Posts Tagged ‘Student Conservation Association’

My Last Day

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.

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To learn more about the refuge, and about upcoming projects, visit!


SCA Camping

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?

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Never-Ending Paint Fumes

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!IMG_1452 IMG_1455 IMG_1479 IMG_1484 IMG_1470

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!

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