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An adventure in conservation

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Posted on September 26, 2014 by Libby Errickson '12, conservation and wildlife management alumna.

Courtesy: Libby Errickson '12 Libby Errickson '12, a conservation and wildlife management alumna, is shown holding a peregrine falcon.

I have lived in six states, moved nine times, and driven to all corners of the country. I've worked for nonprofits, government organizations and a university. While these may seem like signs of an unstable, uncommitted life, it is all part of an exciting career that started at Delaware Valley College.

I graduated from Delval in 2012 with my B.S. in conservation and wildlife management. Like many fresh graduates, I spent the first summer after graduation applying to every job I could find remotely related to my field. Toward the end of the summer, I found a job posting for a position in Cape May, New Jersey. I was living about an hour away at the time, but in a fit of desperation I printed out a copy of my application and hopped in the car. I drove to the Cape May Bird Observatory's headquarters, asked for the gentleman listed on the job posting, and handed him my application.

 "You drove all the way down here just to give me this?" he asked incredulously.

He called me for an interview the next day, and a few days later offered me the position. I had no way of knowing that driving to Cape May that day would be the single most important move of my career, launching me into the world of bird conservation that would envelop me completely, allowing me to discover my passion.

I was hired as a naturalist on New Jersey Audubon's Hawk Watch Platform, one of the most renowned raptor monitoring sites in the country. There were about 15 different species that I would be required to point out, and you can bet I learned them pretty quickly. Cape May's unique geography makes it a migration mecca for raptors, songbirds, and even dragonflies and butterflies. As a result, it has also become a bit of a naturalist magnet. Some of the most well-known people in the field have made their homes in Cape May, and I was lucky to have the opportunity to learn from and be inspired by some of the best. That fall was the first watering of my seedling career, which had been planted at DelVal. I couldn't wait for it to keep growing.

I found myself hooked on birds. The following spring I took a job as a field technician at Ohio State University. While identifying birds and teaching people about migration was a perfect way for me to learn as much as I could, I knew that public education wasn't my calling. I wanted to contribute to the world of conservation by doing the research that allows us to know more about species' lives, habitats, and the things that threaten to shorten their time on this planet--information from which effective conservation plans are formed. My job at Ohio State monitoring the breeding of cardinals and robins in urban environments was an ideal introduction to the worlds of field science and data collection.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, most jobs in the early stages of a career in avian biology are temporary, focused on one aspect of a bird’s life that only happens during certain parts of the year. For this reason, just a few months after moving to Ohio, I was moving again—this time to the other side of the country. I decided to go back to my first avian experience, the raptors, and accepted a raptor counter position in Washington, with a nonprofit organization called HawkWatch International. I set up camp on the North Cascade Mountain Range with a crew of five other people. We slept in tents, cooked our meals and I hiked every morning with an altitude gain of 2,000 feet to get to the rocky outcropping, scanning the skies for migrating raptors. I can't remember a time in my adult life when I've felt happier.

It's rare for the jobs to line up well together, for one job to end leaving you with enough time (but not too much time) to get yourself organized and moved to the next spot in time for the new job to start. When the job in Washington was over at the end of October 2013, I had about two months to kill before I had to be at the next job I'd lined up in Florida. I promised my parents I'd be home by Thanksgiving.

I drove with two friends from Chelan Ridge to the Olympic Peninsula, where we hiked and bird-watched and I saw my first whale at the northwestern most point of the continental U.S. I left my friends in Seattle and drove down the Oregon and Californian coasts, making stops to visit friends in Portland and Los Angeles, to go for a run in the redwood forests, camp under the Golden Gate Bridge and spot hawks with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. I drove to the Grand Canyon, then to Bryce Canyon in Utah, and to Canyonlands National Park. After a weekend in Denver, I headed home to Pennsylvania, pulling into my driveway two days before Thanksgiving.

That freeing, soul-searching adventure is an example of one of the many cool things I've been able to do because of my career. After spending the holidays with my family, I packed up again and moved to Florida, where I worked as an intern at the biology department of J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. My primary duty was a multitude of bird and other wildlife surveys. I was learning more and more about the different avenues of conservation, this time gaining perspective from a government standpoint. I also spent a lot of time developing a previously only budding hobby--photography. Birding and photography have long gone hand in hand, and taking photos has given me an extra piece of satisfaction, a physical memento of the birds that touch my heart. It's also a way to share my passion with my friends and family. I was thrilled when the Refuge used my photos on their website and Facebook and one of my photos was even picked up by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Instagram, where it was posted alongside some of the most incredible photography in existence of America's wildlife and landscapes and garnered more than 9,000 likes.

Courtesy: Libby Errickson '12 This photo of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron doing a mating display was shared by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Instagram and got more than 9,000 likes!

I left Florida at the end of June and recently started my current job in Texas. I'm working for HawkWatch International again at their site in Corpus Christi. This site sees more migrating raptors than any other in the country, with counts of Broad-winged Hawks numbering well into the hundreds of thousands. And yes, it's my job to count them, thankfully with help from my fellow counters. I love working on all these different studies and learning about different kinds of research and look forward to the day when I get to craft my own research and try to answer the questions that have entered my mind as I've learned more and more about the avian world. Ideally, I think I would like to enter a graduate program by next fall. Until then, who knows where I'll end up, what birds I'll see, what fabulous new adventures await, and what that tiny seed planted at Delaware Valley College will grow up to be.