Every day is a weekend play day for Oregonians in the summer

2019 Intern Welcome Letter

These were some of the words of encouragement written in the welcome letter I received after accepting my position here in Oregon. And even though it’s not summer just yet, every day this week has been like a weekend play day. This week my work involved me helping out on two of the field trip visits hosted by Cape Perpetua’s Visitor Center. Community outreach and education is a major part of the position here as an EFTA intern, so it was my opportunity to get involved with teaching, and some fun even while working.

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Off of the Coast

The first day of field trips took us down to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. I was in charge of a 20-minute station that was entirely about the western snowy plover and its habitat along the shore. Because the western snowy plover is a threatened species, we wanted the students to start understanding why we should be learning about these birds, and what we can do to help them. We started our lesson with a brief introduction on the snowy plover: what it looks like, where it lives, and what it eats, and ended with some interactive activities to help them visualize what life is like for such small bird on this long stretch of coast.

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For those who have never seen or heard of them, the western snowy plover is a small shorebird, only about 6 inches long. It is pale grey-brown, with a white belly and small black beak. They nest near the coast from the south end of Washington all the way to the southern area of Baja California. They feed on a number of invertebrates, from insects to marine worms, in the dry and wet sand on the beaches. But a combination of human disturbance, habitat loss, and predation is beginning to harm their nesting areas. European beach grass, human activity, and the threat of corvids are negatively affecting the plover’s population. The point of each of our programs with the students was to highlight these concerns and offer some insight into what is being done as protection: beach grass removal, restricted access to habitat areas by the public, and reduction of human food sources to corvids. We let the public know what management strategies are in place and what they can look out for on their next trip to the beach. And by using these educational activities, we have a fun and meaningful way to engage students, teachers, and parents that could ultimately help in achieving our conservation goals.

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You can read more about the western snowy plover from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

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And into the Forest

But Cape Perpetua’s education programs are also working towards bridging the gap between the coast and the forest. They want to further develop their plan to connect and communicate how inextricably linked the two are. Our second day of field trips moved away from the coast and into the forest, as we were joined by a group of 4th and 5th graders. We walked along the Giant Spruce Trail and talked about the plants that grow along the Oregon coast. In order to get them thinking about the forest and what they saw around them, we had them write in their own naturalist journals after the hike.

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I’m excited to teach the next generation of students because any one of them has the potential to become an environmentalist, biologist, ecologist, and the like. Any one of the moments on these field trips could spark an interest in them. And even if they only remember one thing from the day they spend here, it’s one more thing they will take with them. Being given an opportunity to share the science I was taught is what I enjoy the most about programs like these. I’m excited for all of the opportunities yet to come. We can all look forward to what this next week has in store. Until then, everyone.

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