KENT — Brennan Wilkens, a 17-year-old summer intern at the Kent Land Trust, had an experience with a bird he said he isn’t likely to forget.
“The summer after my freshman year, I helped band purple martin birds at one of the colonies in the area. Two years later, while we were banding, we caught an adult that I banded as a baby two years prior,” said Wilkens, who is a student at Marvelwood School in Kent. “It was like one of my babies came back to me. It survived going to its winter grounds, coming back, going back again and coming back — so four long flights.”
Wilkens was one of a handful of young interns who helped the Kent Land Trust by working hands-on with many projects that can’t be learned in the classroom.
Part of the mission of the land trust, which protects more than 3,000 acres in Kent, “is engaging young people in conservation learning and conservation work,” Connie Manes, KLT’s executive director, said.
“With respect to the internship program, we consider this training for a potential career in conservation,” said Manes, adding the land trust has had interns for the past six years, and had five interns this summer alone.
Bird banding, which involves tracking birds by putting tiny metal bands on their legs, was one of the projects the interns took part in. They worked closely with Laurie Doss, Marvelwood School’s science department chairman and KLT board director.
Wilkins, his sister 14-year-old sister, and others got involved with bird banding at the trust’s Skiff Mountain South Preserve and Audrey and Robert Tobin Preserve.
Over the course of their internship, the teens monitored and banded 29 different species of birds.
Data from banding birds “can guide habitat management projects on Kent Land Trust properties to improve the habitat for a particular species, which then might enhance the survival and productivity of a species,” Doss said.
In 2006, about 20 purple martins were banded by the KLT. This year, that number grew to 376.
“To see the number of purple martins increasing has been amazing because of the effort from the Land Trust ... and realizing that you are making a difference because these birds that you’re banding as nestlings — they’re coming back to breed,” Doss said. “The bulk of the birds are coming to the same area. A lot of the work that these interns have done has involved documenting species so we have a baseline to solve why different situations are taking place.”
Aside from bird banding, the interns assisted with a variety of other environmental projects this summer, including trail management and creating new trails.
They helped restore a children’s trail on Skiff Mountain.
“We took down some of the damaged signs,” Wilkens said. Signs on the trail now show images and a description of the kinds of animals that live in those habitats.
Manes said the signs help families have a great nature experience even if they didn’t see any living versions of the animals depicted while on the trail.
“They can see what lives there and experience the joy and the treasure hunt of spotting out these wooden signs,” Manes said
Another intern, Kelly Morgan, worked with the land trust and Audubon Connecticut on a program to educate and engage land trust personnel in managing their protected land to promote excellent habitat for Connecticut’s native birds, Manes said.
“Kelly planned, organized and coordinated the workshop, which consisted of a webinar followed by a site walk at KLT’s Audrey and Robert Tobin Preserve.” Manes said. “And Kelly helped to teach the webinar portion of the program.”
This spring, Morgan earned a degree in environmental engineering technology from Three Rivers Community College in Norwich.
Wilkens said he hopes to continue to be involved with projects with the land trust for his senior year of community service, the summer after that, “and hopefully beyond.”