that Gary has ever seen on the refuge. The blue-phase snow goose used to be considered a different species from the traditional white-feathered snow goose, but is now regarded as merely a different color morph. Tom and Mike, affectionately called “the boys” by the staff, showed me around the different projects going on in the refuge in maintenance. There’s a lot of cleaning up that needs to be done, which we’ll be tackling throughout the summer. The wildlife biologist, Brenda Lee, pointed out the different invasive species all over the refuge, particularly Phragmites and Japanese Knotweed. We’re hoping to get some of it under control throughout the summer.

I got to take part in a few different projects this week. The first was in Visitor Services, starting off with some visiting Drexel University students. The class came to the refuge to do an identification scavenger hunt, and I worked with a few of the groups in identifying turtles and other animals. The students were really interested in exploring the refuge, but they were on a time limit, unfortunately. I also got to work with a class of 50 first grade students in the refuge’s Pollinator Garden. Their teacher, Chuck, was my Student Conservation Association (SCA) crew leader last year, so it was a blast to work with him again. Back in 2010, he, the Friends of John Heinz, and the refuge worked together to build this garden, and his class has been taking care of it ever since. Those kids were amazing. Their project was to pull weeds and mulch the beds, and they treated it as if it were the greatest project ever. Some of those kids had never even been outdoors in nature before, yet here they were, discovering bugs and taking care of those plants like it was an adventure. I loved working with them and hearing what they thought of the project. We took the kids on a nature walk after the garden was finished, and I had a few of them grouped around me wanting to hold my hand. I never met those students before that day, yet they completely trusted me and wanted to tell me about their lives as we walked. I hope that they continue to come out to the refuge, both with their class and their families, and continue to have an interest in nature.

On the maintenance side of the refuge, we completed a project of our own. The refuge’s dike was built up and restored, which resulted in a lot of the grass dying and needing to be replaced. I worked with Mike, Tom, and Brenda Lee to spread new soil over the areas needing to be regrown, and spreading grass seed. Because of the impending storm, we also covered the ground in mats of straw, to keep the soil and seeds from washing away. A few visitors stopped to ask what we were doing, and I got to explain the project to them. They told me we were doing a great job, and they were grateful that we were working so hard, which was pretty nice to hear.

In between projects, I got to explore the refuge and see some wildlife. John Heinz has a pair of nesting bald eagles, who this year had two babies. The eaglets are full grown now, and will be taking their first flights soon. Telescopes were set up so that visitors could see the eaglets, and I was able to see them a few times. I don’t think I’ve ever seen eagles before coming to the refuge this summer, so I’m really glad I got such a good view. Groundhogs, snapping turtles, and goose families like to travel the trails, so I’ve gotten some good views of them. The best moment of the week was coming to work Wednesday morning, where I was stopped by a group of turkeys. The turkeys were gathered around the doors of the refuge, staring at themselves in the glass. I couldn’t get into the building until they moved, which they took their good old time in doing, silly birds. It was pretty awesome being so close to them, though. I was about five feet away before they noticed me, and even then they mostly ignored me.

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Orientation, Camping Style

great places to sleep!

great places to sleep!

Okay, so orientation at a summer camp? Best idea, ever! For any (hopefully) future followers of my blog who don’t know, I just started my summer internship as a Career Discovery Intern with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Student Conservation Association. The program places students into intern positions at National Wildlife Refuges across the country, so that they can learn more about working in the USFWS in Biologist or Visitor Services positions. Region 5 of the country (basically, the upper northeast of the U.S.) had our orientation at the Forrestel Summer Camp in Medina, New York. It is a family owned camp that is largely used as a girls’ horseback-riding camp, but they allowed us to camp there for the week, and it was honestly the best camp I have ever stayed in. We lived in platform tents, right next to the horse paddock, where we could hear the horses run around at night. The food was amazing, as all of the hungry teenage interns will attest to–and most of the adults, too. We were a short drive from the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, and traveled there every day for training. There were lots of long lectures and presentations, but they were full of important information, and the mentors did their best to make training fun. In addition to the lectures, we also got to have a field bio training day, where we planted over a hundred trees in a 4-acre clearing, so that it will grow to become part of the forest again. It was a hot, muggy day, but you could see how much better the clearing looked after planting. I hope to come back at some point and see how the trees are doing. In addition to training, each intern was also paired with a mentor, an adult in the USFWS field who can guide us and help us through issues along with our supervisors. My mentor’s name is Kofi, a wonderful fisheries guru and overall great man. Kofi has traveled everywhere it seems, from Florida to Philadelphia (where I live) to Ithaca (where I go to school) and so much more. He worked with myself and his other mentees on a Challenge Project during the week about Marcellus Shale drilling, and he was such a great leader. He guided us to our decisions about the issue without interfering, and gave us useful information whenever we needed it. The final activity of the week was a trip up to Niagara Falls! Most of us had never seen the Falls before, so it was a great time. I took as many photos as I could, and attempted to use the Panorama setting on my camera to capture the entire Falls–it wasn’t as successful as I could have hoped. My orientation ended with a 6 hour drive back to Philadelphia with my supervisor, Mariana. We talked so much throughout the trip, I didn’t even notice the time pass! Mariana is such a great person and a great supervisor. She answered all of my questions–which is saying something, seeing as I never run out of questions. I already know that this is going to be an amazing summer, and I can’t wait to write my next post about the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge!

awesome trip! Niagara FallsNiagara FallsUniforms!!Horses! IMG_1254 IMG_1154 IMG_1159