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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Arizona, USA

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Arizona, USA

sn2000



Registered: September 2018
City/Town/Province: Hollis
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I spent the first quarter of my childhood in Nevada surrounded by nature, frequently visiting the zoo and enjoying the peace and quiet. This all quickly changed when my family decided to move to New York City, the largest city in the U.S. filled with tall buildings, an overwhelming number of people, and crowded streets. From quiet mornings on the west coast to noisy mornings on the east coast, I had a lot of adjusting to do. I quickly began to realize how different the city was. Even the air I was breathing was really different due to the many types of air pollutants that can come from millions of sources, inside and outside city boundaries. I remember asking my 2nd grade teacher why this was, and she introduced to me the term "global warming". This is when I realized how connected the entire world was. I realized that the gas coming out of the cars, the garbage piled up on the sidewalk, and my decision to shower for five extra minutes all contribute directly to the long-term change in the Earth's climate.


During the senior year in high school, my ecology teacher introduced us to an expedition by the Earthwatch Institute. Along with 8 other students and 3 teachers, I decided to join this expedition to Arizona to learn about the effect of climate change on small owls. I was really excited to go to the west coast again where I originally grew up. I stayed in the Southwestern Research Station under the direction of the American Museum of Natural History. This research station was in the middle of nowhere but had a lot of biodiversity and is also the richest owl community. It is located in the Chiricahua Mountains in beautiful southeast Arizona.


On the first day of the expedition, we learned all about owls and the purpose of this research. Climate change is altering the habitat of small owl species such as the Flammulated Owl, the Northern Saw-whet Owl, the Elf Owl, the Whiskered Screech-Owl and the Northern Pygmy-Owl. These owls are vulnerable to the effects of climate change because their migrations coincide with other ecosystems. If one aspect of these multiple ecosystems changes, it throws off the timing of the migration, thus affecting the conservation status of the entire species. In addition, scientists predict that natural tree cavities that owls live in will likely disappear affecting species relying on these cavities for shelter or breeding. To address this issue, we helped scientists' inventory and study the dynamics of cavities in different forest-types. On this expedition, I learned all about owls and their fascinating abilities. They can turn their heads 270 degrees, they have large tubular eyes packed with rods helping with movement in low light, they have silent flight and excellent hearing. Owls don't make their own nests, instead they use others making them secondary cavity nesters. I was amazed by how incredible this tiny species was. As the lead Earthwatch scientist would say, "owls are the pinnacle of evolution".


Although I learned a lot about owls, there is still so much to discover about them. Contrary to the popular belief, very little information exists on the breeding ecology and habitat relationships of many small owl species. We tackled questions like has the timing of the first egg hatching or the fledging date changed over time at either Utah or Arizona? Or what are the potential impacts of climate change on breeding phenology within and between sites? To study the owls, we had to capture them in the wild. First, we had to learn how to set up mist nets to capture the owls. Then we would play recorded owl sounds to lure the owl into the net. After capturing the owl, we would take measurements and if the owl was newly caught, we would attach a band to track their migration before releasing it back into the wild. We also searched for natural tree cavities and recorded their GPS locations. We used mirror poles and specialized video cameras to search cavities for evidence of owl usage, measure tree height and vegetation in surrounding habitat.


Contributing to the study of forest owls has helped scientists better conserve owls and other cavity nesting wildlife, but it changed me as a person. Getting a glimpse into the lives of owls while collecting valuable date changed the way I thought about wild species at night. It made me appreciate animals and see the overall bigger picture. For instance, climate change can impact the moisture which influences insects which then hurts owls. After this trip, I wanted to continue to do work to help my local community and the environment. My team from Earthwatch and I would plant native trees such as dogwoods and tall white willows in the Willow Lake Preserve trail in New York City. This freshwater wetland was right by our high school and preserving this bird watcher paradise was important to me. My trip to Arizona inspired me to educate the next generation about protecting our environment. I spoke to many of my peers about how their everyday actions have a domino effect on the world. Currently, I am in college studying engineering hoping to design the future that I want to see. Although I do not see myself working with owls in the future, I certainly want to learn engineering to help conserve habitats and species.
Date: January 1, 2019 Views: 186 File size: 37.6kb : 350 x 263
Hours Volunteered: 100
Volunteers: 12
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 18
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