A sunset colors the clouds orange over a ditch with lily pads floating on the water.
Sunset over Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge by Jessica Duez

The sun is setting on my internship at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. I will miss this place, but maybe I won’t have to..

This 12 month internship has been an incredible experience. At the beginning of 2022, the visitor center was still not open due to the pandemic. I worked from home, creating social media content and outreach materials. On March 10, 2022, the visitor center opened on a limited schedule (and it has remained open since)! I was able to transition out of working full time at home, and by May, I was in the office full time. Working full time at the refuge was so good for me. I was able to see my supervisor and work with her more closely everyday, and my knowledge and appreciation of the refuge only grew more and more with each day.

In April, Environment for the Americas flew my fellow interns and I out to Texas for the EFTA Intern Workshop. This was my first time traveling to Texas, and my first time meeting everyone. We started the workshop at the Houston Audubon Raptor and Education Center. There, we had lunch and were introduced to one another, then we toured the center. We learned about the work the center does and got to meet the raptors and other critters that call the center home. The next day we visited the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, were we observed bird banding! We all watched as the volunteer bird banding techs banded birds such as ruby-crowned kinglet, Carolina wren, northern parula, and white-eyed vireo. A ruby-throated hummingbird was a pleasant surprise, since most they generally are too small to get caught in the mist-nets. The tech lightly held the hummingbird to each of our palms so we could feel just how fast the heartbeat of this tiny bird is! We spent a lot of time at the beautiful facility at GCBO. We presented on our internships, learned bird identification and how to use field guides and binoculars. We heard from Kathy Sweezy of Lights Out Houston, which was a highlight for me since I have done a fair amount of work with bird-friendly buildings and lights out at my refuge. The next day we traveled to Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. This was such a beautiful refuge, I hope to go back someday. That evening we went for a night hike at Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary and saw Eastern screech-owl. On the final full day in Texas, we started the day with a beach cleanup at Quintana Beach, collected garbage bags full of plastic fragments, rope, and everything in between. That evening was the big World Migratory Bird Day Night Event that we had all been preparing for. It was an evening of activities and educational talks with the public. This workshop inspired me to make birding a more serious hobby of mine! I was sad to leave the new friends I had made, but I am so appreciative of EFTA and my fellow interns for the amazing experience!

The Biggest Week in American Birding

A group of people sitting on a metal open-air tram are ready for a tour of the refuge lead by a man in a brown fish and wildlife outfit standing up and waving at the front of the tram.
Ranger Logan about to lead a tour on the tram during the BIggest Week in American Birding taken by the Friends of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

Once the end of April hit, it was peak season at the refuge. The Black Swamp Bird Observatory’s Biggest Week in American Birding takes place the second week of May each year. BSBO is located just East of the refuge, so birders flock there and surrounding green spaces (such as Ottawa NWR, Howard Marsh Metropark, and Maumee Bay State Park) to get a glimpse at the vibrant spring warblers. The refuge can see up to 1,000 visitors come through the doors of the visitor center each day during the BWIAB! This is such a busy time for the refuge visitor services staff. I was staffing the front desk of the visitor center, answering visitors questions, giving tram tours, driving the truck that pulls the tram, posting social media content, and birding a bit on my off time as well! It is an exciting thing to be apart of!

Bird Friendly Facilities

Birds hit glass for a number of reasons. They see the reflections of the landscape in the glass and think that it is safe, open space to fly into. By painting glass with a near solid design, it eliminates the reflective properties of the glass and reduces bird-window collisions. As part of the bird friendly facility challenge, and with the goal of making all of our buildings bird friendly, I recruited artists to paint the entrance glass of our visitor center. I was thrilled with the variety of art that each artist brought to the outside of the visitor center. I accomplished this by putting out a request on our Facebook page asking for artists to volunteer to paint the glass. In the future when the glass needs repainted, my goal would be to reach out directly to artists in the local community such as the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center in Toledo to strive for inclusivity and urban outreach.

Global Bird Rescue

Global Bird Rescue is an annual citizen science event, created by FLAP Canada, where people around the world get outside to search for and rescue birds that have collided with buildings. I reached out to the Ornithologist at the Toledo Zoo, Jeremy Dominguez, to work together on creating a team of volunteers for the event and organizing the event. We created our team name: Glass City Bird Crew. I made the logo for the team, collected the supplies, and recruited volunteers for the event. The event was seven days long, from October 3 -9. Each morning, from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. volunteers, Jeremy, and I split into groups and searched throughout the buildings of Downtown Toledo for injured or deceased birds. Each group recorded their data, which I later entered into the Global Bird Collision Mapper database. In just seven days, our team found 28 different bird species and one bat species, with 69 total collisions reported. Of the 12 birds rescued, 11 recovered and were released, along with the Eastern red bat! I am so grateful to have been apart of such an important citizen science effort, and am so proud that we were the first team ever to participate in this event in the Toledo area! I hope to continue this effort in the spring of 2023!

Excited For the Future

Though I am nearing the end of my internship here with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I am confident I will continue to work for this incredible agency in the future. Soon, a park ranger position will open at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, and I plan to apply. Regardless of what happens, I am excited for the future, and feel I have the tools and support I need to move in a positive direction towards my desired career path. Thank you Environment for the Americas and the staff at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge for the support and opportunity to grow and discover my passion in conservation!

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