raptor trunks

Best Laid Plans

By Andrea Ambrose, Education Intern
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Andrea scans the sky for migrants from North Lookout.

Andrea scans the sky for migrants from North Lookout.

I thought that I had it all figured out when I got my first taste of being a field biologist. I was in the last semester of attending my local community college, and I always knew that I wanted to work with wildlife in some capacity, but I just couldn't quite figure out what direction to take. A professor at my school was offering a three-week field ecology course on campus with local field trips. We learned identification of local birds to monitor species on campus, (incidentally this is how my passion for birding began, leading to a pursuit for many jobs focused on avian conservation), went for a weekend to a marine science consortium in Virginia to learn about marine research and marsh and wetland ecology, and visited a local arboretum to see work being done on invasive plant removal.

I was immediately hooked on the idea of wanting to learn more about what I could do to help monitor and protect our native wildlife, and the thought of working outdoors as a job while getting to study local species was exceedingly appealing. This was it! I'd found what I wanted to pursue as a career. Field biology seemed to be my perfect fit.

Fast forward 6 years to getting my bachelors degree in Biology with a focus in Ecology and Conservation. I got accepted to work at several summer internships with various organizations including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and an avian rehabilitation center, where I learned the ins and outs of conducting field research in various states. After graduating, I got my first field technician position in Missouri, working with a bird observatory doing grassland bird studies. Here is where things started to change for me, although it took me another year to figure it all out.

Andrea holds a female red-winged blackbird while working for the Missouri River Bird Observatory.

Andrea holds a female red-winged blackbird while working for the Missouri River Bird Observatory.

At the Missouri River Bird Observatory, there was a strong focus on educating the public by attending local events, where we would mist net and band birds and share with the visitors the importance of protecting local species. I was delighted by the reaction of not only the children, but the adults as well, when they got to see a bird in hand, up close and in person. The interest that these events sparked in people to learn about the natural world around them seemed to have great importance and value, and I was intrigued by the notion of conservation education as a possible career path.

I still loved most aspects of field research after 5 years of experience, but began to have doubts as to whether or not it was for me. I put this new interest on the back burner for another year as I worked a fairly intense field research job in South Texas. Upon returning home, I decided to see what I could do to possibly change my path yet again. Enter Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

Andrea holds one of Hawk Mountain's education birds, a gray-morph eastern screech owl. 

Andrea holds one of Hawk Mountain's education birds, a gray-morph eastern screech owl. 

Living half an hour away from this world-renowned sanctuary was going to be the start of something amazing for me. I began as a raptor care volunteer and within a few months was accepted as an education intern, when I expressed my newly found interest in conservation education. I will never look back.

Andrea hosts a public Raptors Up Close program. 

Andrea hosts a public Raptors Up Close program. 

I've been fully integrated into my new passion in every way imaginable- from learning to work hands on with our education raptors, to presenting live raptor programs, to leading guided school groups up the mountain trails while providing interpretation about our local flora and fauna. I've presented Wee Ones programs to 3-5 year olds and learned how to channel my inner child again in order to teach this age group.  I've had several months’ worth of meeting some of the most amazing people I've ever met in my career, and although I will always be grateful for the experiences gained while working as a field biologist, and I can still use the knowledge that I gained in my future jobs, I know now that this is what my path is meant to be. I look forward to what the future holds and to teaching many more people, be it children or the general public, about the importance of conservation.

 

Going the Distance

By Adam Carter, Educator
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Chichicaxtle Veracruz Bird Observatory, where counts and school programs occur.

Chichicaxtle Veracruz Bird Observatory, where counts and school programs occur.

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary has been collaborating with the migration watch-site in Veracruz, Mexico, operated by Pronatura, a non-profit conservation organization, to monitor the seasonal migration of millions of raptors since the early 1990’s, known as the Veracruz River of Raptors.  This collaboration has also consisted of education endeavors such as producing an educational manual and lesson plan, and other translated materials that could be used for education in Veracruz.  In 2017, the Hawk Mountain Education Department looks to collaborate in a new way, through Distance Education, in order to enhance its efforts to accomplish its mission of conserving birds or prey globally. 

This coming September, I will have the opportunity to make my first trip to Veracruz.  In addition to witnessing the southbound journey of thousands of hawks, I will also get to work with the Pronatura staff working on the ground to conserve and protect this world renowned migration.  We will be working together to create Distance Education opportunities within Mexico and Central America through transportable ‘raptor trunks’ filled with education materials to be used to reach classrooms in Mexico who otherwise may not have the opportunity to visit the site of Veracruz River of Raptors itself.  The trunk will be modeled after the existing trunks Hawk Mountain has recently created and begun shipping to different states across the U.S. The goal for the trunks in Veracruz will be to tailor them to the species, geography, and habitat unique to Mexico. 

Broad-winged Hawk curriculum developed by spring education intern Kirsten Fuller that will be translated into Spanish.

Broad-winged Hawk curriculum developed by spring education intern Kirsten Fuller that will be translated into Spanish.

One important aspect the Distance Education trunks will have in common between the two sites will be highlighting long-distance migrants like the Broad-winged Hawk.  This is a primary species for both Veracruz and Hawk Mountain and some individuals pass though both sites in the same north or south-bound journey.  This species will be highlighted to show the connection between the two sites and the importance of global conservation.  A Broad-winged Hawk curriculum has already been created in English and is available for class room use with the U.S. trunks.  The curriculum is currently being translated into Spanish for use in Mexico and in any Spanish-speaking classroom. 

Children in Veracruz playing our vulture migration game:

Children in Veracruz playing our vulture migration game:

The importance of raptor education and awareness of migration in Mexico could not be more important as it is one of the most concentrated flyways for birds of prey anywhere in the world.  More than 95% of the worlds populations of Broad-winged Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, and Mississippi Kites pass through the narrow corridor monitored by Veracruz River of Raptors.  Each species concentrates in a narrow window of time, and daily flights can number more than 400,000 raptors.  Through continued collaboration and new efforts through Distance Education, we hope to inform and inspire the next generation of raptor conservationists, especially in Mexico.

To learn more and to help fund this important project, please CLICK HERE. As always, we are so thankful for your support and generosity.