Spotlight: Tabitha HobbsPosted February 6th, 2008 by Alexander Schreyer
Tabitha Hobbs is a graduate of the Natural Resources Studies program. During college Tabitha participated in a biology internship for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and in a nature education program at a summer camp in Maine. She now works at the Blue Hill Trails Museum where she enjoys environmental education programming with many rescued or rehabilitated wild animals housed at the museum.
Major: Natural Resource Studies
Future in her own words: [MEDIA=1]
Tabitha Hobbs is a graduate of the Natural Resources Studies program. She graduated in 2004 with a minor in education studies and wildlife conservation. Her advisor was Kurt Griffin. During college Tabitha participated in a biology internship for the US Fish and Wildlife Service at National Wildlife Refuge Great Meadows, and in the following summer took part in a nature education program at a summer camp in Maine. Following graduation Tabitha worked at the Blue Hill Trails Reservation summer camp. She now works at the Blue Hill Trails Museum where she does environmental education programming with many rescued or rehabilitated wild animals housed at the museum.
Originally I started out as environmental science at UMass and then decided that that wasn’t exactly the major that I wanted. So I switched to wildlife conservation. I did a biology internship for US Fish and Wildlife at Great Meadows and that experience taught me that I actually wanted to work with people.
Because when I went to find the National Wildlife Refuge, I got lost and went to ask somebody in the town “where is Great Meadows?” and they looked at me like I had two heads because they had no idea it was there. That kind of threw me for a loop and made me decide that we need to be doing more education and working with people. So I switched gears, I changed to Natural Resources Studies and minored in Education and Wildlife Conservation.
There’s a lot I remember fondly. I loved UMass. First and foremost, I love the Natural Resources department. I had a wonderful experience. It provided great community, as well as opportunity to grow and expand and try new things. So I’d highly recommend it to anyone.
The one thing—and it’s not a class—that had the biggest…impact on me was the Wildlife Society because I was really active with that when I was there. And that provided me a lot of experience in making contacts, and networking. Getting to know people and getting new ideas. So that was a huge part of my growth as a wildlife professional/educator. As a fun introductory course, I really enjoyed 261 Wildlife, with Fuller. It was wildlife conservation. One of my favorite classes was not in the department. It was sustainable living with John Gerber. And that was an amazing course, again I would highly recommend it, I really enjoyed that one.
Doing the practicum with the Hitchcock center was really great. I would encourage anyone that has an idea, that wants to try an internship to get hands on experience to do it because that’s definitely what taught me the most. I had a lot of courses I enjoyed, but in terms of life experiences, doing internships had the biggest impact. A
Advice on educating
It’s a lot of fun. It’s really, really fulfilling work. And I love working with all ages. As a challenging thing, I’d say that it’s challenging but really, really important to incorporate research and science into education. And that is something that oftentimes isn’t done and I find that. Even people that are pursuing research, I think that education is important for them to know and understand. Because without education we can’t have more research.
So as advice, I’d say to—that whether you are interested in research or education, try to understand both aspects. Because I’ve found that whatever research experience I have is really, really valuable to me and I try to use that when educating people. That gives me a basis to teach off of as well as a basis to learn from. Because I do this to continue learning for the rest of my life. That’s why I teach, because I love to learn. So if you’re going to do this, you have to be flexible. You have to be enthusiastic. And you have to really love the profession. I’d say it’s a lot of fun and I’d say just go for it if you’re interested in it because it’s been a wonderful experience, and it just gets better and better every day.
It’s called Blue Hills Trailside Museum because it was designed as the trailside museum, the gateway to the blue hills. And so it starts out here in the field habitat, where there’s an interactive camouflage exhibit. And we also have a variety of live animals.
People of the Blue Hills (click to hear audio track)
And then in this part, we talk more about the people of the blue hills and how it’s been used in the past. So we actually have maps that show where different stone walls are, from where the old farms used to be. One of the main trails that goes through is what’s called the Massachuset highway.
Because the Massachuset tribe that used to live in the Blue Hills is the tribe that Massachusetts got its name from, which is kind of neat. They called the Blue Hills, the Blue Hills because the rocks are a nice blueish color which actually formed in a volcano about 440 million years ago. So it’s got a lot of interesting history that goes along with the Blue Hills.
Great Horned Owl
I’ll actually take this guy out if you want to stay back there (oh sure). This is a male great horned owl. He came to us last spring. He’s right around a year old right now. And the reason he came to us is because he fell out of his nest and hit his head. And in hitting his head, he actually received some brain damage. So he has some behaviors that aren’t typical behaviors for a great horned owl. And he probably wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild. (owl chittering noise) So as you can see, the male is quite a bit smaller than the female that was upstairs. This is true for most birds of prey. And he’s been with us since he was a baby, so he’s much more comfortable for programs.
Owl info (click to hear audio track)
If you put an owl at the field goal of a football field, and you taped up a newspaper at the other field goal at the other end of the football field, if they were smart enough to read they could read every single word of the newspaper in the middle of the night.
So their eyesight is spectacular, and then their hearing is even better. Their ears are on the sides of their heads, right behind those black lines. But they are off center, they have one up high and one down low. So they can actually triangulate their prey: figure out exactly where a sound is coming from. So if there is a mouse under the snow, they can just swoop down, stick their talons through and come back up with lunch.
And on top of that, per toe this guy can put down about 200 pounds of pressure. So with both feet that’s about 1600 pounds. (Just from gripping?) Just from grabbing, yup. And so if he thought my hand was a rat, he could break every bone in my hand and some bones in my wrist. But he’s perching on my hand, so he wouldn’t do that.
And you can see these leashes are just a safety. These black things are called jesses and they are directly connected to the bird’s ankles. So, even if I unhook the leashes, I still have control of the bird until I let go of the jesses. But it’s an extra safety for when we are doing programs and handling the animal. Just in case (bird chittering noises)
Working with animals (click to here audio track)
In my opinion, that’s the easiest part of my job. It’s challenging in some ways, but it’s a more tangible challenge. If there was a problem it was easy to solve. If there was a bird—sometimes a bird gets stressed out if it doesn’t know you, the first time it’s working with you, it does what is called baiting. It jumps off your hand even though you have the jesses and the leashes, it’s hanging there and trying to figure out how to get it back up onto your hand. That was honestly the most challenging thing to learn.
But once you have that down, it’s pretty much—it’s pretty simple. And it doesn’t seem that way, but it’s definitely one of the least challenging parts of my job, now. It was a little challenging to begin with. And it was fun, and nerve-wracking and scary at first because sometimes the animals, when you open up the door they come flying out of their enclosure and you have to run the leash along your hand. And all sorts of things. It’s constantly changing depending on the animal’s mood, but definitely I’d say that’s one of the easier parts of the job. Because teaching children and getting them to actually get it, that’s very challenging. (laughs)
My favorite thing is the summer camp, which I won’t get to do as much this year as in years in the past. You really, really get to know the children. Even in just a week and get them really thinking about things in a new way. One of my favorite things to do with students is called “Be the Earth”. And it sounds really corny and funny, but you just go into the woods and you make the kids lie down on the forest floor. And they’ll go “Eww—gross! Ew, I don’t want to do that! Are you kidding? There’s bugs, there’s leaves. Oh, I’m covered in dirt.” But, once you finally get them to lie there and to listen and slow down, I’ve heard so many positive, positive things from kids. I love doing it, especially with fourth grade age, 10 to 11 year old children. They say “oh, it’s so relaxing.” I love that moment when the kids realize that they can slow down and stop and really appreciate it. And they don’t have to do anything to appreciate it, they can just be there.
In terms of going into classrooms there are so many memories, because each day is different. You meet new children and see what their interests are and what they enjoy doing. And you get to share your interests with them and see if you can enjoy the outdoors a little more than they are used to. Because there a lot of kids that are scared of it.
We are flight distance less than 10 miles from Boston. So we are very, very close to the city, which is nice because we have the reservation which is pretty large in size. And it’s great to get students out here because a lot of inner city kids don’t experience this and it’s so close. So that’s a benefit. For myself personally, this isn’t what I’d call home in the long run, because I’m not a city girl by any means. This is definitely much more urban than I’m used to and it’s been taking some getting used to just with the fast pace of everything. But it’s a great experience, and I think it’s a great opportunity to really get to those urban students who don’t necessarily get this. And that is something I realized when I was at UMass, was trying to get into more urban settings and educate urban students as to the natural world. Because a lot of them have no idea what animals live in Massachusetts. I’ve gone into classrooms and they think that there’s monkeys [here]. And it’s sad because it’s not their fault that they just aren’t exposed to it at all. So it’s nice to be able to get in there and share that with them.
There was a survey done—I just went to the Northeast Fish and Wildlife Conference—and someone did research and found that the average American child can identify something like a thousand logos, but not even ten native plants or animals. That’s scary but it’s totally true. They don’t get out there enough and really appreciate it. So it’s a great opportunity to do that for them. Whether that means going into the classroom and showing them an owl or taking them out into the woods and having them hike around and experience it.
I want to do more middle school to high school age to adult type programs. I love little kids, I do. But you can have the highest amount of impact on the more complicated topics with middle school and up. So optimally I would like to do some sort of citizen science research with older students that get them getting hands on experience in the outdoors to that side of things and to start to understand how many professions there are. Because that’s one thing that when I was growing up I had no clue how many professions there were that were available to people in the Natural Resources. I had no clue. So I feel like that something that is really taught to that age students because that is when they are really starting to get in touch with what they enjoy. And getting them outdoors and doing it gives them that opportunity.
The interesting thing with doing this is that I always get to work on new projects and try different things, so my future plans are constantly changing. One thing that I’m working on right now is a butterfly garden. We’re working on that out front, that’s where the whole cleared area is. We’re clearing out because right now it has an invasive species. And we’re working to clear out the invasive and we’re going to plant all native butterfly and bird attracting species. So that’s been fun. I think it would be a great experience for middle school to high school students to work on more habitat restoration stuff to really address those issues. And I’m actually working with girl scouts to do that project, so it’s been a lot of fun and a great learning experience. So that’s something I’d also like to incorporate into my future plans.