Hi! My name is Sophie and I spent this past summer working as a conservation assistant with Nature NB. Over the summer, I got to help out with a variety of projects. I am currently studying environmental science and it was really neat to be able to apply things that I’ve learned in my classes to my summer job! I’ve also had the opportunity to learn so many new things. Reflecting back on the summer, there are several occasions that stand out for what I learned and experienced.
Here are 3 of my highlights from working at Nature NB this summer:
1. Festival of Nature Birdwatching
During the Festival of Nature, the other summer students and I got to participate in a birdwatching trip. We learned about different birds and different tricks for identifying birds, especially by their songs and calls rather than appearance. Once you stop and listen, there are so many different sounds in the forest, just from birds. Personally, I found it really difficult to identify the birds by sounds. While there were some that I was already familiar with, like the Black Capped Chickadee, there were many that I still wouldn’t be able to identify. Our guide, Roland, was incredible at it. He could stop and identify birds by their sounds in what seemed like an instant! On this trip we were also introduced to an app called Merlin, which helps you with bird identification. One feature of this app is that you can use it to record bird calls around you and it will give you suggestions for what bird you’re hearing. Since then I’ve been using it regularly whenever I’m spending time outside, especially taking walks through the Sackville Waterfowl Park.
2. Milkweed Monitoring in Sackville
For several years Nature NB has been working on projects related to the protection of monarch butterflies. As part of that work, they send skilled staff and volunteers to monitor milkweed patches in key areas around the province. Monitoring milkweed is important because this plant is an essential food source for monarch caterpillars, and we can easily gather data about monarch populations by checking out their favourite food.
Using iNaturalist, I plotted out different sightings of milkweed and monarchs in the Sackville area to go visit, in hopes of finding a milkweed patch. As I worked by way through the potential sites I still wasn’t finding any which was disappointing and frustrating. Finally, on the very last site I found a large patch of milkweed! It was everywhere! It was such an exciting moment. I recorded some more observations on iNaturalist so we knew that it was a patch. Later on in the summer, I returned a couple times to do some monitoring of the patch. Finding monarch caterpillars munching on the milkweed was so neat. The first time I only found very tiny, recently hatched ones, but the second time there were some caterpillars that were quite large! If you ever spot milkweed or monarchs, try to record it on iNaturalist! It can help us identify new spots to look for our migrating friends.
3. Bank Swallow Tagging
Throughout the summer I got to do some work related to Bank Swallows. Bank swallows are small insectivorous birds that nest in steep banks along shorelines. Their numbers have been severely declining since the 1970’s, making them a threatened species.
In early July, Nature NB got invited to help out with some field work tagging Bank Swallows. I was very excited to help out with this – the only catch was that we had to leave at 4am! When we arrived at the location, the sun was just barely beginning to rise, so we hiked into the site relying on our headlamps. My job was to be a runner – this meant that I brought the birds that were caught over to the tagging station. As we worked on tagging the birds, the sun was rising across the field – it was incredible. We got really lucky that morning, with a beautiful view and not many mosquitos! The site was very muddy – my shoes and pants were nearly a different colour by the time we left. The coolest part of the morning was getting to hold and release one of the tagged swallows. As we finished up the monitoring for the morning, the rest of the world was just starting to wake up.