Now that I have officially been working here at the New Mexico Wildlife Center for a full week, I think it is time to tell a bit about what I have been doing, and what it is like here in the “Land of Enchantment”, New Mexico!
First, New Mexico. Have you ever thought of a desert being 7,000 feet above sea level? Neither had I! The climate I am in is called the “High Desert”. The views are breathtaking, and never get old. I can look out my window and see sandy mesas rippling through my dry and arid backyard, and yet still see snow- covered mountains towering in the distance at the same time. The temperatures range anywhere from 80-100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, but then drop down into the 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit range after the sun goes down. Sometimes it “rains” here, but it evaporates before it even hits the ground and creates these wild and wispy cloud formations overhead. Warm winds gust by anywhere from 15-30mph almost every day, so as you could imagine, the dust and sand blowing everywhere can be quite frustrating. But nevertheless, this peculiar and fascinating climate is thriving with plenty of flora and fauna to discover. Not to mention, the sunsets and stargazing are amazing!
What kinds of critters live in this strange environment anyway? Well, New Mexico is actually made up of five different ecosystems: Desert, Grassland and Prairie, Forest and Foothills, Mountain and Alpine, and Riparian. Where I am located, in Espanola, New Mexico, just north of Santa Fe, we are surrounded by all five of those. In the desert ecosystems, animals like the spotted skunk, coyotes, badgers, the western diamondback rattlesnake (which I had a class on how to handle with snake hooks), and horned lizards are common. In the prairies and grasslands, turkey vultures, desert cottontail rabbits, red tailed hawks, pronghorns and the ever-so popular roadrunners find a home. Some creatures who thrive in the forests and foothills include the great horned owl, gray fox, elk, mule deer, black bears, and many songbirds. In the alpine climate, like the snow-covered mountains I told you about earlier, are things like tiny black-chinned hummingbirds, barn owls, mountain lions and butterflies. Finally, in the riparian forests of New Mexico, bald eagles, American kestrels, sandhill cranes, raccoons, osprey and even the occasional jaguar come along. So, we see an incredible bio-diverse clientele here at the New Mexico Wildlife Center.
How do we manage it all? Well a sign that hangs on the office door of the center says it all, “If you think our hands are full, wait until you see our hearts”. Wildlife rehabilitation is a hard job, where sometimes your losses outnumber your successes. But boy is it incredibly rewarding to be able to give animals a second chance at life in the great outdoors. I have learned to do so many new things here already! I now consider myself a mother bird, and have tended to many hatchlings every hour. I have learned how to do a complete initial intake exam for new patients, draw blood and prepare a blood smear slide for testing, process and evaluate an x-ray (the x-ray processing room is so dark, and it is very tricky to know what you are doing without any lights!), and administer wing wraps and tail guards to injured birds. I am discovering a lot about anatomy, learning how to evaluate emaciation and dehydration in animals and give keel/body condition scores and administer fluids subcutaneously (yes, that means through a needle!), memorizing what medications treat which ailments and how to administer them, and I have learned a great deal about the importance of strong organization and communication skills within the clinic. The shifts are long and busy, but at the end of the eight hours, I truly do feel like I have made a difference in the animal world and that I am doing my part to take care of the wonderful creatures that we roam this Earth with. I look forward to telling everyone more later!