Birder's Eye View

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Summer in review

I guess you know it's a good summer when you don't have the time blog about it. But unfortunately the fact that I am now writing about it means that for the most part, it's over. Needless to say, it will be impossible to retell it all in a single post, but I'll do my best to give a short recap of the highlights. 

I mentioned in my last post that most of my summer job consisted of working as a camp counselor, which was an experience in and of itself. Although insanely difficult at first, throughout the summer things got easier as I learned how to work with kids and became more comfortable with my own abilities as a teacher. It was such a great feeling to spend every day outside and watching kids gain a new appreciation for the natural world, even if only in a small way.

Appalachian Blue
But the summer was full of other opportunities to improve my own naturalist skills as well. From periodic bird walks with the experienced staff members, to citizen science projects like butterfly counts, I tried to take advantage of as many of these opportunities as I could. 

Silver Spotted Skipper

Handling the Barn Owl for the first time
One of my favorite jobs was working with the birds of prey at the raptor center. Although cleaning their enclosures wasn't always that much fun, I was able to spend a lot of time handling the trained birds for weekend raptor shows and traveling road shows (TRS's) to educate people on birds and wildlife. I was actually surprised how little people know about birds, but it was a good experience to teach them and I ended up learning a lot, myself. 

Sunrise over the Catalina Mtns
About three-quarters of the way through my internship, I took a week off to travel to AZ for a conference for a scholarship I won earlier this year. It was a pretty big deal -- all-expense paid trip, funding for my last year of school, and the opportunity to network with 80 other student environmental leaders from around the country. Although much of this involved sitting inside conference rooms attending workshops, I spent the early mornings out on the hiking trails.

White-winged Dove
I didn't see a large number of birds, but most of them were new to me, as an Easterner. I was delighted by the abundance of Anna's hummingbirds, white-winged doves, Gila woodpeckers, cactus wrens, and other desert specialties that flourished in the hostile environment.  

Cactus Wren

Gila Woodpecker

Costa's Hummingbird
On one of the last days of the trip, the scholarship foundation took us to the Desert Museum, a 21-acre outdoor natural history museum and botanical garden. Although it was insanely hot (temperatures pushing 110 degrees!), it was also incredibly unique and enjoyable. I only wish we had had more time to explore it! By far, my favorite exhibit was the Hummingbird House, a small aviary literally buzzing with hummingbirds! It was great for photo ops, but also a good look at many of the local specialty species I wasn't able to see in the wild on that trip.

Female Anna's hummer
After a whirlwind tour of southeast AZ, I flew back east to central PA for the final 3 weeks of my internship. If you've never tried to teach a week of summer camp while jet-lagged, believe me: it's not easy! But I got through it, and spent the final weeks working around the center and with the raptors some more, trying to soak up each moment as best I could. 

Holding the Golden Eagle!
By far, my proudest moment of the final week was holding the Golden Eagle. I spent the summer working my way up to each species: the screech owls, the barred owl, the broad-winged hawk, the great-horned owl, the red-tailed hawk, the barn owl. All that was left was the big girl, the mother-of-all-raptors, the Golden.

Weighing in at nearly 12 lbs, standing 3 feet tall, with a 7 foot wingspan and an attitude, I'd been itching to handle this bird all summer. On my last day, the raptor intern (a great friend) asked if I'd like to try. I was game. That is, until I pulled on the glove. As we opened the door, I changed my mind; the bird was shifting around in the cage like a madwoman, ready to hop on my arm.

"I... think I'm good. I don't want to do this," I stammered, sliding into the safety of the back room.

"Are you sure?" She asked, clearly disappointed. I was disappointed in me too, but my heart was racing and I felt almost light-headed. She offered to tire the bird out first, so I agreed.

Quickly and smoothly, the other intern had the raptor up on her arm without a hitch. I agreed to try again. She coached me through it. "Just walk in quickly and present your arm," she said.

The Golden knew exactly what to do; after a little coaxing, she stepped on and I immediately felt the tight grip of her talons and weight of her body. My friend handed me the wooden staff used to keep your arm up under the intense weight.

It's a slightly painful experience with the strain on your arm, but the adrenaline rush distracts you in the moment. I have very rarely ever felt that same tangle of emotions - fear, respect, admiration, awe - towards an animal, but it was pretty special and an amazing way to end my summer.

Sunset on the last day

Labels: , , ,