My oh my it’s May

Cue the eagle! It was lunchtime and the school group I was leading through the refuge excitedly exclaimed as the eagle flew over their heads. Watching how close the eagle got to us and the excitement of the children really made it an incredible moment. The kids had been asking about the eagle since they had arrived at the refuge. It’s almost as if the eagle knew it had to make an appearance.  After lunch the class and I set out to explore the recently opened trails. It was my first time on this part of the refuge so I had to improvise on what I was going to teach the class. I was of course a little nervous, but it ended up working itself out.

Remnants of a mystery animal on the trail.

Remnants of a mystery animal on the trail.

We walked past the dried up wetlands.  I remember my first day of Naturalist training and the wetlands were full of water, ducks, and geese. The Naturalists were given a sneak peak of the closed trails and the Refuge Manager talked to us about how the wetlands were managed. That day I saw my first nutria.  While I was guiding the kids, the wetlands were of course dry, but there seemed to be a canal of water running through this part of the refuge. The kids saw something swimming. We used our coyote feet to get closer to the water source to take a look at the mystery animal. Nutria or beaver? It essentially looked like two bumps wading in the water and when it dove down we were able to see its stringy, rat like tail. Nutria. The kids were so excited, and secretly I was too.

We continued to walk and then suddenly a student stopped to look at the ground. He discovered a mystery carcass on the path. We all gathered around and attempted to identify the remains of this animal to the best of our abilities. It appeared to be of small to medium size, it had a longish snout, and long claws. Pieces of the animals were scattered across the trail. We moved on to our second piece of evidence which appeared to be white fur. We all agreed that our best guess was skunk.

I had been with the students for only a few hours and I was already growing a liking to them. I didn’t want to say goodbye just yet, although I was exhausted. We had fun and I really enjoyed talking to the students about their experiences in nature. My favorite part of the trip was the last 10 minutes though. We were nearing the end of the trail when two girls came up to me and asked me if I spoke Spanish. I responded with a Si. They told me that they read the button on my vest that reads “Hablo Espanol” and they decided to come talk to me. We talked about how our parents could speak both languages but preferred to speak Spanish and how our abuelitas could only speak Spanish and didn’t really understand English. One of the girls mentioned that she was going to visit Mexico in a few months. She said she would visit Michoacan since that is where her parents were from.  The other girl and I exclaimed with a “me too!!!” I felt an instant bond with those girls and they must have felt it too as they spontaneously hugged me before saying good bye.

My volunteer vest.

My volunteer vest.

Liliana Calderon
lcalde4@illinois.edu
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