Master Naturalists: Sharing outdoors information means education, enjoyment
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By Paul and Mary Meredith
The recent Whooping Crane Festival in Port Aransas allowed us to share outdoors information with visitors to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Our official reason for being at the refuge was sharing information with visitors about how and why we monitor phytoplankton in our Gulf waters. Visitors had other interests and experiences as well, so we learned from each other.
VISITORS' OTHER INTERESTS
The birds and other animals displayed, the many photos and the posters of birds and other animals, quickly caught visitors' eyes at the refuge. Alligators, feral hogs and javelinas displayed attracted their attention and spawned many questions. Maps of the refuge's mainland areas, Matagorda Island and nearby waters sparked interests, such as how the animals lived.
Predictably, visitors asked about what alligators eat, and about the hogs - both feral hogs and javelinas. Learning javelinas aren't hogs, and are in the same class genetically as Africa's hippopotamuses and rhinoceroses surprised them.
Caracaras fascinated many; some had seen them along our highways. And visitors were eager to learn about the refuge's peregrine falcons and aplomado falcons. Aplomados were re-introduced to Matagorda Island. Questions also arose about bird species they hoped to see.
Visitors came from many areas of the United States, some from Canada. Two visitors from the Chesapeake Bay talked about bird species - especially raptors - they see at home and while traveling the country. They were visiting our area to attend the whooper festival. They'd passed two caracaras eating near the highway's edge and had already seen red-tailed hawks on a birding trip elsewhere. They'd not seen a white-tailed hawk and hoped to before going home.
More than a few bald eagles live near their home - Cape May, N.J. Their eagle information recalled our recent bald eagle experience while traveling southwest of Victoria on U.S. Highway 77. We witnessed an eagle's attack on something in the median, followed by its take-off and very near collision with the windshield of the vehicle in front of us.
A couple visiting from Wyoming have long-term interest in birds. He's volunteered more than 10 years in high-desert Wyoming, counting sage grouse and other bird species. We saw them later, and he had seen his first pintail duck - at the refuge. She was very glad. They shared Wyoming's good birding areas and other great Wyoming places to see.
ANOTHER, DIFFERENT INTEREST
Visitors leaving the refuge display areas often spotted a small, stuffed cat, labeled "Asian spotted cat" on a file cabinet by the door. The cat caught their attention, as did the stuffed owl beside it. Customs confiscated the two because importing them into the United States is illegal. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service utilizes such confiscated items to help raise public awareness about protected species.
Paul and Mary Meredith are master naturalists. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.