People are the heart of conservation, serving as ambassadors in fostering understanding of our natural world and humanity. Summer technicians play a key role in collecting essential bird data that helps inform our work. Often new in their careers, these technicians give us an opportunity to learn from their perspectives, just as much as they learn from us. Ensuring a positive work experience is crucial as we aim to nurture their professional growth and cultivate a foundation for long-term success. This past summer was no exception. We are pleased to share the next step for Elise Bakke, former Audubon Great Plains Summer Technician, current Graduate Student at North Dakota State University.
Q: Before working as a Grassland Bird Technician with Audubon Great Plains, what were you up to?
A: I had just graduated from college and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next since I just closed a major chapter in my life. I was doing small jobs here and there while also applying for positions working in grassland conservation so I could get some actual applied experience, before going back to school to get my masters.
Q: What was your favorite experience working with Audubon Great Plains?
A: It is really hard to pick a favorite but I'll have to go with traveling to all the beautiful places we surveyed. The landowners were amazing to speak with about what they're doing on their land and how much they love what they do. It was also such a big challenge to conduct these surveys, but I am so proud to be able to say I accomplished something like that. That alone made it my favorite experience of the summer and something I'll carry with me for the rest of my life.
Q: Did any bird surveying experiences stand out to you?
A: The first one that came to mind and makes me laugh looking back now, was when I was in Nebraska doing my first survey, so everything was still so new and I was still getting a handle on things. Day 1 went smoothly but when day 2 rolled around I was struggling with what felt like everything! My maps weren’t loading, the terrain was hard to navigate, and I was stressed with trying to finish all of my survey points before 10am! I had finally got my map to load and I was on my way when I heard a loud bird call from close by. To my surprise I saw two long-billed curlews flying directly at me and they didn’t sound happy! I’ll never forget that feeling of being like “and now this?!”. For the next 4 survey points they would not stop squawking, flying at me, and, following me. I really had to keep my head on a swivel. Safe to say I learned a lot that day, and I’ll never forget the call of a Long-billed Curlew.
Q: During your time working with Audubon Great Plains, what inspired you?
A: I was most inspired by the Women in Conservation event that took place at the Edward M. III Brigham Sanctuary this summer. It was so lovely to hear the stories and experiences of other women in this field and it gave me a lot of hope and motivation for the future! Bringing people together is so special but even more when we can come together for something bigger than ourselves.
Q: How did your time working with Audubon Great Plains surprise you?
A:I was honestly most surprised by this position being so much more than just surveying for birds! There were so many amazing opportunities, events, and trainings that we also got to attend on top of doing bird and plant surveys. The knowledge and experiences I gained from these are so valuable.
Q: And what are you up to now?
A: Right now I am in grad school at NDSU, getting my masters in Natural Resource Management. For this I'll be working in central North Dakota this summer on a restoration project along Knife River. I was definitely inspired by the team at Audubon Great Plains! Seeing the relationships everyone had with each other while also being successful and doing upstanding work in conservation was truly eye-opening. I was glad to see that being a part of a team like that is possible.