MWR Wildlife Summer Camp 2024 Wrap-Up

An amazing group of campers spent a week at the ARK exploring the fascinating world of wildlife. Each day, we covered a different group of animals.

Monday: Birds

Campers had an exciting day learning all about birds. They met Athena the barn owl, Marshmallow the barred owl, Rufous and Hazelnut the screech owls, Mochni the red-shouldered hawk, and Hulk the red-tailed hawk. The Bird Beak Buffet game helped them understand how the shape and size of a bird’s beak indicates its diet. They took a deeper look at raptor diets by dissecting owl pellets, learned how to use binoculars, and went on a short birding hike.

Tuesday: Arthropods

Campers learned the basics about these essential invertebrates, distinguishing insects from arachnids and millipedes from centipedes. Meeting the live specimens, especially the giant hissing roaches, was a big hit. Campers applied what they learned by building their own arthropod crafts. Equipped with nets and viewing boxes, they hit the trails to find species to complete their BUGGO board.

Wednesday: Mammals

Campers learned what makes a mammal a mammal and investigated pelts and skulls. Special guest Deb Waz from the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science led a discussion and craft on animal adaptations. Campers played the role of scientists, identifying different species in the Skull Maze, and learned to identify the presence of mammals by examining tracks and scat.

Thursday: Amphibians

Campers explored the unique features of amphibians and observed live examples of both exotic and native species. They performed an experiment to see how an amphibian’s absorbent skin makes them bioindicators, providing important information on the health of a habitat. They looked at the differences between frogs and toads, competed in a frog vs. toad relay race, learned how each frog species has a unique call, and tested their identification skills with an audio challenge. A nature hike completed the day.

Friday: Reptiles

After an introduction to reptile traits and the primary groups of reptiles, campers enjoyed a presentation by Davis Ruffin from Magnolia Exotics. Davis shared his extensive collection of native reptiles and his vast knowledge of these often-misunderstood animals. Campers then got creative, painting their own wooden snake to take home.

Each day of camp ended with a tasty lunch from one of our generous sponsors. Campers reinforced their learning with a game of Jeopardy and captured the day’s events in their journals. It was a great and WILD week.

Thank you to our sponsors: Whataburger, McAllister’s Deli, Domino’s Pizza, Habanero’s
Restaurant, Sonic, and Chick-fil-A.

A special thank you to our amazing volunteers: Kate Friedman (Board member/ Education Director), Carrie Moyers, Leah Steen, Lauren Lee, Jonathan Patrick, Brett Hogan (Board member) and Stephanie Hogan (Wildlife Director).

MWR Minute – May 2024

In a month when we pay tribute to our country’s fallen heroes May has certainly been busy for MWR. Community events, education workshops and patients, patients, and more patients. Learn more below. As babies continue to hatch and leave their nests we want to remind everyone not every baby found on the ground needs someone to help. Please check out this link for useful information to determine when it is best to intervene or to let momma and daddy bird do their thing.

Patient Update:
This month we admitted 144 new patients into care representing 36 different bird, 6 turtle and 3 snake species.

Sponsor Thank You:

This month we want to give a special thank you to those sponsoring our first annual MWR Golf Tournament on June 7th.

$1000 Raptor Sponsors:

  • Memphis Stone & Gravel
  • SkyLake Construction
  • WT Solutions

Hole Sponsors:

  • Alicia Teeter-The Firm
  • Stockton Mortgage
  • Performance Lawns
  • Haley Albonetti & Associates
  • Custom Remodeling
  • Urban Arch
  • Shelter Insurance-Alan Cook
  • Guaranty Bank
  • Signs & Stuff

Food and Beverage Sponsors:

  • Jason’s Deli
  • Tops BBQ
  • DC Team @ Crye-Leike Realtors
  • Clark Beverage

All proceeds from this event support MWRs mission of wildlife conservation and rehabilitation.

Program Update:

We are grateful to the Senatobia Rotary Club for inviting us as a guest speaker.

Thank you to Jill Morris with Stars in Motion for leading our Yoga at the ARK program.

MWR was a crowd favorite at the Five Star City Festival in Tate County.

Pollinator Palooza at Camp Creek Natives was a great day connecting with the many participants
interested in creating healthy habitat for native wildlife.

MWR is thankful to Melissa Gilbert for sharing natural talent and expertise in our Nature photography

Looking Ahead:

Our Wildlife Summer Camp (June 24-28) is just a couple of weeks away and we still have some spots
available. Take advantage of our reduced camp fee and register today.

MWR will be supporting several library summer programs in June and July. Come check us out at:
6/5 Southaven
6/11 Senatobia
6/12 Pontotoc
6/17 Coldwater
6/18 Olive Branch
7/17 Hernando
7/18 Amory

MWR Minute – April 2024

Spring has sprung. The temperatures are rising, the flowers are blooming, and MWR has seen a steady stream of new patients this month. We have also been very active in the community participating in local festivals and providing education programs. Learn more in the Program Update below.

This month we honored MWR founder Valery E Smith who was called to her heavenly home in April of last year. As a memorial tribute we shared stories and pictures from many of those whose lives were uniquely touched by Valery’s powerful spirit. See the full content here:

And just a reminder as we continue into baby bird season, not every baby found on the ground needs someone to help. Please check out this link for useful information to determine when it is best to intervene or to let momma and daddy bird do their thing.

Patient Update:

This month we admitted 102 new patients into care representing 28 different bird and 4 turtle species.

Sponsor Thank You:

A big Thank You to the following people who answered the call to sponsor our rehab patients through
Sponsorship Sunday this month.

  • Jeff Leathers
  • Diane Sales
  • Rick Vanelli
  • Tyler Hollingsworth
  • Laura Haulum
  • Theresa Hissong
  • Allie Smith
  • Lindsey Vick
  • Anita Rush
  • Ally Downen
  • Searcy Cunningham
  • Cassandra Truan

Your gift is life-giving for these animals. Keep an eye out for upcoming Sponsorship Sunday opportunities.

Program update:

MWR had a HOOT at the Memphis Botanic Garden’s Family Campfire Night. We enjoyed meeting many enthusiastic families and sharing a variety of nocturnal creatures with them including insects, arachnids, reptiles and of course owls.

This month MWR provided education programs to Funschooling Nature Co-op and Point Day School. We always appreciate the opportunity to connect with local families, teaching and inspiring them to help protect native wildlife.

Participants in part 2 of our Backyard Wildlife Habitat workshop series, A Bountiful Buffet, learned to provide a variety of natural food sources for native wildlife and were able to take home native seeds and seedlings to plant in their own yards. Creating these native habitats will be an impactful benefit to the survival of our local wildlife.

MWR had a great time participating in the annual Desoto County Earth Day Festival at the historic County Courthouse Square in Hernando. We especially love being a part of our local community events.

We were especially honored to be invited to the annual Blue Block Party for the Arc Northwest Mississippi, held in Olive Branch. It is a privilege to support their mission advocating for and providing programming for people with disabilities.

The month ended with the first session of Yoga at the ARK with Jill Morris. We hope to offer this program again in the fall.

Looking Ahead:
School is almost out, and our summer camps are the perfect activity for your 8-12 year old. We have
REDUCED THE PRICE for each camp to $200 and still have some spots open for our Wildlife (June 24-28)
and Nature Art (July 8-12) summer camps. Plus, there is still time to apply for one of the Valery E smith
memorial camp scholarships that will cover the full cost of the camp. Learn more Here.

This Saturday, May 11, MWR will be at two different events. From 9a-3pm visit us at the 5 Star City Fest in Senatobia and from 10a-4p you can see us at the Camp Creek Natives Pollinator Palooza in New Albany.

Join us at the ARK, Saturday May 26 from 10a-noon for our Nature Photography Workshop with Melissa Gilbert. Learn more and register Here.

And we are only a month away from the first annual MWR Golf Tournament, scheduled for June 07 at
the Wedgwood Golf Club in Olive Branch. For team registration and sponsorship opportunities visit Here.

Remembering Val Series: 8

A year ago today, the beloved founder of Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation went home.

Valery Elizabeth Smith will always be missed. The last year has been hard, but we carry on, knowing she would have wanted us to keep saving these animals, whom she loved so much.

“I cannot help but think how blessed I am to be able to be a part of all that I love and hold dear.”

-from The Call of the Wild, by Valery Smith

Remembering Val Series: 7

Today officially marks one year since Valery Smith’s passing. We have something special coming up, but before that, here are two stories of other animals with whom Val shared a very special connection. There are countless others to be sure, but here are Val’s Little Helper and Val’s Most Memorable Release.

Wind Dancer:

“Wind Dancer” was another of Val’s favorite education ambassadors, an amazing American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) whose Native American name was Nyuol al shi aa^eh, which translates to wind dancer. He was admitted to MWR in 2004. Someone had kept him in a small cage for a year, leaving him imprinted and causing his muscles to atrophy without regular exercise. Unable to ever fully recover his flight, he was deemed non-releasable. But Wind Dancer was an excellent education ambassador.

He also turned out to be a great foster dad! One day Val admitted a fuzzy, white, bright-eyed nestling Kestrel into care. Wind Dancer became quite vocal when he saw the baby, so Val decided to see if he would foster the baby. She cautiously placed the baby bird in a large container inside Wind Dancer’s cage. He immediately began to feed the baby! He would then spread his wings, jump in the with the baby, cover it up, and keep it warm and safe. That was the beginning of Wind Dancer’s foster dad career. If Val had baby songbirds in the same room with Wind Dancer, she had to keep them covered. Otherwise, Wind Dancer would be obsessed with them, and not in the usual sense of birds of prey!

One day while Val was busy, the cover slipped between Wind Dancer and a nest of four baby Robins and Val heard Wind Dancer being very vocal and making sounds she had never heard before. When she went to investigate, the four American Robins had with their mouths open in Wind Dancer’s direction. She saw him run over and pick up half a mouse and try to stuff it through the bars to feed the Robins. As cute and funny as it was, after that she was always careful to keep the cage covered, but he was a smart little Kestrel. When baby birds in rehab began to vocalize a feeding call, he was the first to sound the alarm and let Val know that someone needed to be fed!

Shula, the bald eagle:

“Shula” is the name given to the American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) by her rescuers. It means “peaceful one” or “perfect one” in Hebrew.

In November 2019 a family of four were watching three eagles flying above them when someone noticed a fourth bird on the ground and unable to fly. MDWFP officer Austin Tallant was called and arrangements were made to transport the eagle to MWR’s ARK Wildlife Hospital where Dr. Stefan Harsch and Val dedicated the next two months to giving the eagle the best care they could.

She almost did not make it. The bird had a severe electrical burn on its leg, and despite a lingering infection from the hot wire, her loss of appetite, and a negative reaction to some of her medications, the eagle miraculously made a full recovery. One of Val’s pieces of advice to new rehabbers was, “Be patient, give it time.” That proved true with Shula!

The weather was beautiful on the day of the release. We returned to the field where Shula was found. A small group of folks were invited to attend the release. Officer Tallant pointed out the location of her nest across the lake on a levee. When Val opened the crate door, Shula walked out and looked around as if to get oriented. She took flight and circled not once, but 4 times over our heads. On the fifth circle, in the sky to the left of the release site… there they were! The other three adult bald eagles, obviously one pair and a single eagle without a mate, circling in the distance. All of a sudden one of the three broke away and flew straight toward Shula! By that time, she was flying over the lake, toward the nest site on the levee. He flew straight to her and they both disappeared over the tree line. Shula was back together with her life mate. It was a breath-taking, beautiful release.

Remembering Val Series: 6

From Melissa Gilbert, NMMR director:

Not many people know the full history of how we {North Mississippi Mammal Rehab} got to where we are today. As we approach our 4th anniversary, I would like for you all to know how it all got started…all the way back to the beginning!

This tiny, newly hatched turtle is the reason NMMR exists today. This photo was taken August 29th of 2010. Of course it all started way before NMMR was founded. This particular day was the first time I formally met Valery, founder of Mississippi Wildlife Rehab, Inc. Valery took this tiny patient in after he hatched with issues. I had no idea that day would lead me through such an incredible journey.

Back then, I did photography as a profession. When I met Valery, and saw the amazing work she was doing with wildlife, I knew I wanted to help in some way. I offered Valery photos in trade for portfolio work. It’s the only way, at that time, I figured I help and give back. Plus, I was fascinated by everything I learned that day and I felt drawn to come back and visit again.

It wasn’t long before I signed up as a volunteer, started learning wildlife rehab, and mentoring under Valery. I went on to working with raptors and learned how to educate with wildlife from Kate. Valery taught me most of what I know today about rehab. Kate taught me education and working with wildlife ambassador’s. Some of my most memorable and enjoyed moments were spent with with Mississippi Wildlife Rehab as a volunteer. After almost 10 years, I decided to spread my wings, and took the opportunity to take over the mammal program Valery started many years ago. In January of 2019, NMMR was officially born.

This January NMMR will celebrate the start of our 4th year of establishment….all because of this tiny little turtle and my amazing friend in wildlife, Valery. When they say, “Surely just one life, of one tiny animal, doesn’t matter in the large scheme of things”…you can be certain that they are most definitely wrong! So, when you see our post and photos of tiny field mice and the like, know that you are looking at a direct reflection of our mission in that patient. Every mammal in need has a place here at NMMR, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. Each one has a purpose and it’s our honor to care for them. This is how it all started and it’s how it will always be.

Special thanks to Valery and Kate for believing in me, loving me, and mentoring me. You both are the reason there is significant change in the world. God bless you both for your many years of work with wildlife…and for sharing your love for it all…with me.

Melissa C. Gilbert

Wildlife Director/Founder NMMR, Inc.

Remembering Val Series: 5

Continuing in our memories of Val posts!

From Christy Fortenberry Milbourne of Central Mississippi Turtle Rescue:

I think my favorite Val memory is from the first time I ever talked to her. I’d heard her name for years, both before and after we got our individual rehab permit. In my eyes, she was like a celebrity. She had paved the way for people like me who wanted to help wildlife and I held her in very high regard. When we finally raised the money to become a 501c3, I needed advice from other rehab organizations because I simply had no idea what I was doing. I’d made friends of a few other rehabbers and they all told me that I really needed to call Val. She would be the one with the best info since she’d been doing it for so long. To say I was nervous about calling her is an understatement lol. But I finally did… and she was so kind to me. We probably talked thirty minutes to an hour as she freely and happily answered every single question I had and even added her own advice. She was genuinely excited for me and wanted to see me succeed. I felt love from her from that very first phone call. I called on her many more times after that and got to know her better and better. But it will always be that first “meeting”, that first phone call, that solidified my decision to continue down this path, and it was that first phone call when I knew that I would always have a friend and supporter in Val Smith.

From Val’s dear friend, Tracy Crump:

Touched by Val

I first met Val about a year after she founded Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation, when she learned that our son volunteered at Lichterman Nature Center in Memphis. She called and asked how we could collaborate. A short time later, Val presented her very first program to our homeschool 4-H group. She was so nervous about it. My mother had come along to the meeting because she loved animals, and Val said it helped her stay calm to watch my mom’s smiling face. Val kept the kids enthralled, especially when she dumped a bag of trash on the floor and had them gather round and guess how each piece of litter could be harmful to animals. The only mistake Val made was telling the group—three times—that the only way to diagnose rabies was by cutting an animal’s head off! To Val, it was just part of rehabbing, but the kids looked horrified. Their eyes got bigger and bigger each time she said it. We laughed about it later, and Val became a top-notch speaker.

We went on to work together on many projects, including her first raptor cage. My husband and son and another dad and his son went to her property several times to construct the cage. It looks tiny now compared to the newer cages built, but it allowed Val to get her federal certification in record time so she could begin caring for her beloved birds of prey.

One of the first hawks she rehabbed was a young red-tail who came to her dehydrated and emaciated. The hawk pulled through, thanks to her care, but Val soon discovered it had never learned to hunt because it apparently invented the word “clumsy.” Time after time, she released a live mouse, and the hawk would skid into the trees or her backhoe or just crash, flipping head over tail, because he was diving too fast to recover. It took three months, but he didn’t give up—just like Val. She persevered when people believed her dreams of “animal doctoring” were merely a hobby. Continuing to gain education, join organizations, and push through despite multiple sclerosis, Val built a reputation as a qualified professional one step at a time.

Val was not only soft-hearted about animals but also toward kids. When our younger son was a teen, he and a friend built a turtle habitat for MWR. But Val insisted on cooking them lunch each time they came, and she let them ride her 4-wheeler to the construction site. They thought they’d died and gone to heaven. I finally had to put a stop to the meals ATV riding so they would actually get the work done.

I published several stories and articles about Val over the years, but my favorite was about a sparrow. A woman called one morning, frantic because the tiny bird had flown into her picture window. Val said the first thing that flashed into her mind was the verse from Matthew that says “not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.” When the woman brought the bird, she was weeping uncontrollably. Val sat her down and asked what was wrong.

“My husband just told me he wants a divorce,” she said. “We have three young children, and I’ve never worked outside the home. I was sitting at my dining room table considering suicide when this bird flew into my window. After that, all I could think about was getting it help.”

Val said, “Thank you, Jesus!” and for the next two hours she shared with the woman how God had walked her through dark times in her own life. That’s when Val knew God was using the animals to allow her to share Christ. What she thought was a simple ministry was something much bigger.

Later in Val’s career, I went to her house to do an interview. She, of course, insisted on cooking spaghetti for me. We sat and talked about her plans for MWR and she said, “I’m going to be 60 soon!” I didn’t really understand the significance of her remark until she said, “In 10 years, I’ll be 70!” Finally, it dawned on me that she still had so many plans she wanted to accomplish and was afraid she was running out of time. Most of us can barely plan beyond tomorrow, but Val was already looking ten years down the road, hoping for the day she could build a full-scale nature center. She was a visionary with a heart for animals as well as everyone she met.

Remembering Val Series: 4

One of Val’s favorite education birds was “Spirit”, a Swainson’s hawk (Buteo swainsoni) that Val acquired as an education ambassador from another facility in 2002.

Val always liked to give her birds Native American names. Bi nai’adae is Apache for “spirit.” Spirit fell from the nest as a hatchling and sustained a non-releasable injury to the wing. She could fly short distances, but not the distance needed for release. Swainson’s Hawks have the longest migration of any hawk in the U.S., migrating from California to Argentina every year, often using the Mississippi flyway.

Val and Spirit had a very special relationship for 21 years. Every year Spirit went into nesting mode. She would build a stick nest in her enclosure and lay 3 or 4 eggs. Val let her sit on the eggs for a short while, then remove them while Spirit was not looking. In her later years, Spirit was retired from education programs due to her age. Her retirement was spent relaxing and taking walks through the woods with Val, her favorite person. The two had a bond that only those who work with birds long term understand, a way of reading each other’s body language, mood, and tone.

In early 2023, as Val privately battled her own health issues, Spirit passed away, preceding her beloved keeper by only a few months. No doubt she was waiting on the other side, ready to show Val how to fly.

Remembering Val Series: 3

From one of Val’s friends and MWR volunteer, Natalie Bright:

“Val was a woman that I deeply loved and admired. Working along side her at MWR, I quickly learned she had a great sense of humor and was a woman of class. Very well respected, and rightfully so.

She always had a way of making me want to be a better person by loving all of God’s creations. When we worked at the hospital together, we would have long talks about her vision and the future of MWR… you know, when we hit the jackpot! Lol. We would laugh, sometimes cry, but mostly enjoyed each other’s company as we shared stories about our families and friends. She loved big, and she was my friend. She would often tell me she loves all her children and daughters-in-law, but if she ever had a daughter, she would want one like me. I would kid with her and tell her that she was just buttering me up to hurry and get that newsletter out!

When Val first got sick, she made sure we made our visits count. She wanted me to know she was going to be okay with what the future held for her. In true Val style, she showed me love and comfort even when she was the one that needed it the most. I will always remember our last prayer together as we held each other’s hands and gave our worries to God. She taught me that.

Every time I see a hawk or an eagle, I immediately am taken back to a place of comfort, knowing she is with me. My friend, Val.”

From one of MWR’s consulting veterinarians, Dr. Harsch:

“I have a pic of Val with a Bald Eagle that got dropped by MS Fish and Wildlife. This was the first eagle I treated with her. She called me, all excited, and I drove down from Memphis to her place to examine the bird. This was very early in our friendship, and I didn’t know Val that much, but I was very impressed the way she handled that massive and aggressive bird. Then I knew she was a special person, and I am glad to have been one of her friends until the very end.

Dr. Stefan Harsch”


Remembering Val Series: 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here is another remembrance of our founder, Val. This one is from her long time friend and MWR board member, Karen Brown.


Crossed Paths

Looking back, I think it was ordained for Val and I to cross paths. Odds were against it, in normal conditions. My husband and I had recently moved to Coldwater, MS on 15 acres in very rural Tate County. There were a few trees on property requiring their removal for safety reasons. Unknown to us, a nest of Flying Squirrels was destroyed in felling one of the trees, resulting in 3 orphaned very young babies. The local veterinarian provided a phone number and name of ‘a lady who dropped by with a business card’ offering to take any wildlife in need of care. Traveling on unfamiliar back roads from Coldwater to Lake Cormorant without GPS was iffy but finally pulled up to Val’s house with the baby squirrels. We met in the driveway, shook hands and I asked her what she was doing and how. I was escorted into her house—past various small animal cages—and down to the basement which was OP Central of her efforts. I was impressed with her obvious caring and ability to minister to these needy bodies. Val explained she was hoping to grow her small rehab to enable more birds and animals to benefit from her knowledge. So, I stayed 2 hours and we began a friendship that would span 27 years until her death. Oh, and I did leave a donation which may have been why she initially liked me… 😊 At that point in time, she was doing almost everything herself—I believe there was one person she had trained to care for songbirds. Val needed help.

We began talking regularly and slowly I learned a bit of her history. Prior to moving to Lake Cormorant with her family, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis which left her immobilized at times and severely affected her eyesight. Val told me her grandmother was part Indian and passed her love and respect of all living things to her. She shared with me that one of her prayers was to find healing to allow her to care for her family and to rescue needy wildlife. I discovered she had immersed herself in “Rehab Classes” and learning State and Federal requisites and laws to become a legitimate non-profit animal rehabilitation organization. The first few years was a round of bake sales, yard sales, and begging cage materials to feed and care for a growing number of intakes. We were a Board of two for awhile, when Val’s prayers, perseverance, passion and vision came together and real growth began, slowly and steadily. That first grant gave us $2000 to purchase materials for cages to be constructed by scouts and organizations—a great win for the animals and MWR Inc. Rehab. Classes were held to recruit additional trained rehabbers and Board members added for a balanced organization.

Our friendship grew fast and firm almost from day one. Almost-daily talks became interspersed with multiple texts of everyday happenings and soul to soul. Lunches at AC’s in Hernando were a regular occurrence of 2 – 3 hours full of laughter and sometimes tears. Val had a way of making each of us feel we were her most special… and we were. She loved mightily her God, her family and friends, and MWR Inc. and in that order, I believe. I am so very grateful for her friendship and the love we shared, brought about by 3 orphaned flying squirrels. It has been an honor to be associated with Valery Smith through MWR Inc., to watch it grow and become forever friends.

She is missed most exceedingly.