A Wild Semester at the Center for Wildlife Education!

Hey, everyone! It’s Cassandra, here to tell you all about

An injured sanderling that was brought in to the Center

the best internship anyone’s every had here at the OBXFS, also known as an internship at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education. By best, I mean that everyone I’ve worked with has been amazing, I’ve learned so much, and I’ve really never felt like what I’m doing is work. As well, just to point out how much I’ve enjoyed it, it’s generally an hour and fifteen minute drive from Manteo to the Center, and I can’t even complain about that!

Let me take a moment to talk about my internship mentor, Karen Clark. My first day interning, she invited me to sit in on a NEST sea turtle nest dig the next evening. Just like that. She always has great stories and great ideas, and is the most understanding, knowledgeable, and competent person I’ve ever met. She’s the Coordinator for the entire Center program, and also works with NEST and MMSN, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, on top of who knows what else. Long story short, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have worked with her and to have been able to learn from her amazing experiences.

One of the storage shed’s resident tree frogs
Woody the woodchuck takes a beating during archery class

I’ve done a ton during my time here. At the start of my internship, we were still in summer programs, so I helped teach beginning archery for children and adults, an educational story time and crafts for young children and an interactive cart teaching people about seashells and other beach finds. I was also lucky enough to be able to participate in a lot of NEST activities, like checking turtle nests with volunteers and sitting in on nest digs. As the tourism season started winding down, some of our classes were rotated out, and I began helping run a kayaking trip, an educational maritime forest walk, and a “Sampling the Sound” class, where kids and their parents can use nets to catch fish, water insects, and other organisms living in the water here and learn more about them. I’ve also been able to help set up and collect wildlife cameras in the nearby maritime forest preserve, and then go through the photos to identify what sorts of critters have been living their lives in the area! Among the best photos I’ve seen are pictures of feral horses, coyotes, raccoons, and several resident white-tailed deer.

An injured box turtle I rushed to the vet
Baby sea turtles!
A very unhappy black rat

On top of helping out with classes and activities, I also was put in charge of designing a new educational board as my own personal project. I chose to focus on the habitat value of both ocean and sound shorelines, with an interactive and multi-media approach, using flip-up cards, fabrics, and 3-D animal cutouts to create the final product. Hopefully people will see it as a fun and interesting approach to learning more about the animals that call the marshes, dunes, and waters of the Outer Banks home!

A beautiful cottonmouth spotted on one of our kayaking trips!

Although I’ve really enjoyed and learned from all of the educational activities I’ve helped run and participate in, my favorite part of my internship here has been the wildlife. Anyone in my field site group will tell you I adore snakes, and there have been so many here! From cottonmouths on the lawn to black rats sunning themselves on the steps, I’ve been able to get a ton of great photos and just appreciate having them here. There are also resident tree frogs in the shed, and a gray fox that I’ve been lucky enough to glimpse on occasion. The grounds here are home to a great many raccoons, and you can see their tracks running across the mud by the boat ramp every morning. Being able to see and be a part of nature here while helping teach other people, especially children, more about the world we live in has been an eye-opening experience, and has definitely made me consider environmental education as a career path more strongly than I might have before.

Boat Days are Better than Field Trips

Week of 9/11-9/15/17

Hey, y’all! This is Cassandra, writing to tell you all about how miserable (read: exciting), exhausting (as in exhilarating), and completely dreadful (meaning absolutely and positively amazing) the second real week of classes here at the OBX Field Site has been! I’m going to start off by giving props to Corey Adams, our internship coordinator, for setting me up with the most amazing program I could have asked for; I’m at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, which means on Monday I got to set up wildlife cameras, learn about sea turtle strandings, and help create a trail for the Center’s new herping expedition! If that isn’t cool enough, some of my other duties include story time and teaching kids archery.

My internship mentor invited me to come to a sea turtle nest dig on my second day!

Tuesdays and Thursdays are when we take “actual” classes, all of which have so far been both interesting and relevant in terms of this area and environmental topics in general. Since we are only in the second week, much of the material has been introductory, but I’m definitely already learning a lot, and having such a small class size means that we are all able to get clarification when we need to, which is great compared to many of the huge lectures I’ve taken in the past. However, this Wednesday we had our first intensive Capstone day, and by intensive, I mean INTENSIVE. It’s really incredible to me how much a group of people can get done in a single day when we all work together. Right now, we’re working in two different directions: learning how to conduct qualitative interviews and write an interview guide on one side, and planning our ecological sampling methods and testing them out to see what will work best for our sampling sites on the other. We started off with an interview workshop, then took a mini field trip to the living shoreline at Festival Island Park, where we tried out different potential sampling methods and ate our lunches on the boardwalk. Finally, we returned to CSI for a second interview workshop, and left for the evening with a far better understanding of how our interviews are going to work and what we need to do now.

As you can see, we all rocked our waders and enjoyed the break between interview workshops to go to Roanoke Island’s Festival Island Park for sampling practice.

In the spirit of ending the week on an especially high note, this Friday we took a boat trip around the Roanoke Sound in order to practice different water measurement and sampling methods, as well as to get a firsthand look at an oyster aquaculture facility in the area. We definitely learned a lot about different measurement methods and tools, how much water quality can vary, and how to handle some extremely expensive equipment, but I think it’s safe to say that our educational drive momentarily disappeared when we encountered a pod of dolphins, not once, but twice! There was also time built in to explore an island near CSI and take a dip in the Sound. The day was a blast, and our professors and faculty know exactly how to plan a trip that’s a lot of fun while still giving us research skills and educating us along the way!

I have high hopes for the rest of the semester, but this week was a winner. I’m so grateful to have been accepted into this program and can’t wait to see what we do next!

Spotting dolphins in the Sound!
Some of the equipment we used to test water parameters including salinity, turbidity, and oxygen content.