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My Life As A Part Time Park Ranger

So, in April, I got a part-time job as a park ranger for the Mississippi River and it is a great time! I work primarily at the Mississippi River Visitor’s Center at the Science Museum of Minnesota but I do get a chance to get out in the field. Last week, a group of staff went canoeing along the Vermillion Bottoms. What a joy to canoe in spring and get to know some of the people who work for the parks like the Historian, Botany Bob, and Rock Girl (nicknames all based on their areas of expertise–although Non Birding Bill said that we sounded like some sad band of super heroes: “The Historian and Birdchick canoe the river using their magical interpretation skills to save the people!”)

I had a great time, the birding was fantastic. I couldn’t really take my digiscoping equipment in the canoe, but still could watch the birds. Above, you might notice a bright yellow spot in that pile of brush–that was one of about eight prothonotary warblers we saw. You can’t really tell it from the photo, but we could see them very well with the naked eyes. We heard parulas (and other warblers), had a flock of caspian terns fly over, saw one sandhilll crane, lots of eagles and I was totally surprised to see a flock of common nighthawks hawking for insects above our heads. I figured these normally nocturnal birds were mid-migration and very hungry.

We stopped for bit and had lunch along the river. We were there at least thirty minutes and a few of us snuck off into the woods to…see a man about a horse. As I was working my way back, I heard a strange noise right about where the above photo was taken. I pished a few times and a few seconds later a HUGE turkey hen burst out of the grass…almost causing me to relieve myself on the spot. All of us should have noticed a turkey lurking in the grass during lunch…unless she was totally hunkered on a nest. I walked over to where she burst forth:

There were the eggs. Poor thing must have been terrified when we pulled up our canoes and started eating. We had finished our lunch so we packed up as quick as we could and left to give her a chance to come back to her nest of fourteen eggs.

You do see quite a bit of litter along the river, one of the most disturbing piece we found was this two liter bottle of 7-Up filled to the brim with used hypodermic needles. EW!

Canoeing isn’t the only thing I’ve been up to. The week before the canoeing, I got to go out and follow along with some of the eagle banding happening along the Mississippi River.

Even though the bald eagle is off the endangered species list, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on them. Because they are so high on the food chain on the river, the researchers are using the eagles as an indicator species–if something is affecting them, it’s eventually going to affect the humans. The birds all have a bit of blood drawn that’s DNA tested and also checked for pollutants. Because the research is still going on, I can’t give all the details at the moment…but it does make me want to be a bit more choosy about what part of the river I would eat fish from.

Check out those eagle toes! I will say that it was fun to work with big birds in my banding comfort zone as opposed to those teeny warblers.

Professional tree climbers from out west were brought in to get the eagle chicks out of the nest. It was way cool to watch them work. They used a crossbow with an arrow and string attached. Once the arrow made it over an appropriate branch, a climbing rope was added and then the guys would climb the rope into the trees. It was impressive to say the least.

It was interesting to notice the animals living the trees with the eagle nest. One tree had an oriole nest a few feet away. Above, a guy from the DNR was measuring the circumference of the nest tree when he shouted, “Hey, there’s something nesting in here…and it’s furry.” He didn’t want to stick his hand in, so I gave him my camera to stick in the hole and snap a photo:

At first, we weren’t sure what they were. I wondered if they were otter, but if you look at the back paws, that gives them away. Do you know? They’re baby raccoons–prey, right in the base of a tree with an eagle nest!

There have been requests to see the park ranger uniform:

If you’re thinking “Wow, a badge and a cool hat–that’s gotta be fun!”

It is.

If you’re at the Science Museum, stop in and say hello.


25 comments to My Life As A Part Time Park Ranger

  • NCmountainwoman

    This post was a wonderful start to the day. It must be so much fun working with these folks. Not to mention the cool uniform.

  • P. Ollig

    I think I may have said this before, but welcome to the NPS family! It IS all about the hat, isn’t it? ;-)

    Did they make you tie your hat band all by yourself? Or did you cheat and get someone to help?

  • tai haku

    I wish I got a cool hat with my job…..

  • Quill

    Heh, look on the bright side–at least they put all the needles away in the bottle rather than scattering them about!

    Nice hat. :D

  • birdchick

    p. ollig

    thanks for the welcome–and yes, it is all about the hat…and maybe the badge too.

  • Mike

    Very cool, Sharon, and I love that mounty thing you’ve got going! The Parks Dept has just acquired another national treasure.

  • belcasas

    what a wonderful post! you are a great writer sharon… I felt like I was there. where’s that first novel?

  • Susan Gets Native

    Holy Crap, dude. You are all like official and stuff. The hat RAWKS.

  • spacedlaw

    Sounds like fun work. and a cool hat to boot (I am mighty jealous – in fact I am so green with envy that I might sprout a few leaves anf flowers).

  • Bridget

    That? Is the best uniform ever. I’m quite partial to the necktie thingy, myself.

    The Historian, Rock Girl, Botany Bob and the Birdchick: keeping our national parks running smooth and safe, AND they wear cool hats.

  • Holly

    you are so cute in that uniform! all I get is a hard hat and an orange vest =o( thankfully I rarely have to wear them

  • janet

    Waah! NPS gets the good hats. USFWS gives the volunteers ugly blue hats and uglier blue vests, but at least we get cool volunteer sweatshirts.

  • troutbirder

    great post. Thanks. Could you identify roads and canoe launching spots for this part of the Mississippi?

  • jenianddean

    Great post … I enjoy your updates so much. I remember when I lived in Davenport, Iowa I followed the Mississippi to where the eagles were wintering and they were so amazing to see. But I didn’t realize they feet were so massive — intimidating, to say the least!

  • Amy

    The hat’s a nice touch, but I think the piece de resistance is the snappy neck tie. Reminds me of my Girl Scout Brownie uniform oh so many years ago.

  • Shellmo

    Your day sounded great! Birding, park ranger, interesting people – I’m envious!

  • hellziggy

    I read Hellbob the list of nicknames & NBB’s comment. He said “Yeah, it’s like the Legion of Substitute Substitute Heroes.” LOL

    Cool hat!

    My guess on the bottle of needles would be a diabetic, because a junkie wouldn’t be so careful about putting them all in one place. Can’t imagine how it ended up in the river though…

    ~other Sharon

  • Penelope

    I’ve been noticing quite a few nighthawks over Northfield lately, and it’s never at night, and often not even at dusk. They are among my favorites because of their handsome wing shape and markings and their distinctive overhead call.

  • mum of critters

    that is just so awesome Sharon!

  • Mike and Lizette's Travels and Thoughts

    Sounds like a fun job, congratulations on the position. Thanks for showing what you do, also hope you have a successful time with this job and the beehives.

    Mike & Lizette

  • momo

    You ARE a terrific writer! Bees, birds, banding and boating (OK, canoeing)–I love your stories.Thanks!

  • Monica

    You look wonderful darling,

  • janet

    Still wicked envious of cool hat. At least I have a cool shirt.

  • KatDoc

    1) I love a (Bird)Chick in a uniform. Nice hat!

    2) HellZiggy had my answer on the syringes. They look like insulin syringes, and I tell my clients with diabetic pets to dispose of their used syringes in a heavy-gauge plastic bottle, like a detergent bottle. I don’t tell them to throw the bottle in the river, though!

    3) Eagle feet and baby raccoons – too cool!

    4) I knew that tiny yellow spot was a Prothonotary Warbler! It just looked like the right shade of yellow in the right habitat.

    Nice post – keep it up, Super Hero!

    ~Kathi

  • Miss B

    Very cool indeed! and yes I LOVE that hat!