Repeat Season and Familiar Refuges
By: Nicole Stagg and Justin Gole
Thanks for coming back to read about the next four refuges on our awesome adventure! This period starts what we affectionately refer to as the “repeat season,” as we will visit all four of these refuges more than once, and vicariously, so will you!
We arrived at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) on Lake Erie after a long drive from Maryland. We learned that we had just missed out on “The Biggest Week in Birding,” when an estimated 70,000 visitors flowed through the refuge and surrounding lands to view the migrating neotropical birds that pass through every year. While we missed the heaviest influx of visitors, we did not miss the neotropical birds. Nicole has been trying to add at least one new bird species to her ID guide at each refuge we have visited. Ottawa so far holds the record for new birds in her book. Birds she has added include the Baltimore Oriole, the Blackpoll Warbler and Warbling Vireo.
When not surveying, we spent some time trimming the grass around the refuge and Nicole earned the nickname “Weed Whacker” from the refuge volunteers. The wildlife drive is open sporadically, but we made the most out of the time we were able to spend out there, and were lucky enough to see a bald eagle and a sandhill crane in flight at the same time! We were not able to capture a great picture of either of them but we did let a visitor with a longer distance lens know where the eagle was, and he appreciated the tip!
The following weekend Justin’s parents visited Ottawa NWR and drove through the wildlife drive. They managed to get stuck behind a road block of trumpeter swans, and after listening to a symphony of swans for about a half hour, a truck came through and broke up the traffic jam.
Our next stop was the first urban refuge opened in America, John Heinz NWR at Tinicum. This thousand-acre refuge, located right next to Philadelphia International Airport, was truly was a unique experience. While the drive was only a few hundred miles from Ohio, we were in an entirely different world. Every single day at John Heinz there was one or more school groups that visited, and we helped supervise and guide them through activities such as archery, fishing, dipnetting, and wildlife identification. We even got to participate in archery ourselves, although we realized we should not quit our day jobs!
After one of the school groups left, Justin got to practice a few rounds with refuge staff and interns before the evening crowd showed up, June 2018. Video by: Nicole Stagg
We have had great experiences with visitor service programs at all of the refuges we’ve visited, but we were especially blown away by the volume of outreach and education work that is done at John Heinz. Virtually every single day there was at least one different group that showed up, but what really made an impression on us was the “Philly Nature Kids” program. These school groups make multiple visits throughout the year, and refuge interns and staff go to the schools for educational programs and the end of year graduation ceremonies.
The students were given a budget and free reign to come up with a project of their choice. We were lucky enough to be there at the end of the school year to see many of these finished projects, including a trash cleanup project, a pollinator garden, bird houses built on school grounds, and an educational booklet created and “mass-produced” for students in lower grades. It was truly inspiring to see the passion for nature being instilled in the Philly Nature Kids!
Since we were staying in the great city of Philadelphia, we had to do some tourist activities! We started by getting Philly cheesesteaks at the Reading Market before walking downtown to see the Constitution Center, Liberty Bell, and other historical landmarks. At the Benjamin Franklin Museum, we saw how an old fashioned printing press works. We took plenty of pictures at each place we visited, but the best photo of the day was probably the one we took at Love Park.
Next we took a trip through the heart of the northeast, driving through New York City and eventually winding up at Great Meadows NWR right outside of Boston. The most visited section of the refuge, the Concord Unit, is located just minutes away from historic locations such as Minuteman National Park and Walden Pond, which is famous for being the home of Henry David Thoreau while he wrote his book Walden.
We got to experience the annual River Fest at Great Meadows NWR, which is a large outreach program they hold at their headquarters location as part of a larger weeklong event hosted with several other organizations. Dozens upon dozens of people poured in to go fishing with their families as well as participate in other activities such as yoga, animal exhibits, singing, and painting. Rick Roth and the Cape Ann Vernal Pool Team took the stage at the end of the event, and we got to witness one of the best educational programs of our young lives, and made a long yellow friend in the process!
Justin had the opportunity to tag along for Blanding’s turtle nest monitoring and was lucky enough to witness one turtle’s egg laying efforts first hand. A night spent walking miles in search for these important four legged friends was well worth it, and the coolest part of this learning opportunity was relocating the eggs about a meter because they had been laid in an ant hill.
From Massachusetts, we drove south along the coast to Prime Hook NWR in Delaware. We were lucky enough to be staying two blocks from the ocean in Rehoboth Beach and spent many mornings and evenings on the sand. Justin got to spend his birthday, July 4th, baking like a crab on the seashore.
One of the primary user groups at Prime Hook were crabbers, and we managed to make many friends on lazy Delaware mornings sitting out at Fowler Beach. We watched many different techniques for catching crabs including: standard crab traps, fishing with chicken wings, and simply scooping them up in the current from the bridge.
Perhaps the highlight of our time in Delaware was running into our old roommates from Blackwater NWR, Dan and Lindsay! They are part of the Rapid Demo team for the Saltmarsh Habitat & Avian Research Program (SHARP, https://www.tidalmarshbirds.org). We had spent a few days with them at Blackwater, and we managed to see them on first day at Prime Hook and then again the next morning as they were emerging from the marshes. The following day we got together with them and enjoyed some merriment at Dogfish Head Brewery.
We will be visiting all of these refuges again starting in August with what we call our “Season of Repeats”. We can’t wait to see how these refuges will change while we are gone and we look forward to reuniting with the friends we have made. We are excited for our next batch of refuges and can’t wait to start the repeat season with our second visit to Great Meadows in our next blog!