Get to Know: Erin Scott, Hawk Counter
By Kate Simmons, Community Relations Coordinator
It is autumn again at Hitchcock Nature Center & while that may mean slowing down for other parks in our area it means a whole new flurry of activity for our staff & guests with the return of the Hitchcock HawkWatch. Each year from September 1st through the end of December our observation tower is staffed daily by a team of volunteer raptor enthusiasts, the HawkWatchers, headed by their fearless leader, the seasonal Hawk Counter. This team spends the fall scanning the skies of the Missouri River Valley spotting and cataloging migrating raptors such as hawks, eagles, falcons, and owls.
During this season the tower becomes an office for this very important work and the scientist who calls it home for three months is our only full time, paid HawkWatch employee. This year we are so pleased & excited to welcome a new member to our HawkWatch team, Erin Scott. I took some time to interview Erin & can’t wait to share her insightful answers with you all. Stop out to visit with Erin & her volunteers this fall during the HawkWatch & meet her in person!
I was born and raised in Nebraska. I graduated from Benson High School (Go Bunnies!). I eventually moved and I have lived in Kansas City, MO for the last 16 years. After working in several job fields I decided to go to college and focus on what I wanted to do in life. It took some time but I now have an Associates of Science – Biology from Metropolitan Community College Kansas City and a Bachelors of Science – Wildlife and Conservation Management from Missouri Western State University.
What inspired you to go into your chosen field of study?
I have always loved animals, and for a time I thought about being a veterinarian or a zoologist but I wanted to do more. After I moved to Kansas City I started volunteering at Lakeside Nature Center, helping in various ways (My favorite job was always helping with the raptors.) but what really resonated with me was the care they take to rehabilitate ALL wildlife that is native to the state. No creature is more important than the other. Being there really helped me see what I loved to do, so I decided that wildlife conservation and management, was the best path for me. I knew that no matter what job I ended up doing I would be doing something I love.
What brought you to Hitchcock Nature Center as the 2019 season Hawk Counter?
A good friend has been the counter for the last three years (cough Bethany cough), I came up to visit one weekend and just hung out with her up on the tower, it was so much fun. This summer that same friend, and a mentor both called me about the position being open. They both thought that I should apply, so I did.
Are there any migrating raptors that you are looking forward to seeing the most when you are working on the tower at HNC?
That’s tough because I want to see them all, but I have to say my fingers are crossed for a Ferruginous Hawk. That might just make my year.
Have you worked on other field projects during your career? Which was your favorite?
Yes. Although only on two other projects that were vastly different from each other. I was lucky to have two field seasons (one fall and winter, the other two summers) for both projects. My favorite was working in Southeastern Missouri nest searching for 4 specific species of ground feeding songbirds. When a pair is successful in raising a brood it’s a thrill to see.
What are the biggest challenges that someone in your career field faces when starting out?
It varies for everyone, competition for jobs is higher than some people anticipate, and unless you go on to get your masters right away, sometimes those full-time jobs just aren’t available to you. If you are willing to work field jobs, in general, I think the biggest challenges can just be leaving home to work those temporary field positions, meeting new people and living with strangers for three to four months can be difficult, but if you have a positive attitude, it can also be a fulfilling part of the journey, leaving you with lasting professional contacts and friendships.
What is the most fulfilling aspect of your work?
I get paid to learn more about my favorite subjects, be outside and watch animals do what they do. I never get bored watching a Peregrine Falcon fly past the tower or watching an Eastern Towhee kick around and lift leaves looking for insects to eat.
Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider significant in your career.
I don’t have any one big significant project accomplishment, at least not yet. Of the few projects that I have worked on, I’m lucky that I have been able to add a new skill set to my resume each time. Adding new building blocks to a career is always a great thing.
If you could choose any superpower what would it be and why?
That’s easy teleportation. I would save so much time and money by not commuting everywhere. I would probably hit the snooze button a couple more times as well.
Now, the most important question of all … is a hotdog a sandwich?
Yes ma’am. It’s “meat” and the condiments of your choice squished in between two pieces of bread.