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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Spotted! A Coyote and Badger Hunting Together

Recent sightings of a coyote and badger on the prairie surrounding the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center brought attention to a fascinating example of partnership. 

Coyotes and badgers are known to hunt together and can even be more successful hunting prairie dogs and ground-squirrels when they work in tandem.  

Coyote and badger at Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center. Kimberly Fraser, USFWS 

Studies have shown that this unusual relationship is beneficial for both species. The coyote can chase down prey if it runs and the badger can dig after prey if it heads underground into its burrow systems. 

Coyote and badger at Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center.

Each partner in this unlikely duo brings a skill the other one lacks. Together they are both faster and better diggers than the burrowing rodents they hunt.

These partnerships tend to emerge during the warmer months. In the winter, the badger can dig up hibernating prey as it sleeps in its burrow. It has no need for the fleet-footed coyote.

Coyote and badger at Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center. Kimberly Fraser, USFWS

Coyotes and badgers have a sort of open relationship. They will sometimes hunt together; but they also often hunt on their own.
Coyote and badger at Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center. Kimberly Fraser, USFWS

Each species is a treat to see, but together is even more fascinating and special!

El Dia de los Muertos Celebration Connects Kids to Culture and Monarch Conservation

Miracle Monarch Migration in Southern California

El Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated each November across Mexico and the United States in remembrance of loved ones who have passed away and to celebrate the annual return of their spirits to Earth. During this same time of year, one of the world’s most recognizable species - the monarch butterfly - takes a 3,000 mile journey from Canada and the United States to the central highlands of Mexico.  Some monarch butterflies migrate west of the Rocky Mountains to coastal California to spend the winter. 

Monarch butterfly crafts

In some Hispanic cultures, these miracle migrations represent the souls of ancestors on their spiritual journey. 

Monarch butterflies that overwinter along California’s central coast serve as iconic reminders of El Dia de los Muertos tradition for Hispanic communities within the region. This year, Curren School in Oxnard, Calif., a coastal town in Ventura County north of Los Angeles, partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to host El Dia de los Muertos Monarch Butterfly Festival to celebrate the migration of the monarch butterfly and to educate the public about the risks facing the iconic species.

Celebrating and Learning About the Monarch
Kelly Castillo, Principal of Curren School, which teaches more than 1,100 students from kindergarten through eighth grade, says the school is a model for enriching youth in urbanized areas through environmental studies. “The monarch butterfly migration has been a huge point of conversation. Most of our students have heritage in Mexico, so for them to know about the four to five generations it takes for a butterfly to migrate to Mexico back - it really connects with them,” Castillo said. 

Throughout the day-long festival, students, teachers, families, and members of the Oxnard community celebrated El Dia de los Muertos and the monarch butterfly through a school-wide parade, music, arts and craft activities about monarch biology, native pollinators and plants, and educational stations about the monarch butterfly life cycle and migration. Children also created an ancestor’s tree by writing the names of loved ones lost on the wings of paper butterflies. 

A Dia de los Muertos Monarch Butterfly Festival volunteer showcases the Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly activity for kidsA Dia de los Muertos Monarch Butterfly Festival volunteer showcases the Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly activity for kids. Photo by Pamela Bierce/USFWS.

Service fish and wildlife biologist Lara Drizd worked with teachers to develop the festival’s activity stations. “It’s incredible to be able to connect with that many students at once,” Drizd said of the 1,100 plus students who participated. “Monarchs are a gateway to experiencing the outdoors. Between serving as ambassadors for the Schoolyard Habitat program and the monarch festival, these students are building the foundation for a lifelong enthusiasm for the outdoors.” 

Planting a Future for Monarchs 
In the spring of 2015, Curren School teachers and students worked with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists to design and develop a native pollinator garden funded by the Schoolyard Habitat Program to replace a grass lawn on the school’s property. The garden is filled with drought-tolerant plants, which require less watering than the grass lawn, and also serve as an outdoor classroom to learn about the monarch butterfly life cycle and other pollinators. 

“We all worked hard on these plants,” said fourth-grader Nicholas Escamilla, as he peered at a chrysalis hanging from the stem of a native milkweed plant in his school’s native pollinator garden. “Monarchs have a really cool life cycle and they have beautiful wings.”

This fall, after an overnight soaking from much-needed rainfall on the eve of El Dia de los Muertos, the garden flourishes. Nicholas and a few of his fourth and fifth grade peers delicately pointed out several caterpillars and a chrysalis as they proudly showed off their garden and its inhabitants to festival visitors.

Bernice Curren students examine one of their narrow-leaved milkweed plants in their Schoolyard HabitatBernice Curren students examine one of their narrow-leaved milkweed plants in their Schoolyard Habitat. Photo by Ashley Spratt, USFWS

Service biologist Michael Glenn said the native pollinator garden coupled with the fact that many students have family connections to parts of Mexico where the monarch butterflies overwinter, served as the inspiration to host the El Dia de los Muertos Monarch Butterfly Festival at Curren School. 

“Over the year as we were working on planting the native Schoolyard Habitat and learning about monarchs, the students shared with me stories of El Dia de los Muertos told by their grandmother or grandfather, or their mom and dad. They were beautiful stories,” Glenn said. “In talking with the kids and their teachers, we decided as a group to hold an El Dia de los Muertos event at the school to educate students, their families, and the community, about the threats facing the species, and how people can help support monarch butterflies by planting native milkweed and nectar plants in our own backyards.”

Principal Castillo looks forward to continuing the El Dia de los Muertos Monarch Butterfly Festival tradition in coming years, and hopes to continue to spark dialogue about the cultural and social aspects of environmental studies with students who come through the hallways of Curren School. “The students are committed to ensuring that they are doing their part to help the monarch butterfly and the environment it depends on for survival.” 

Photos and videos from event: https://flic.kr/s/aHskMrY74G

-- by Ashley Spratt, Public Affairs Officer

How to Keep Fish from Flopping

Fish are always on the move -- to find food, mates, safety, etc. -- and running into barriers can be more than simply inconvenient. Delays in their travel can result in not eating, freezing, overheating, or missing their shot at spawning.

It quickly becomes a matter of survival for many species.

What's Making Travel Dangerous for Fish?

Unremarkable and invisible to most of us, round culverts (big metal pipes that carry streams through roads when there’s no bridge) are common barriers.

We drive over culverts every day without even knowing. There are literally hundreds of thousands of culverts across the United States, and the majority are causing problems for fish.

Traditional round culverts are not designed with fish or the stream’s natural behavior in mind.

First, they’re almost always too small. This results in a more concentrated flow, like a firehose, which makes it difficult or impossible for fish to swim through.

A second problem is that many culverts are placed above the stream grade. When there’s a height difference between the stream and the bottom of the culvert it’s referred to as “perched” or “hung” [above the stream bed] and fish can't jump up into it or continue their journey.

It’s like being locked out of your house. For us, it's an inconvenience. For fish, it's survival. There is no detour or alternate route. Fish don't have other options when their pathway is blocked.

Third, wood, rocks, and sand moving downstream get backed up. This deprives the downstream of habitat for fish (fisherman may know that the best places to find a fish in a stream is behind a boulder or hiding under a log). Sometimes, a reservoir forms upstream, which can kill critical shade trees around the stream. As a result, temperatures increase and invasive species that thrive in lake-like conditions prosper.

Flop-free Journeys for Fish

The good news is that we have a dedicated team working on this prominent issue -- the National Fish Passage Program. There are fish passage engineers, hydrologists, fisheries biologists and other specialists across the country, working to keep fish and streams/rivers moving along safely.

A primary goal is to restore fish passage where man made roads and dams cross streams. The team invests federal fish passage dollars -- and time -- into collaborative partnerships and on-the-ground projects. Some projects are too large and complex for any one partner to undertake alone.

Fish-friendly Road CulvertAn example of a partnership to replace a 5 foot round culvert with a fish-friendly 14 foot arch culvert. Photo by Katrina Mueller, USFWS.

Examples of projects:

  • Replacing a traditional too-small round culvert with a much larger arch or box culvert that’s sized to fit the stream’s width, accommodate high flows, and provide a natural bottom through the crossing that young/adult fish and weak/strong swimmers can all navigate.
  • Removing a dam.
  • Making sure agricultural irrigation systems don’t divert fish out of streams and into fields.

Good crossings keep people moving along safely, too! These projects not only benefit fish and boost fishing opportunities but improve infrastructure, reduce maintenance and safety concerns, perform better in floods, and keep streams in their natural functioning state.

Don't Let Fish Flop

These project and partnerships are a great start, but we need you, too. Here's a few ways you can be a part of the solution:

  • Learn about the fish in your local creeks and rivers. We have a lot of cool fish, from colorful darters to salmon and giant sturgeon. Fishing, snorkeling, and underwater photography are a few ideas to explore.
  • Be a voice for fish. Share this message with as many people as you can and help build awareness about the need for fish-friendly roads.
  • Get to know your local Fish Passage Program coordinators. They are great sources of technical expertise and have some limited funding available for priority fish passage projects. Some regions even offer fish passage workshops for planners, engineers, and construction firms.
  • Join and support your local Fish Habitat Partnership.
  • Find out if your local or state governments have fish-friendly road policies.

Together, we can make sure fish travel safely and don't flop!

Salmon Moving Through CulvertFemale pink (humpy) salmon moving through a new, larger culvert with a natural streambed in Cordova, Alaska. Photo by Katrina Mueller, USFWS.

Condor Country Mobile Game Puts Endangered California Condor Recovery in Your Hands

Condor Country Game Save

Being a conservationist who works with the endangered California condor is not for the faint of heart. Find out why in the new mobile game Condor Country, the first mobile game to simulate what it takes to recover an endangered species based on real-life conservation practices used by the California Condor Recovery Program.

With the game, which launches October 25 for your iOS or Android device, “We are revolutionizing the way that people can connect to endangered species and to the people working to save them,” says Paul Souza, Regional Director of the Service’s Pacific Southwest Region. “Through this interactive technology, people across the globe can become immersed in day-to-day conservation work in remote locations. We hope to spark curiosity about condors, and inspire players to try to see them in the wild.”

California condors, North America’s largest land birds, once flew the skies from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic seaboard. But the population fell dramatically due to habitat loss and impacts of lead poisoning.

By 1987, the Service-led California Condor Recovery Program had captured the last 22 California condors left in the wild in hopes of saving the population from extinction. A captive breeding program was established, and so began the fight to save the species from extinction. Today, due to the success of the Recovery Program, the population has grown to more than 450 birds in 2016 – about 250 in the wild in Central and Southern California, Arizona and Utah, and Baja, Mexico.

Condor Country Game Hatch Eggs

Dr. Estelle Sanhaus is Director of Conservation and Research for the Santa Barbara Zoo, which plays a pivotal role in condor recovery.  Sandhaus explains, “There is no win or lose in the game; it is about establishing a wild condor flock capable of raising chicks and producing more condors.”

That’s also the goal of the official California Condor Recovery Plan. Success will mean establishing two geographically distinct self-sustaining populations, each with 150 birds in the wild and at least 15 breeding pairs, with a third population of condors retained in captivity.

“But just like in real life, there are losses,” Sanhaus continues. “Condors die from lead poisoning” – a major real-life threat. Another threat is microtrash, small bits of trash such as broken glass that can be ingested by condors. Trash cannot be digested, and it can get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract of young condors and result in death.

Condor Country, a collaboration among the Service, Santa Barbara Zoo and Cerberus Interactive, allows players to try to find solutions in the game to these kind of  real-world challenges our field teams face in the wild. One character in the game is a field veterinarian who helps players treat birds that are sick with lead poisoning or from ingesting microtrash.

With the game we are welcoming everyone into the exciting world of California condors. Just imagine seeing the majestic bird with its 9.5 foot wingspan.

“Condor Country allows you to be part of the dedicated, passionate and determined California condor conservation community and see the fruits of your labor as your very own condor flock grows, matures and begins to nest in the wild,” says Michael Brady, project leader for Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex in southern California, which provides roosting, breeding and foraging habitat for the federally endangered California condor in the wild.

The purpose behind the game, says Sanhaus, is to show everyone that “the California condor can be saved, in spite of setbacks.”

Download your copy Tuesday, October 25, at the App Store (IOS) and Google Play (Android).

Curator’s Corner: Spotted Owl Helper, Seriously

  Spotted Owl Helper

We recently received several boxes of books and artifacts from a loyal and thoughtful Service employee that included a box of, can you believe it, Spotted Owl Helper in a macaroni and fleas sauce mix? It turns out that this was a prank perpetrated by folks who were against the decision by the Service to list the owl as a threatened species and save habitat in order to save the species, thus preventing areas from being logged. It states on the box that it was made for laughs, not for consumption. The directions and graphics are quite comical. I wonder if the Hamburger Helper folks ever threatened them with a lawsuit!?

Jeanne M. Harold, curator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Museum and Archives at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, says the history surrounding the objects in the museum gives them life.

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Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The fall issue is due in print in late October.

 

30 years of Conserving the Piping Plover

  Piping plover Pink 26Pink 26 has been wintering in the Bahamas. Photo by Sheila Connor

January 31, 2015: A major winter storm dropped more than two feet of snow in Boston. But 1,200 miles south, wintering piping plovers—and biologists from the East Coast—were enjoying the relative warmth of the Bahamas’ Andros Island.

One male plover was receiving some unique bling from a biologist: a pink leg band marked “26.” For the first time ever, a group of these palm-sized and sandy-colored shorebirds would head north adorned with a pink band, the color the Pan American Shorebird Program assigned to the Bahamas/Caribbean.

The Bahamas/Caribbean project, a collaboration among the National Audubon Society, Bahamas National Trust, Virginia Tech Shorebird Program, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, the Service and Environment Canada, is helping track plovers during their annual travels and life cycle.

Piping Plovers Return - Spring 2014The piping plover was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1986. Photo by Sarah Fensore/USFWS

In the spring of 2015, Pink 26 headed north but apparently never attempted to nest. He stopped at Masonboro Island, North Carolina, Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, and, on his way south, Carolina’s Outer Banks. Surveyors found him wintering  in Andros during the February 2016 International Plover Census—a census that, for the second time, put much emphasis on the recently discovered significant numbers of plovers wintering in the Caribbean.

This past summer, Pink 26 checked out Massachusetts, pairing with another plover to breed and incubate a nest on Nantasket Beach. Days later, the pair lost their four eggs, with a crow the prime suspect. The pair tried again, as plovers are known to do, laying in another nest farther south at Third Cliff in Scituate. This time, all four eggs hatched, but one by one by one, three of the chicks disappeared. The last, though, survived to fledge.

Biologist Patricia Levasseur of Massachusetts Audubon cheered once Pink 26, his partner and one surviving chick took to the sky for southern shores.

Piping plover chickA piping plover chick runs across the beach at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. Photo by Sarah Fensmore/USFWS

There are many challenges for the birds on Third Cliff, she says, noting that while the sand spit beach is remote, it’s busy with beachgoers, boaters and dogs.

Throughout New England, plovers continue to lose their sandy beach habitat to development and shoreline management, and they face artificially high numbers of predators and ongoing disturbances that impact their feeding, resting and nesting.

Thirty years ago, the future looked grim for these little shorebirds. The summer of 1986, just after the piping plover was protected under the Endangered Species Act, just 550 breeding pairs headed to South Carolina and farther north to breed along the U.S. Atlantic Coast. Sound like a lot? Estimates suggest that for each pair of plovers, at least 450 pairs of laughing gulls spread across our shores. The plovers searched for space along increasingly popular beaches to lay their sand-camouflaged eggs and safely raise chicks that look like cotton balls on toothpick legs.

Protecting Piping Plovers
An intern helps to construct a barrier to help protect piping plover nests from predators at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS

Yet significant progress has been made, with the 2016 plover season marking three decades of dedicated conservation efforts. Federal and state agencies and conservation organizations have stepped up to work with beach owners and managers to develop and make plover-friendly beach management practices the norm. Beach managers, landowners, volunteers, staff and others rope off nests, require leashing of dogs, post warning signs and keep activities outside roped-off areas.

Thanks to those partnerships and plover-friendly beachgoers, the U.S. population has tripled, from 550 to almost 1,700 pairs. In Massachusetts, where numbers have soared from 139 in 1986 to 687 pairs as of 2015, the Service and state announced this summer a Habitat Conservation Plan instituting long-term conservation for the shorebird while carefully easing the challenges of managing recreation on beaches with nesting plovers.

“Beaches are always going to be prime destinations for summer recreation, and they will always be homes for piping plovers and other beach wildlife,” says the Service’s piping plover recovery coordinator Anne Hecht. “Thirty years of work by federal agencies, states, private landowners and local governments have not only yielded impressive progress toward recovery, but they’ve resulted  in stewardship practices that will help ensure a future where beaches can provide much-needed homes for plovers and the many other wildlife that benefit from these actions.”

As summer came to a close, biologists like Hecht and Levasseur began looking toward next year, in hopes that Pink 26 and other plovers make their way north for another successful nesting season. With fewer than 1,700 piping plover pairs, each one—and each act of stewardship— makes a difference.

MEAGAN RACEY, External Affairs, Northeast Region 


Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The fall issue is due out in late October.

Service Uses Beetles to Stop Invasives in Montana

  Elin Pierce and a man in fieldDr. Elin Pierce, FWS biologist and natural resources manager for Malstrom Air Force Base, leads the biocontrol program. Photo by Steve Segin/USFWS

Steve  Segin of our Mountain-Prairie Region tells us about an invasive species control program at an air force base.

In collaboration with Malmstrom Air Force Base (MAFB), our Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office is releasing thousands of weevils as a biocontrol agent to reduce invasive weeds on the base.

In August more than 1,100 adult USDA-approved knapweed root-boring weevils (Cyphoncleonus achates) were introduced onto 500 acres of the base.  Once acclimated, adult females will lay eggs on the soil surface at the base of invasive knapweed plants. After hatching, the larvae burrow into the roots where they feed and develop over winter, spring and early summer. The developing larvae damage the roots and as a result the plant is weakened or killed. Adults will emerge from the damaged roots in the mid- to late summer next year to feed on the foliage, mate and start the cycle again.

“This environmentally friendly project was conducted at no additional cost to the base and reduces the long-term need for use of chemicals to control noxious weeds,” says Dr. Elin Pierce, FWS biologist and natural resources manager for the air force base.

The biocontrol program forms part a multi-pronged approach (goat grazing, insect control and herbicide) to reducing the amount of weeds and preventing their expansion.

“The main reason for the biocontrol, besides reducing our use of herbicides, is to reduce the overall extent and density of knapweed,” says Pierce. 

  Elin Pierce and others in field“This environmentally friendly project reduces the long-term need for use of chemicals to control noxious weeds,” says Dr. Pierce. Photo by Steve Segin/USFWS

Private lands sit outside the base, and many are farms. In managing knapweed and other invasive plants, MAFB aims to be a good steward of the environment, as well as good neighbors. 

“We are surrounded by farm fields and with the high winds we have here, there is a chance that many of our weed seeds will spread into neighboring property, which in turn risks harming their crop yields,” says Pierce. 

It’s been a banner year for weeds due to an unusually wet and mild summer. So taking control back from the fast-growing invasive species is one of the goals of this release. 

In addition to knapweed weevils, Pierce and her team released the stem-mining thistle weevil (Ceutorhynchus litura) to target 650 acres of invasive thistle weeds on base.  There are plans to continue with more releases of both insects next year. 

“The bugs will ‘knock them back’ and eventually bring the base knapweed and thistle population down to a level where they are just another plant among the community of species we have,” says Pierce. “Taking control back from the fast-growing invasives is simply the right thing to do – for a great many reasons.”

Conservation in the City

  Juan (Tony) ElizondoIn cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Houston Wildlife Refuge Partnership, teacher with Juan “Tony” Elizondo is encouraging a sense of conservation in his mostly Latino students in the city’s East End. Photo by USFWS

Juan “Tony” Elizondo, a teacher in Houston, and Corrin Omowunmi, a program manager in Philadelphia, share a passion for environmental awareness, land conservation and connecting young people with nature. In this week’s National Wildlife Refuge System feature story, “Conservation in the City,” some of those young people explain why nature and the outdoors are important to them.

  Cinthia CantuCinthia Cantu is a senior at Furr High School. She is a founding member of the Green Ambassador program in Houston. Photo by USFWS

In Houston, Elizondo is working with students in the Woodsy Owl Conservation Corps Green Ambassador program and the Green Amigos Latino Legacy at Furr High School. The school is piloting a program that focuses on habitat that allows humans and nature to flourish together in the city’s industrial East End.

Under the guidance of Elizondo and fellow teacher David Salazar, the Green Ambassadors are raising community awareness and improving the landscape by planting gardens and orchards, helping to monitor air and water quality, and encouraging outdoor fitness. Their effort is part of the Houston Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership. The fact that Latino students are spreading the conservation message in a mostly Latino neighborhood matters a lot to Elizondo. “If we don’t outreach to our communities that aren’t English-language speakers,” he says, “how do we expect to conserve Texas or the rest of the nation?” 

  Michael JohnsonMichael Johnson is a sophomore at Penn State University. He has been a Student Conservation Association intern in Philadelphia since 2012. Photo by USFWS

In Philadelphia, Omowunmi has introduced hundreds of Student Conservation Association interns to nature and helped instill in them a sense of environmental responsibility. Based at John Heinz at National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum since 2009, Omowunmi coordinates SCA interns as they restore trails, clean up marshes, remove invasive plants and build garden community beds at the refuge, in the surrounding Eastwick neighborhood and in the city. Their work is part of the Philadelphia Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership.

“It opens up a whole new world for them that they didn’t even necessarily know existed,” Omowunmi says. “People say, ‘I never even knew this [refuge] was here.’ They’ve lived in Philadelphia their entire life – been back and forth to the airport, rode past [the refuge] on the highway – and they just don’t even know it’s here. But when they get here, they see how beautiful it is.” 

  Kevin TranKevin Tran has been a Student Conservation Association intern since 2014. Check out this quick video in which he explains why John Heinz at National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is important to him and to Philadelphia. Photo by USFWS

“Conservation in the City” is part of the Refuge System’s series of weekly online stories that use photos to highlight the conservation work and visitor opportunities at national wildlife refuges, wetland management districts and marine national monuments. A new photo essay is posted on the Refuge System front page each Wednesday. The stories are archived here.

Curator's Corner: Apocalypse Now

  population counter 

We are obsessed with the apocalypse nowadays. All our television shows and movies, it seems, are about zombies, asteroids and invading aliens. I am no exception in my visions and obsession. In our museum, one of our displays about the future of conservation has a population counter. This digital counter goes up by three every second and reflects the current world population, factoring in deaths as well as births. When our electricity goes out, the population counter zeroes out. I have to look up the world population on the Internet and put that current number back in. I am sometimes tempted to just count me, my friends and family and enter that smaller number. Goodbye everyone else—I just officialized the apocalypse!

Jeanne M. Harold, curator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Museum and Archives at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, says the history surrounding the objects in the museum gives them life.

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Fish & Wildlife News   This article is a preview of the fall issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The fall issue is due out in mid-October.

The Value of a Refuge – to My Students and Me

Western grebe swims with young on backLake Andes National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota is the site of inspiring scenes. Here, a Western grebe chick hitches a ride on the water. Story and photos by Kelly Preheim

From the moment I saw an iridescent white-faced ibis at Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge six years ago, the refuge in southeastern South Dakota has been a great resource and an inspiration for me – personally and as a teacher.

The refuge has taught me about animal behavior – specifically bird behavior. As a kindergarten teacher, I have passed that knowledge on to my students by integrating birds into my curriculum.

I created a Chickadee Bird Club for kindergarten through fourth-grade students. At the weekly meetings, I show students photos of the birds and other animals I’ve seen at the refuge via my Flickr site. Once the students fall in love with birds, they begin to ask questions. They want to know more. By May, the students can identify hundreds of birds and bird songs, and they have a broader understanding of the natural world.

We’ve also visited the refuge, to go birding and observe bird banding. The students – and I – have enjoyed it very much. One of my goals is to inspire other teachers to integrate nature into their curriculum. 

  2 red fox kitsThese red fox kits are all eyes – and noses and ears – at Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge.

Beyond teaching, Lake Andes is not only is a refuge for wildlife; it is also a refuge for me. It’s a great place to get away from the busy-ness of life. Being out in nature helps me remember that I’m part of something larger and purer. It leaves me content and happy.

It’s more than that, though. I report birds I identify at the refuge to the eBird Mobile app. In this way I am helping with citizen science, which is important to me. I also feel the need to share my love of nature with others, so I write a BirdTeach blog

snowy owl in front of water  Seeing 21 snowy owls in one day at the refuge was unbelievable. 

I’ve had dozens of awesome moments and experiences at the refuge. A few come immediately to mind.

I’ll never forget seeing 21 snowy owls in one day, during the winter 2011-12 irruption. 

One time, twin white-tailed deer fawns curiously and slowly walked up to me – so close I could almost touch them.

I’ve seen a few endangered whooping cranes, and thousands of sandhill cranes. 

One day I happened upon a sage thrasher, a bird I’d never seen in South Dakota before.

Then there were the shorebirds. The lake was low, and there were thousands of them for as far as I could see.

  2 Whooping cranesEndangered whooping cranes sometimes pass through Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge en route to and from their breeding grounds in Canada and their wintering grounds at and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

My experiences at the Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge have been a valuable resource to my students and me. The refuge can be full of life and beauty, so take a some time to visit  a refuge near you.

Kelly Preheim has been an elementary teacher in South Dakota for 30 years.

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