Hi! This first blog will be mostly be an introduction of myself and my fellowship. First things first, the photo for this post is not me; it is one of my coworkers during a bird program. Now that that's out of the way, my name is Ivan Bossert and I am an Urban Community Engagement Fellow (UCEF) at the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge in Brussels, Illinois. It is just north of St. Louis, where the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers meet. The refuge was created to protect habitat for waterfowl migrating along the Mississippi river.
As for me, I got my Bachelor’s in Biology and Spanish from Truman State University in 2022. Since then, I have had internships with the National Parks Service in Guadalupe Mountains NP (near El Paso, TX) and in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (San Francisco, CA). Those were wonderful, and it’s looking like this fellowship will be just as great.
Since my arrival in early November, I have been to almost the entire refuge and dipped my toes into the work that everyone here does. One of the first things I did was to go on a duck count with the refuge biologist to see how many birds were using our wetlands. The highest count this fall was 168,000! I also helped the biologist move some water control structures to change the water level in some of our ponds.
More in line with my position title, I have been working with the Visitor’s Service Specialist (I think that’s his title, but we all call him Ranger Bob). As part of the Every Kid Outdoors (EKO) Act, which aims to have as many 4th graders visit federal public lands as possible, Two Rivers is able to set up field trips to the refuge at no cost to the school. I have joined Ranger Bob in leading these field trips, as well as visiting and presenting at the schools before the students come out in order to supplement the experience.
Besides the field trips, I’m involved in planning for the busier summer season, which has more camps and programs, and keeping the visitor’s center open on the winter weekend when hundreds of bald eagles come to the area.
I have been hiding half of my job from you. My apologies. Two Rivers has partnered with another organization, and I am shared between the two. The Audubon Center at Riverlands is an education and outreach center located on the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, just downstream from Two Rivers. That has me working between three different rivers, if you’re keeping track.
At the Audubon I work as part of the education team to do programs and special events at the sanctuary. The team has a cornucopia of curriculum and are always making new programs. This was the third or fourth year of Bows for Birds, a sort of scavenger hunt at 12 parks in the St. Louis area. I helped to hide the birds and create the clues.
One of the local school districts owns an outdoor education facility, and one of the Audubon team teaches there weekly. Every month at the outdoor facility we host a Saturday event for families, and I have been translating the promotional materials for that into Spanish. Finally, when it was warmer, I put up bird-friendly window markings on the doors to the center to make them more visible to birds, hopefully decreasing the number of bird strikes on our windows.
In my first two months here in the St. Louis area I have been blown away by the connectedness of all the organizations involved in the outdoors no matter if it’s federal, state, local, or non-profit. It seems like everyone is connected, and it has been really nice to see partners working together and even helping out just to help out.