Being from western New York I am not used to the heat of south central Oklahoma, especially this year as the temperatures have insisted in remaining 5-10˚ above average. However there was no way that I was going to let the heat stop me from enjoying my new SCA internship at Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge.
I jumped right in by helping do water quality monitoring for Pennington Creek on my first day. The monitoring protocol includes air/water temperatures, water clarity, and pH. Additionally, it checks the levels of dissolved oxygen, ammonia nitrogen, nitrate nitrogen, orthophosphate phosphorus, and chloride. The refuge also tests the level of coliforms in the water. This is a program that I will get to participate in each month as my internship progresses.
I also get to assist in many different activities including deer, bird and herpetological surveys. During recent bird surveys I have been able to add many new species to my ‘life list.’ Some of the more interesting birds that I have seen here in Oklahoma include the Neotropic Cormorant and the endangered Least Tern. I have also seen a pond with 200+ Snowy and Great Egrets in the water and surrounding trees; it is not every day that you get to see that many large white birds in one place. The opportunity to do Whitetail Deer surveys has also been a lot of fun. The surveys are done by spotlighting the deer at night on the refuge. The deer survey happens once a week for around 6 to 7 weeks, and lasts however long it takes to see 1,000 deer. This is done to ensure accurate buck/doe/fawn ratios. The herpetological survey was a great chance for me to get to see some cool, mostly cold blodded creatures up close and personal. For that, we set up 6 arrays meant to force creatures into funnel or pitfall traps. We caught a Pickerel Frog (a rarity as its normal range is further east), some Leopard Frogs, an Eastern Narrow Mouth Toad, some Prairie Lined Race Runners, and a Fence Lizard along with a few small mammals such as a Least Shrew and a Hispid Cotton Rat.
Today while out attempting and sometimes succeeding to remove Mimosa trees, I got a chance to see an Orange-stripped Ribbon Snake. The Ribbon Snake is a part of the garter snake family, meaning it was a small, cute, non-venomous snake. This was a highlight of my semi-successful trial run at removing Mimosa trees using newly acquired weed wrenches. The Mimosa trees have strong root systems and I was having difficulty pulling up the roots because they kept snapping off. I was successful with a few smaller trees, but in certain soil types I couldn’t even get the little ones. I have decided to try again once we get some rain, since after a month without precipitation the ground is hard and dry.
Earlier this week I got a chance to go to Oklahoma City where I became a certified Service Technician, allowing me to apply pesticides to invasive species. Throughout my internship I will use ATV/UTV’s, farm tractors and a skid steer to remove many different invasive plants from the refuge.
I have already gotten to do many activities that I had never had an opportunity to do before and look forward to many more great opportunities. This internship is allowing me to travel and live in Oklahoma; I look forward to exploring more of the state in my free time.