Working with things that go bump in the night… and day?

Let me start off by saying, what a joy has it been to be out here. There’s already been so many things that I’ve experienced and I’m excited to share them with you all!

My First Muskrat!

In my first week, I joined my mentor, Lamont in guiding a large group of elementary school kids throughout the refuge! It was so much fun to watch him educate the little ones and provide any answers to the questions they’d ask. I was allowed to answer their questions too! I will say, though, some kiddos had some interesting questions. Among all the questions that were asked, the funniest one was if I had ever seen a jackalope before! I enjoyed being a part of that, and watching the kids be in awe and wonder about nature brought me so much joy.
On a side note! I had my first encounter with a muskrat! At first, some of the teachers and I thought it was an actual rat, but we’re glad we got some clarification. Overall, it was a fun experience providing a tour of the refuge, and I hope we’ll be able to do more this summer.

It wasn’t until this last week where I had the most fun.

This past week I was a part of not one but two surveys! I would also like to add that until now, I haven’t done any field work, so this was extremely exciting for me.
My first activity was to escort two people from the Northwestern Bat Hub to set up acoustic monitors around Hanford National Monument! There wasn’t much I could do since I was only accompanying, but I enjoyed watching the ultrasound microphones being set up! I also made sure to ask plenty of questions! I learned that when traveling, bats use water systems, whether filled with water or barren, like highways! These places can consist of rivers and even mountains where water can flow through!

With the help of a GPS, we followed the coordinates to the sites where we needed to set up our monitors. Let me tell you, dear reader, I thought hiking to these sites would be a breeze… until I realized how awful cheatgrass was. That stuff ended up in, out, and around my hiking boots. Not to mention that my poor hiking boots were destroyed on the first day. It serves me right for leaving them in my car. Apparently, that messes up the soles of hiking boots, causing them to peel off—Womp womp. Anyway, they got to work once we made it to our first location. It looked easy to set up, except for the actual detector. That one needed special training to utilize it. Still, it was enlightening to learn how it was used. They also recorded information about the site and their setup through software that the Bat Hub created on a tablet, which I thought was genius. I’ve been repeatedly told how important it is to record information and data in a survey, and I was glad to see that in action.

We left these devices overnight and returned to break them down the day after. This process continued over three days. Setting up and breaking down these monitoring devices was part of the fun, though; the three of us had a lot of fun encounters too. We saw what we believed were elk bones and many elk. We even saw some female elk being chased by a coyote! I learned a multitude of things over that three-day weekend, like the ABCs of fieldwork: Always Be Charging, always carry any backups, and have reliable boots.

Expand to Watch!

That’s Not Even The Best Part…

After a few days, I was invited to join in a burrowing owl survey as part of the Global Owl Project! I was excited beyond words, I even got to meet the person who was behind it all! His name is David Johnson, and he’s been protecting owls almost all his life. For the Past 13 years, he’s made artificial burrows for these cutie pies, and check this out: his burrows alone have birthed over 2,500 burrowing owls! Mind Blowing. It was such a high honor to meet him and to spend the day banding and surveying owls. Did you know that Burrowing Owls are typically diurnal? The only time they’re nocturnal is during their breeding season!

I never thought that I would love owls more than I did that day. Despite the 95 degree weather and the cheatgrass, seeing and holding these owls made it all worth it. Through this experience, I gained a whole new level of respect for field work. Despite how much of a challenge it was and how badly out of hiking shape I was, I genuinely cannot wait to participate in more kinds of field work.

I also want to mention that David was a guest of a podcast that coincidentally, I started listening to. It’s called The Wild, and Chris Morgan is the host of the show. Chris Morgan is a Carnivore Ecologist who I’ve been following for quite a long time, and I’ve become a big fan of his work with bears. Which are my favorite animals. Who knows, maybe with a little bit of networking I’ll be able to work with him too! I really hope so.

Here’s the link to the podcast to those who are interested by the way!

Last but Certainly Not Least!

I finally got to meet our program lead, Stephanie Loredo! We all had a good time together during her site visit. We went on an airboat with my mentor, and it was actually both our first time going on one!

We were looking for places to place signage for breeding western grebe signage… but not without doing some sightseeing and exploring too of course!

It was such an amazing first experience, and I even got to see my first bald eagle, AND a huge nest with two baby eagles! The pure aw that I was in when I saw them. Granted, they considered pests in this region, but I’m definitely not allowing that to take away from the fact of how cool they were to see for the first time. We did lots of birding too!

Stephanie was so sweet and was incredibly reassuring when it came to all the questions I had. It was so much fun getting to know her and the work she does for Environment for the Americas too.

Overall, these last 3 weeks have been full of first experiences and I’ve felt nothing but gratitude. My inner 7 year old self is doing somersaults at all the things I’ve been doing. I can’t wait to do more while I’m here.

Until the next blog!

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