Experience, knowledge, and family. These are the three most important things that I have gained from Warnell, and this is only my second semester in the professional program. This tight-knit school opens doors to endless opportunities to experience the world from a different perspective. During my short time in Warnell, I have already been on trips and field courses beneficial to my future as a successful wildlife biologist. Two trips in particular have had the greatest impact on me and made me fall deeper in love with my major, Dr. Castleberry’s trip to Sapelo Island, GA with his Vertebrate Natural History class and Dr. Mengak’s Discover Abroad Smoky Mountains Field Course in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this past August.
One of the most fun, important, and educational Warnell courses is Vertebrate Natural History taught by Dr. Steven Castleberry. Throughout the semester you are taught the natural history of 400+ species of animals. Each spring semester, Dr. Castleberry takes his class on a weekend trip to Sapelo Island, Georgia to learn through hands-on experience. The trip is an amazing time to bond with your classmates and professor. I was challenged to test my knowledge of the animals we encountered, which were those we learned throughout the semester. During the trip I enjoyed small mammal trapping, bat netting, and amphiuma trapping. We learned important techniques for safely trapping and releasing these animals, all the while getting hands-on experience with the animals and receiving the education we need for our futures.
This trip wasn’t just about education. Honestly, my absolute favorite part of the trip was bonding with my classmates. I met some of my best friends because of the fun and relaxing atmosphere, not to mention the conveniently placed volleyball court. We all bonded over our love of wildlife, sports, and having a good time. During our free time, late at night, we would all grab golf carts and ride around the island searching for interesting wildlife. Some amazing creatures we encountered were alligators, feral cows, an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and hundreds of frogs and toads. This trip was by far the best trip I have ever been on, and if you get the opportunity I would strongly encourage you not to pass it up!
Most recently I embarked on my second Warnell trip—Dr. Mengak’s week-long Smoky Mountains field course in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trip was a week well-spent and went beyond my wildest expectations! There were a total of 9 Warnell wildlife students on the trip, so our group became friends very quickly. We even gave our van a code name, “The Cool Van”, courtesy of Dr. Mengak himself. Throughout the week we put our field skills and wildlife sampling techniques to the test by sampling for small mammals, salamanders, birds, reptiles, and amphibians in the great outdoors of the Smoky Mountains. We took excursions to many different sites within the national park, including our hike up Clingman’s Dome and the Ramsey Cascades Trail. The main research project we took part of while there was testing the effectiveness of bear spray before and after it degrades. Campers and hikers have begun spraying the bear spray on their bags and tents to deter bears; however, studies have shown that after the spray degrades it emits a sweet smell that attracts bears. Our project included setting trail cameras and baiting different areas, half of which were sprayed with bear spray to test its effectiveness. Our results are currently being analyzed, but we were able to capture many different large mammals on our trail cams including White-tailed deer, black bears, coyote, and bobcats. After a long day’s work we started a campfire where we were able to kick back, talk about our day, and get to know the students from the other schools. I looked forward this to each day because who doesn’t like bonding over s’mores and a campfire?!
These trips have shaped me into a person who loves to get out of my comfort zone, meet new people and see what nature has to offer. Warnell has endless opportunities for its students to gain experiences that will last a lifetime. I encourage you to get out there and have fun!