Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here!
Coastal cactus wrens all over San Diego County are singing their praise for Colleen Wisinski. As a Senior Research Technician in the Applied Animal Ecology Division, Ms. Wisinski runs field operations and does research in habitats adjacent to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. She is using her efforts to save the coastal cactus wren (also known as the San Diego cactus wren). The coastal cactus wren is a subspecies of the more widely distributed cactus wren, and is recognized by the state of California as a species of special concern.
Ms. Wisinski’s typical day consists mainly of fieldwork. She travels out to the 800 acres of native habitat surrounding the Safari Park to create a brighter future for the coastal cactus wren. This bird needs cactus specifically to be able to make their nests, which they use year round. She helps plant new cactus, especially in the areas where the 2007 Witch Creek Wildfire destroyed much of the previous habitat.
After helping to provide a sustainable habitat for the birds, Ms. Wisinski attempts to generate more information about the species. She and her team head out to do point counts and band birds. During a point count, a group spreads out to different sections of a mapped area. They listen and look out for coastal cactus wrens, sometimes using recorded bird calls to lure the birds out of hiding. They can then take these numbers and use a statistical method to generate an estimate of the number of birds in those patches of habitat. Another way she tracks the birds is through banding.
Ms. Wisinski will often use special nets called mist nets to catch the birds in order to band them. These nets are very fine and do not harm the birds. They give Ms. Wisinski the opportunity to band individual birds with different color bands so they can be recognized from a distance. Often, camera traps are placed at nesting sites to record the action there, including movement in and out of a nest. This gives Ms. Wisinski the knowledge of which birds are mating, and even the social dynamics among them.
Ms. Wisinski is also responsible for publicizing and gaining support for the cactus wren project. It costs money to conduct this important research, therefore Ms. Wisinski must foster public awareness for the coastal cactus wren’s cause through magazine articles and other outreach methods.
Ms. Wisinski originally wanted to be a wildlife veterinarian. She wound up becoming a research technician in ecology after earning Bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay, a Master’s degree in Fish and Wildlife Management from Montana State University, as well as completing many internships and projects. She continued with ecology because she takes pleasure in the field work and the ability to be creative in solving problems. Ms. Wisinski enjoys her fellow coworkers and their shared passion for conservation. Everyone who works on the coastal cactus wren project is aware of the critical situation these birds face. They know that without help this subspecies could disappear. The effort Ms. Wisinski and others put in may not show immediate results, but the affect with be proven in years to come. Ms. Wisinski says she is lucky to be able to do her job and be a part of the solution.
Denae, Career Team
Fall 2012, week three