A Summer of Hiking and Learning
By Henry O’Donnell
Hello everyone! My name is Henry O’Donnell and I’ve been lucky enough to be hired as a Summer Education Assistant here at Pepperwood along with Allie Ahern! I became involved at Pepperwood back in the summer of 2013 as one of the interns for the very first year of TeenNat. I’ve stayed involved with Pepperwood and TeenNat ever since, spending a few days every summer returning to volunteer with the internship as an alum!
Now I attend UC Berkeley and am working towards a degree in Integrative Biology, focusing on environmental biology. I’ve had a lifelong passion for biology and zoology, and TeenNat helped me decide to combine that passion with a commitment to protect the environment. I’m not sure exactly where my degree will lead me, but I am very excited to pursue something in the environmental field!
Wherever I am, from Berkeley to here at home in Sonoma County, I always try to seek out natural areas all around me. Spending time wandering about outside in nature is one of my favorite activities, as there are always amazing and unique things to notice— from lizards sunning themselves on rocks, to insects buzzing around, to wildflowers and other lovely plants to observe. Pepperwood Preserve hosts such an abundant range of life and beautiful landscapes, and it has been one of my favorite places since that first experience here through TeenNat five years ago, so I was very eager to have the opportunity to come and work here! This summer, I am getting paid to hike around all different parts of the preserve with fun people, from the kids of the Budding Biologists summer camp to the interns of TeenNat, while simultaneously teaching them about natural history, native species, and conservation—all things that I love!
Weeks ago, at the beginning of July, we hosted TeenNat orientation. Soon-to-be interns arrived with their families, filling out and turning in paperwork, meeting other participants, setting up carpools, and learning more about what they were in for over these five weeks of TeenNat. Some had friends in the program, others knew no one. During the first week, our goal was to get all of the interns to know each other and make new friends. Writing now from the last week, I can safely say that we succeeded in this goal. We have a great group where everyone is comfortable with each other, and with us educators, full of friendships old and new. As we have said many times during the internship, a scientist has to be comfortable working and communicating in groups.
One of the main focuses of TeenNat is to make and upload observations of Pepperwood’s plant and animal species to iNaturalist.org, an online, crowdsourced biodiversity database. Whenever we go out hiking, the interns are encouraged make many detailed observations using cameras, GPS units, and datasheets. While some are happy making lots of observations per day, others need more constant reminders that while wading into the pond and chasing lizards and snakes is an enjoyable use of time, they also need to remember to take observations of what they find before moving on. I try to help this process by noticing and pointing out interesting things around the interns, from a beetle flying around our heads to a lone flower or plant within a group of another species to some type of mammal scat filled with berries.
Once back at the classroom for computer time, the interns upload their observations to iNat, often needing to spend some time identifying the subject, hoping to narrow the ID down to the species level. I spend a lot of this time confirming the identifications of species I am familiar with and aiding the interns with their questions—which often ends with me handing them the appropriate field guide or redirecting their question to Nicole or Jesse. Going into the last week of the internship, this year’s group has just passed 400 uploaded observations, way over the goal of 250!
As TeenNat and the summer come to an end, I hope all the interns have gotten a lot out of the internship—I know I certainly have! I’ll miss hiking around, identifying plants and animals, having scientific conversations with the interns, learning about scientific careers, and being here at Pepperwood!