National Wildlife Refuge System

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qr code


QR (Quick Response)* codes are the newest way for visitors to learn about the iNature trail along Wildlife Drive at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, FL. Visitors scan a code with a smart phone application to see a welcome video. There are 20 QR codes posted on small signs along Wildlife Drive, easy to recognize for visitors walking, biking or driving. Some codes are linked to videos about the refuge; others are linked to a Web site, such as the home page for the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, the refuge Friends organization.

From June through September of this year, about 700 visitors looked at the videos—and that’s the slow period for this refuge. “The reactions have been incredibly positive,” says visitor services manager Toni Westland, “especially from young people who show the older people with them how to use QR codes.”

The iNature trail QR codes were developed by a college student from Sanibel with funding from private donations. The Friends identified a volunteer professional to shoot the videos. The Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau has developed a huge campaign around this novel use of technology, promoting the iNature trail as far away as Las Vegas and Times Square in New York City.

A cautionary note from Westland—“Make sure you have proper cell coverage on your refuge for different cell phone plans. In one case, moving the sign five feet away meant some phones couldn’t read the codes because the plan didn’t get coverage in that spot.” On the plus side, Westland says she has been able to access videos on the trail for a tour group by using a larger SmartPad or iPad to read the codes.

*QR codes and Microsoft Tags serve the same purpose but require different applications to read or create them. The codes can be created online at no charge.


These familiar bluet damselflies are the most abundant species at Ash Meadows Refuge, NV.
These familiar bluet damselflies are the most abundant species at Ash Meadows Refuge, NV.
Credit: Bruce Lund

To help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtain wildlife survey information, Friends of Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex partnered with the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association to survey dragonflies and damselflies at the four national wildlife refuges in southern Nevada—Desert, Moapa Valley, Ash Meadows and Pahranagat. Friends board member Bruce Lund, a retired botanist and avid naturalist, gathered and trained a team of volunteers who conducted monthly surveys from June through September.

An online advertisement at generated a dozen volunteers, including retirees who are keeping their biology degrees alive, students looking for field experience before starting college, birdwatchers, real estate appraisers and several employees in the Clark County, NV, government. The common thread was their desire to learn and make a difference for conservation.

The volunteers learned to identify dragonflies with binoculars, catch them in insect nets (“wow, they are fast”), pull them out of the nets (“I can’t believe I’m doing this! Do they bite?”) long enough to take a photograph and release them again to the wild. An earlier survey had identified 32 odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) at Ash Meadows Refuge. In 2011, Lund and his volunteers found the 33rd—a spot–winged glider.

“The beauty of ‘dragonflying,’” says Ash Meadows Refuge outreach specialist Alyson Mack, “is that it is surprisingly easy to do. From spring through fall, they are in plain view all day long, they fly and perch close to people and are extremely abundant.”


By Betsy Burch

“Will there be spyglasses with mirrors to see under water?” “Can we have glass–bottom boats so we can see what is under the water?” “We want to scuba dive under the WildWing!”

A group of enthused 5th and 6th graders asked so many questions when they were told about the WildWing, a deck over a fresh water marsh on Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where they had been frequent visitors. The 16–foot x 20–foot deck, which opened in October, has safety railings with areas for water sampling equipment and redwood benches where students can sit to write in their journals.

Friends of Humboldt Bay Refuge, CA, built a WildWing deck so children can learn about the fresh water marsh ecosystem.
Friends of Humboldt Bay Refuge, CA, built a WildWing deck so children can learn about the fresh water marsh ecosystem.
Credit: Betsy Burch

The refuge is designing a curriculum so children can study the fresh water marsh environment and compare it with the brackish water environment of wetland areas. The youngsters will be able investigate the effects of tidal variations.

The WildWing deck became a reality through a great collaboration between refuge staff and Friends, supported by a Challenge Cost Share grant that provided $5,000 from the refuge, $2,000 from the Friends, and $3,000 in–kind donation of materials and labor.

The refuge inaugurated the WildWing in July during its first Grandparents and Grandkids Day. The WildWing will also provide a viewing space just for kids during the Aleutian goose fly–off next spring.

Betsy Burch is president of the Friends of Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

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Friends Forward Fall 2011

Last updated: October 26, 2011