Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Year with Pollinators

This week, we’ve been celebrating National Pollinator Week at U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS). If you’re unfamiliar with pollinators, this week might not mean very much to you. Coincidentally, before beginning my internship with the Connecting People with Nature Team a year ago, I myself knew nothing about the word “pollinator.” In fact, I didn’t even know that the term referred to a special set of species. I remember thinking “What is that, like a spray you put on plants or something?” Throughout the past year, I went from neither knowing, nor caring about the significance and importance of pollinators to having a great understanding and appreciation for all they do. This week, in celebration of National Pollinator Week, I wanted to take you all through my year of learning to care about this wonderful set of critters and try to pass on the connection!

Me at the Wallowa County
Watershed Festival

Photo Credit: Gretchen Sausen

Crash course on Pollinators
My story begins a year ago during the first week of working with the Connecting People with Nature Team. I was about to head off to the Wallowa County Watershed Festival in Enterprise, Oregon as my first event with my team. My task was manning a booth to show visitors the anatomy of a flower and how it is pollinated. Not having thought about flower anatomy since high school, I requested a crash course on the topic and was graciously sent a set of fact sheets all about pollinators, flowers, and foods. This is where I learned exactly what pollinators were, and the abundant numbers of plants and foods we eat that depend on them.

The beautiful backyard garden where the friend I mentioned pollinated
a tree by hand.

Photo Credit: Skip Flinn
No Bees in the Backyard
When I returned from Wallowa County, I found myself more interested in pollinators and more aware of their presence. I even found that my fear of being stung by a bee was replaced with the thought “oh, that little bee is just busy working” (A good sell I must say for teaching those with a fear of bees). Now that I was more aware, I saw the problem come to life first-hand one summer day when visiting a friend. For the past few years he had been growing an expansive garden in his back yard. While explaining to me the different plants throughout the yard I excitedly asked him “Do you see a lot of pollinators back here?” I was surprised when he responded “Actually, this year there weren’t many so I had to pollinate these flowers myself by hand.” Here was the decline in pollinators, right in our own backyards!

A group of students work in their pollinator garden
as part of the Schoolyard Habitat program

Photo Credit: Joseph Charter School
Schoolyard Habitat
Shortly down the road, I learned about the focus that USFWS places on schoolyard habitats. Schoolyard habitats are common projects that the Connecting People with Nature Team helps fund annually to help students, teachers and families develop gardens at their schools. Come to find out, the majority of these gardens specifically work towards growing pollinator habitat. As threats to pollinators, such as loss of habitat, force a decline in their numbers, it’s more important than ever to not only educate younger generations on the issue, but allow them to play a role in the conservation of pollinators via school and home gardens. It doesn’t stop there, USFWS has been diligently working to protect pollinators across the nation, and this week offers us all a week to celebrate in their conservation.

Spread the word!
Photo Credit: Andrew McLachlan/USFWS
Get Out and Help the Pollinators!
Now, here I am, a year later with a calendar full of National Pollinator Week events and passing on the spirit to care about pollinators like I have learned to. So my prescription for this week is that as the week winds down, and the weekend rolls in, make a plan to do something for the bees, birds, butterflies and bats that quietly watch over the beautiful gardens all around you. And once you make your connection – pass it on!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

¡CelebraciĆ³n de Las Aves!

Volunteer Naturalist, Gary, prepping a group of excited bird lovers
for a trail around the refuge!

Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
As bird migration season flies on (pun intended), bird festivals continue across the globe. Near Portland, Oregon, a particularly urban festival comes around each May, inviting bird lovers and friends out to the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. This year, the day began with hundreds of volunteers swarming the refuge, enthusiastically setting up various booths around the grounds. From the entry way, local partners were seen setting up activities from archery to birdhouse building. Inside the visitor center, arts and crafts tables were quickly covered in colorful paint jars, while the telescope in the corner was positioned to view an eagle fledgling in its nest. Just a short trail's journey away from the busy entrance, volunteer naturalists scurried to set up their stations, from a pond critters area to a casting target practice area. The refuge was poised and ready for the annual TualatinRiver Bird Festival.
One of the many families who came out to enjoy bird festival!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

Expanding Accessibility
One of the most exciting parts of this year's festival was the recent partnership between U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Univision. Over the past year, the USFWS Pacific Region has been working to make our events and information more accessible to the flourishing Latino community in and around the region. This year, programs and other materials at the festival were available in both Spanish and English, while a number of bi-lingual volunteers around the refuge were available for Spanish speaking guests. This milestone marks the first steps from USFWS in assuring our programs are easily accessible to all members of the community.

Excited to make a close-up investigation of what was left behind
by a Spittlebug!

Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
 If It's Gross...
As the morning rolled forward, my first stop at the festival was a "Slugs and Bugs" nature walk led by volunteer naturalist, Gary. A group of about twenty, made up of tots, children, parents and grandparents took off on the trail ready to spot bugs, birds and more. Our first find was a flower that appeared to be covered in spit. A small group of boys perked up at the mention of something potentially gross. One of the boys wasn't fooled though, explaining to the rest of the group that the substance was from an insect called a spittlebug. After continuing through the trail, spotting a few birds, and learning about the Tualatin River, the group parted ways to enjoy more of the festival.

Homemade binoculars, great for bird watching!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
All Things Migration
Next, I headed back up to the Refuge entrance. I first visited the salmon migration miniature golf course, where throughout the day children and families would stop before and after trail hikes. The USFWS Pacific Region Fisheries department also set up a tank housing live Pacific lamprey ammocoetes, which were a huge hit among the kids! Like birds, salmon and Pacific lamprey also migrate, so they were welcomed guests at the festival. Closer to the visitor center, Audubon Society of Portland sparked excitement among all visitors with their live birds of prey. Some of the happy visitors were even seen using homemade binoculars to get close-up views of the birds. Though as the day pressed on and the weather clouded over, it didn't stop the crowds from throwing on their raincoats, dressing up the kids in Puddle Stomper gear and enjoying the rest of the refuge. At the end of the day, it was another successful Bird Festival at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge!

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