24 May A Day as the Visitor Services Intern at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Complex
The great thing about working as the visitor services intern at Ottawa NWR is the fact that everyday is different. Since returning to the office full time, I have been fully immersed in the experience of working in visitor services. We re-opened the visitor center on March 10th under limited hours. Our volunteers were eager to come back and help man the visitor center front desk, so it has been extremely fun to get to know them and interact with them each week. I often help them open the visitor center and get them settled in for the day. After that, I generally spend some time in my office looking through emails, planning and creating Facebook posts for the day or week ahead, and more recently, coordinating with volunteers and planning events and programs! Somedays I return to the front desk if volunteers are short or if we are busy, and help close at the end of the day.
Our Arbor Day tree planting and tree walk programs were my first events that I fully planned at the refuge (with some help from refuge staff of course). I worked with Refuge Manager Jason Lewis, Visitor Services Specialist, Rebecca Lewis, and Biological Technician Alex Cherpes to determine the species of the trees and a location to plant them. I ultimately decided to plant two native mid-story trees outside of our visitor center, an Eastern Redbud and an Alleghany Serviceberry. On the day of the event, we pre-dug the holes in preparation for the planting. Volunteers helped backfill the holes and mulch. After the trees were planted, we went on a wonderful and educational tree walk through out South Woods lead by Service Forester, Samuel Kaiser, with the Ohio Division of Forestry.
More often lately than ever, I have been coordinating with volunteers to help out at the refuge. Primarily, I am coordinating with volunteers to paint our windows as part of our efforts to make our buildings more bird friendly. I first took to Facebook to post about our interest in volunteers to come paint our glass on the Bob Hines Ranger Station, the window to wildlife, and the visitor center. We had a fantastic response and received many inquiries from the public looking to save birds by painting our windows. My first group of volunteers was a homeschool coop of elementary age kids looking to get outdoors and learn about birds and the threats that birds face – specifically with glass. They participated in the tree walk on Arbor Day that I talked about previously, and afterwards, we walked back through our South Woods to get to the Bob Hines Ranger Station. This ranger station was completed in 2013 in honor of Bob Hines, who was the Duck Stamp Program Coordinator, and first and only United States Fish and Wildlife Service national wildlife artist. This outdoor environmental education classroom aims to connect students to nature through science based education programs, much like Hines’ art has connected people to nature for over 70 years. The kids spent a couple of hours painting the glass with non-toxic tempera paint, and had a blast! It did get a bit messy, but luckily, tempera paint is washable and very easy to clean up! They had a picnic lunch in the ranger station after painting, where we talked about birds and nature. Arbor Day was a fun packed day!
I have had several talented artists work on painting the glass of the visitor center over the past couple of weeks. I am thrilled with the work they have done and love seeing the variety of painting styles each artist has! Each artist that picks up a brush is helping us get closer to saving birds from hitting our glass, and we couldn’t be more thankful. And so are the birds!
I also get to go out into the field on occasion and help other interns and refuge staff with a variety of projects like spraying for invasive plant species control. I have been so fortunate to get the opportunity to learn about the work that is happening at Ottawa NWR, but also with other members of the USFWS. Tomorrow, May 17th, myself and other refuge interns, will be traveling to Kelleys Island in Lake Erie to help USFWS, Fish and Wildlife Biology, Jennifer Finfera with Lakeside daisy monitoring. I have also been connected with a volunteer with Black Swamp Bird Observatory to help with bird banding at Navarre Marsh before the end of May. These opportunities help me gain experience, as well as the chance to network with individuals in the field. I also get out into the field once a month from May – July to do the Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program frog and toad surveys at Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge for Birds Canada!
This year was the first year since 2019 that the Biggest Week in American Birding was held in Northwest Ohio. From May 6-15th, thousands of people flocked to this area on the western basin of Lake Erie to watch the marvels of spring bird migration. These last 10 days were a whirlwind of visitors, tours, and events. I drove tram tours through the refuge on several occasions, lead a bus tour through our wildlife drive, and assisted with a bird walk through the South Woods. I manned the front desk of the visitor center on a few occasions as well. We hit over 1,000 visitors in just one day during the Biggest Week! The weekend of May 14th and 15th, we had an outdoor event including stations with crafts and activities. My station had World Migratory Bird Day crafts, including bird constellation shrinky dinks (that the kids loved to watch shrink in the toaster oven), bird mask decorating, bird shadow puppet decorating, and button making! I also took the opportunity after work one evening to join refuge interns Trevor Zook and Phoebe Jackson to go birding. We saw a yellow-headed blackbird, a black-crowned night, and a black-necked stilt at Howard Marsh. Next, we went to the refuge’s very own estuary trail and saw a Kirtland’s warbler, prothonotary warbler, Swainson’s thrush, northern waterthrush, scarlet tanager, willow flycatcher, and so much more. It was so exciting to be apart of such an incredible festival.
I love how everyday is something new and exciting as the Visitor Services Intern with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Complex, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this 12 month internship has in store for me!