When most people think of summer work, they envision flipping burgers, scrubbing floors, or working a cash register. I was fortunate enough to get an internship at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History as a Youth Ambassador. To say the least, this summer has been very special. Not only have I furthered my knowledge of the many species present in Western New York, but I have also had the chance to do and see things that most other people don’t get to do.
Prior to the start of this project, I knew a fair amount of trees and animals, but that was about it. In many areas, my understanding was very vague. Through Project Wild America, I learned a vast number of species in an interesting, hands-on way. While meandering through the tranquil woods, one doesn’t realize the diversity of plant life. There’s the invasive honeysuckle, with its poisonous red berries, chicory, bird’s foot trefoil, and Queen Anne’s lace, to name a few. In addition, I have become familiar with some new birds. After all, that was Roger Tory Peterson’s expertise. For example, I had never heard of a cedar waxwing before. This vibrant bird is very common in New York State; now I am starting to notice more and more of them.
This internship has had some challenges. Trekking through the treacherous Chadakoin River has proven to be quite difficult. A copious amount of hidden bricks and concrete slabs have really taken a toll on my legs, not to mention entire trees that seem to come out of nowhere from the murky depths of the river. Plus, our target species, the eastern spiny softshell turtle, has managed to evade our nets and sardine-baited hoop traps. These clever reptiles have outwitted us for the last couple weeks, and they might be one of the most elusive species I’ve ever encountered. Although, taking a swim in the river did feel quite refreshing on some of those blistering July days.
One of the most exciting and enjoyable aspects of this internship are the field trips that we have done. Who else gets paid to go kayaking? Even though our arms were exhausted, it was well worth the journey. We saw majestic great blue herons and double crested cormorants while paddling along virtually untouched sections of the outlet, surrounded by wilderness. Other field trips have included meeting a DEC forester at Harris Hill State Forest, visiting the fish hatchery at Prendergast point, exploring the stupendous Chautauqua Gorge, observing the colossal hemlocks and white pines of the Allegheny National Forest, and stopping by the iconic Kinzua Dam. My favorite excursion was to Rim Rock, which has stunning views of the Allegheny Reservoir and and plenty of boulders to climb.
In summary, being a Youth Ambassador has really meant a lot to me. It has allowed me to augment my environmental literacy and respect, which is essential for protecting our natural resources. Furthermore, I have had experiences that I normally wouldn’t get a chance to do, like going to a fish hatchery. When it comes to staying busy during the summer, it doesn’t get much better than Project Wild America.