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Studying and Teaching About Birds in California and Latin America

An Education Internship with the Park Flight Program

Adrián Gutiérrez Pérez

Park Flight interns Roselvy Juarez from El Salvador and Adrián Gutiérrez from Mexico hold banded Fox Sparrows. PRBO photo by Jonathan Gunther

Since early August of this year, my home has been PRBO's Palomarin Field Station—thanks to the Park Flight Migratory Bird Program. I'm an ornithologist and teacher from Mexico, serving an internship through Park Flight. This program works to protect ‘shared' migratory bird species and their habitats in both U.S. and Latin American national parks and protected areas. It focuses on developing bird conservation and education projects and creating opportunities for technical exchange and cooperation.

In Mexico, I studied biology at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and later received a master's degree. Now I work as a teacher at Centro Educativo Morelia, a school located in Morelia, Michoacan (western Mexico), where children learn about living beings, habitats, and how people's actions can benefit society.

When my interest in birds began, I often heard about PRBO as one of the most important bird research organizations, and I always wanted to know more. Then, last November, an email message caught my attention, about opportunities to become an intern at national parks in the United States. One internship was based at PRBO, and I recognized this as a unique chance to practice ways of educating people about birds and their conservation. These are important issues in Mexico, where habitat loss, pollution, and poaching are some of the threats birds and other wildlife face every day.

On August 1st, I flew from Mexico City to San Francisco, en route to PRBO's field station in the southern end of Point Reyes National Seashore. Since then, I have participated in many different PRBO activities. One of the first was meeting my supervisors, Melissa Pitkin and Missy Wipf, to discuss my duties and goals. I began my internship with a teacher training workshop, hosted by The Bay Institute, for Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed (STRAW). This allowed me to meet teachers from the Bay Area and learn more about the culture of the U.S.
Fox Sparrow. Photo © Peter LaTourrette

As the school year began, we grew busy with school-group visits for bird-banding demonstrations at Palomarin and other PRBO mist-netting sites. Our classroom visits have also been frequent and rewarding. I have met kind and enthusiastic students willing to participate, learn, and share experiences about birds.

Another activity that I have enjoyed very much is our visit every Wednesday to Pickleweed Community Center in San Rafael, where Missy and I offer Bird Club to participants in the after-school program. By engaging the kids in fun but educational activities, we learn the local birds and recognize the Canal Area as an important habitat.

New places, people, and birds

Another of my duties is to assist with PRBO Monthly Bird Walks. There I have met birders with different levels of experience who share a strong desire to tell their bird stories. I have also encountered a number of bird species new to me: at Bodega Bay, the Common Murre and Pacific Loon—fairly common here but which I have never seen in Mexico; at Abbott's Lagoon, the Savannah Sparrow, Red-necked Phalarope, and even a trio of river otters! In mid-September, I had the opportunity to spend time with PRBO Naturalist Rich Stallcup and participants in the Member's Weekend Trip to Mono Lake. My list of new species grew even larger there: Williamson's Sapsucker, Lewis' Woodpecker, Black-billed Magpie, Sandhill Crane, and more.

From the amazing Sierran views that weekend, to the laughter and delicious meals I share with the banding interns at Palomarin, I have enjoyed many more things than I imagined when I was first selected to come here. I will take home a wealth of new experience for my continuing work in Mexico.