Earth Day at Abiquiu Lake

Last Wednesday was Earth Day, but our celebration with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Abiquiu Lake wasn’t until last Saturday.

We met at the Visitor’s Center at 9 am, where guests got to meet two of NMWC’s most spectacular residents, Grace the Golden Eagle and Electra the Osprey.

Listening to Katherine Eagleson explain the habits of golden eagles.
Listening to Katherine Eagleson explain the habits of golden eagles.
Katherine with Grace, the Golden Eagle.
Katherine with Grace, the Golden Eagle.
Electra the Osprey
Electra the Osprey

After seeing these two, we headed out with the USACE rangers to survey the birds around the east side of Abiquiu Lake.

Water safety is first and foremost!
Water safety is first and foremost!
Braving the wind and chilly temperatures in the name of science.
Braving the wind and chilly temperatures in the name of science.

Below is our final bird list for the day.

Bird List for Earth Day at Abiquiu Lake

4/25/15

  • 1 Great Blue Heron
  • 10 Canada Geese
  • 15 Western Grebes
  • 2 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 5 Pie-Billed Grebes
  • 45 Coots
  • 1 Red-Tailed Hawk
  • 2 Ravens
  • 1 Ruddy Duck (F)
  • 1 Rock Wren
  • 20 Double-Crested Cormorant nests with around 40 Cormorants
  • 3 Goose nests
  • Several Mallards
  • 1 Golden Eagle (not Grace!)
  • 2 Turkey Vultures
  • 1 Osprey (not Electra!)
  • 1 Cooper’s Hawk

Christy

Exploring New Territory: The Pecos River

Last Friday was overcast and rainy, but that didn’t stop us from heading to the Pecos River with a Wildlife Biology class from Santa Fe High School! This class has been a part of Trout Unlimited’s Trout in the Classroom program, and they raised a tank full of tiny Rio Grande Cutthroat trout. Last Friday, the class released the trout. We also discussed and tested water quality and identified benthic macroinvertebrates, to be sure that the stream is healthy enough for the trout to survive.

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Using kick seines to find benthic macroinvertebrates.
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Now THAT’S a salmonfly!
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Looking at benthic macroinvertebrates with a few members of the Truchas TU Chapter.
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One of the tiny cutthroat, ready for release.
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The trout goes into the river!

We found a fantastic diversity of benthic macroinvertebrates, including some of the biggest stoneflies (Pteronarcys) I’ve ever seen. The Pecos is a very healthy river, with low values of turbidity and conductivity (until students began wading upstream) and high values of dissolved oxygen (DO). We have high hopes for these little trout!

Christy

Testing the Water Wheels

Last Wednesday was the big day… the day that River Classroom finally got to test the water wheels that we’ve spent all year building! We didn’t hook up generators to the wheels yet. We just wanted to make sure they spin.

The Rio Chama is up quite a bit, so first we had to review wader safety.

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Students demonstrate how deep they are allowed to wade.
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Carrying the water wheel to the river was hard work!
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Debating where the water wheel should go.
It works!
It works!

All of that testing was difficult work, but we still managed to find some time to have fun exploring the river ecosystem!

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Learning about cottonwood trees!

After lunch the wind really picked up ahead of a cold front, and it was just too cold to get back in the river and search for benthic macroinvertebrates, so we decided to explore a different area of the Abiquiu Lake ecosystem.

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Testing out a new bridge and a new trail!
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Learning about cairns.
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Hiking around the lake.
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Leaning into the wind and watching the waves.
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The class entering “the splash zone”.

The fantastic thing about having class outside is that there’s always more to learn. On our hike we talked about cairns, the importance of staying on trail to minimize our impact on the landscape, how wind is caused by pressure gradient force, and why certain wind directions produce larger waves on Abiquiu Lake.

We even ended up seeing some wildflowers!

First primrose of the year!
First primrose of the year!

Christy

Teacher Training: Forestry and Wildlife

Last Saturday was our third teacher training as part of the Improving Teacher Quality Grant from the Title II New Mexico Higher Education Department, which NMWC is hosting in conjunction with Northern New Mexico University. We’ve covered geology and water in New Mexico, so this time we were on to forests and wildfire!

Our expert this week was Mary Stuever, who currently works for New Mexico State Forestry, although she’s worn a number of different hats during her career, including wildland firefighter and author.

Our fearless leader, Mary.
Our fearless leader, Mary.

We began the day at NMWC, where Mary took advantage of the internet to show the group a few Youtube videos of flooding after wildfires and wildfire plumes. Mary made a fantastic map that shows all of the wildfires since 2000 that we can see from NMWC.

Checking out the map of nearby wildfires.
Checking out the map of nearby wildfires.

After these initial explanations, we hit the road! Our first stop was an area of pinyon-juniper outside of White Rock. We explored this area and made observations as a group, and Mary explained the pinyon-juniper ecosystem.

Exploring the pinyon-juniper regime.
Exploring the pinyon-juniper regime.
Comparing observations.
Comparing observations.
We used all of our senses to observe the trees!
We used all of our senses to observe the trees!

Our second stop was an area of ponderosa pine that was affected by the 1977 La Mesa fire. Mary explained how foresters determine whether or not a forest is healthy. One of the most interesting discussions was simply “What is a forest?”

Walking into the ponderosa forest.
Walking into the ponderosa forest.
Using our thumbs to determine which trees are in or out of our study plot.
Using our thumbs to determine which trees are in or out of our study plot.
Enjoying lunch underneath the ponderosa pines.
Recording observations of the ponderosa pines.

Our final stop was the Cerro Grande trail in the Jemez, where we discussed the Cerro Grande fire and the devastating Las Conchas fire. Most of the group lived in New Mexico during the Las Conchas fire and were familiar with the incident. We drove past areas that were absolutely devastated by the fire. The fire that burned through the area we explored was not quite as intense.

Piling out of the van at the Cerro Grande trailhead.
Piling out of the van at the Cerro Grande trailhead.
Heading up the trail.
Heading up the trail.
Pinecones from a ponderosa pine and a Douglas fir.
Pinecones from a ponderosa pine and a Douglas fir.
Comparing pinecones.
Comparing pinecones.
Feeling a friendly fir.
Feeling a friendly fir.
Walking around an exclosure, which had a different variety of plants than the outside meadow.
Walking around an exclosure, which had a different variety of plants than the outside meadow.
Taking a closer look at the bark of the ponderosa.
Taking a closer look at the bark of the ponderosa.

One of my favorite activities that Mary modeled was using all of your senses to look around you. Because we observed several different ecosystems, we all got a glimpse of the variety of forest in this area of New Mexico. We also came away with a renewed understanding of wildfire and how the density of our forests is making this issue worse.

Christy

More Benthic Macroinvertebrates

Last week was officially the Week of Benthic Macroinvertebrates around here, as we discussed those little bugs with the kids at Embudo and with our Earth Sciences class at McCurdy High School.

Classroom days are always difficult. Being outside is so much more fun and interesting. For class last Thursday, we brought part of the Rio Chama to McCurdy High School in the form of benthic macroinvertebrates. We collected these during our teacher training two weeks ago, and we found some really interesting ones.

We began class with a very short discussion of benthic macroinvertebrates, and then students were on their own. They selected samples, examined them under a microscope, and recorded their findings in their science notebooks.

Checking out the "bugs" under a microscope.
Checking out the “bugs” under a microscope.
Sample Benthic Macroinvertebrate.
Sample Benthic Macroinvertebrate.

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Look at the gills on this mayfly!
Look at the gills on this mayfly!
One student's drawing of their benthic macroinvertebrates.
One student’s drawing of their benthic macroinvertebrates.

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The students did a fantastic job with this activity, and we look forward to testing their skills in a few weeks on the Rio Chama when we have our all day field trip!

Christy

Science After School

When I was in elementary school, I always wished we had an after school science program like the one in Dixon. The Embudo Valley Library’s after school program is absolutely fantastic, and last week we were fortunate enough to head that way and help the kids learn about the Embudo River.

We went on a hike to identify life forms, learned how to use compasses and GPS units, and collected and identified benthic macroinvertebrates. While we didn’t have much time before parents came and collected their kids, we made great strides in learning about riparian ecosystems.

Students search a kick net for benthic macroinvertebrates
Students search a kick net for benthic macroinvertebrates.
Students examine benthic macroinvertebrates under a microscope.
Students examine benthic macroinvertebrates under a microscope.
An up-close view of one of the benthics we saw.
An up-close view of one of the benthics we saw.

We were really impressed by the students both days that we visited Dixon, and we look forward to working with them in the future. Keep up the good work, Embudo Valley Library!

Christy