To try and describe my experience as the summer banding and conservation intern with Audubon South Carolina feels like a simply insurmountable task; the lessons I learned, the experiences I had, and the amazing naturalists I had the honor of meeting are numerous. Stepping into this opportunity with little prior experience in the field of ornithology, I was admittedly anxious. Having even less experience with waking up at 4:30 in the morning in order to be standing in the middle of the moonlit woods by 5:30am, I was (understandably) even more nervous! But it only took one bird (a Northern Parula, specifically) for me to realize I wouldn’t rather be spending my summer any other way.
It’s difficult not to sound fanatical when talking about my experience because it feels that way to say that this internship changed my life, however that’s the reality of it; even though I’m new to the world of birding, the introduction I was given was more than enough to show me that not only is ornithology itself an unique and exciting field, but that it also perfectly fits and supports my existing interests–namely my interest in the ecology of migration.
Coming out of my undergraduate studies, I was still debating whether or not I really wanted to go to graduate school; I hadn’t really had much experience in the field nor could I think of any one group of organisms that I’d want to study. Fast forward to that first moonlit morning and there I was, giddy with excitement, as Jen (my spectacular mentor) and I opened mist nets.
Despite being mildly delirious from little sleep, I realized how much I absolutely loved being in the field; as the day carried on, I found myself realizing how integral birds are to the ecosystems they’re a part of and that if there was ever a group of organisms to study migration through, it was our feathered friends. It seems rather obvious now, but if I hadn't spent this summer learning what I have about birds, I don’t think I would have ever come to that conclusion.
I feel as though I spent 2 ½ months in a fever dream simply because nothing else would explain how I had ended up extracting and banding birds as the sun rose almost every Wednesday morning, riding around a major shorebird roostery on a boat in the Charleston Harbor, and walking through an ancient swamp to check nest boxes. I spent this summer doing exactly the kinds of work I dreamt of doing as a kid and often found myself counting down the hours until I clocked in next. Despite my rambling, words can’t fully capture how absolutely stellar this opportunity was; I gained and sharpened my skills as a naturalist in an environment that I was fully supported. Going forward from here, I feel fully prepared to step into whatever opportunities await me in the future and I owe it to this amazing opportunity, more specifically the outstanding people who took me under their wing (pun slightly intended) and have helped me grow so much.