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Bigfork students go afield for science as interns in Glacier Park

Daily Inter Lake | August 22, 2022 12:00 AM

Two Bigfork High School students got the unique opportunity to explore science in Glacier National Park this summer as Nora Kehoe and Tabitha Raymond both served as interns sponsored by the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

Both students were given the internships after receiving recommendations from their teachers and got the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field while learning from scientists studying flora and fauna in the crown of the continent’s ecosystem.

“I got to talk to all of these amazing people about my future plans and they were able to give me advice. They helped me learn so much about the world in general and the birds and Glacier Park,” Kehoe, who served with the park’s Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program, said. “I have always been interested in birds, but I didn’t realize just how much until I got this internship. I would have taken anything, but this was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”

Every 10 days from June 10 until Aug. 11, Kehoe got the opportunity to help with the MAPS program as it used 10 nets to capture, band and record information on many of the park’s songbird species. Along the way, Kehoe developed a newfound love for the park’s birds.

“I thought it was fascinating to learn about all these different bird species that I had no idea about. I basically just got thrown into the bird world next to all of these experts, and that wasn’t easy. I had so many things I had to learn,” she said. “I got to be immersed in all of this avian information that was like a whole new world for me. It was amazing to actually be able to hold these birds and learn about them first-hand from all of these experts.”

Kehoe also got the chance to help out with the park’s harlequin duck research team as she spent three days hiking along McDonald creek to take water samples for Glacier’s new environmental DNA study.

While she enjoyed working with the harlequins, she said it was the songbirds of the park that really grabbed her attention.

“I loved the cedar waxwings. They are so beautiful and angelic. They have these feathers that are silky smooth and amazing,” she said. “I also really like the American redstarts with their amazing colored wings.”

Kehoe will be a senior at Bigfork High School this year and says she hopes to go into the field of wildlife biology and conservation after graduation.

“This has really helped me develop a broad outlook of my future. I am super excited where all these connections I made might lead me,” she said. “It opens up so many more opportunities for me.”

Raymond also participated with the MAPS studies this summer but also got a more rounded view of conservation in the park as she served as a general conservation intern.

Along with the songbird surveys, Raymond worked with the native plant nursery collecting seeds and working with whitebark pine. She joined a USGS fisheries crew as they worked to remove invasive trout from Logging Lake, participated in a loon study and even got to watch young golden and bald eagles learning to fly.

“Getting to learn from experts who really know their field was amazing,” she said. “It was a really amazing experience. All of the people I met and the things I got to do were unbelievable.”

While she enjoyed the entire experience, Raymond said getting to handle songbirds with the MAPS program was particularly fun.

“Being able to handle the birds and see them up close was very interesting. It was an incredibly unique experience,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people never get to see a songbird up close like that.”

Raymond, who will graduate from high school in January, says she plans to get her basics out of the way at Flathead Valley Community College in the spring before hopefully going on to study conservation at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

“I applied for the internship so I could learn what kind of conservation I want to study moving forward and I feel like this summer was incredibly helpful with that goal,” she said. “I really enjoyed the biology work, so that is probably the direction I will take.”


Glacier National Park conservation intern Tabitha Raymond (right) inspects a songbird captured as part of the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship program Aug. 11. (Jeremy Weber/Daily Inter Lake)


Intern Nora Kehoe collects water samples from McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park Aug. 10 as part of an environmental DNA study of harlequin ducks. (Jeremy Weber/Daily Inter Lake)