NMWC Open House Weekend: Close Encounters of a Personal Kind

by Catherine Carlozzi

Photos by Sam Rodar

I’d been looking for an excuse to learn more about New Mexico Wildlife Center (NMWC),  so when I read about the October 7-8 Open House, I decided to make the half-hour drive from Santa Fe to Espanola.  I expected to have encounters with a variety of critters. The surprise was all the pleasurable encounters with staff, volunteers and visitors.  Perhaps because 2017 marked the 40th anniversary of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind (which is, after all, about contact with and interaction among very different species), I found myself reflecting on my visit as Close Encounters of Three Kinds.

Close Encounters with Nature

During her presentation about NMWC and its mission, Director Melissa H. Moore lamented on how much less direct contact with nature today’s younger generations have than people of her (my) and earlier generations.  I grew up capturing (and releasing!) bullfrogs, fish and lightning bugs; watching tadpoles grow into frogs and butterflies emerge from cocoons; and tending to wounded or orphaned birds, bunnies and turtles. We didn’t have computers, iPads, mobile phones and video games. We played in the local parks, creeks and fields near home. The Open House made it abundantly clear that creating opportunities for children to gain direct exposure to and understanding of the creatures that share our immediate world is central to NMWC’s mission.

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Marcel, the Black-billed Magpie (Photo by Catherine Carlozzi)

My first encounter of the critter kind was with Marcel the gregarious Black-billed Magpie. Until I found myself face to face with this beautiful bird, I’d only seen European magpies. Next were the reptiles. I grew up handling garter snakes and box turtles, but moving to New Mexico has required learning about a whole new cast of reptilian characters. Being able to observe those living at NMWC and learn more about them was very helpful. As much as I enjoyed watching Joni the bobcat get weighed and fed (we have a bobcat that visits our property frequently) and seeing the beautiful little desert fox, it was the birds – especially the raptors – that I found most compelling.

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NMWC Volunteer Judy Anastasio with Sienna, a Red-tailed Hawk (Photo by Catherine Carlozzi)

During the three hours or so that I spent at the center, I attended a number of sessions where volunteers brought out individual birds:  Sienna, the red-tailed hawk; Electra, the osprey; and Maxwell, one of NMWC’s Bald Eagles. Each handler talked not just about her bird’s species and care, but also shared its history and the quirks of its behavior – individualizing them. The afternoon program that focused on raptors and owls was an immersive experience and followed a similar pattern.  A standing-room-only crowd met Pancho, an American kestrel; Oscar, a 33-year-old Great Horned Owl; and Aurora, a Western Screech-Owl.  Lefty, a Harris’s Hawk, and Sol, a Turkey Vulture, stole the show with their aerial demonstrations. The factoids presented were interesting – Harris’s Hawks are social and communal; screech owls are misnamed; turkey vultures have extremely strong stomach acid – but so much better was coming away feeling that turkey vultures really don’t seem ugly after you get to know them.

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Basil the Bull Snake (Photo by Catherine Carlozzi)

Close Encounters with Staff and Volunteers

From Director Moore to the man at the entrance to the parking lot, and from the volunteers who work with the center’s nonhuman denizens to the volunteers selling cookies, all of my encounters with the people who are NMWC were positive.  Dawn Wright, the center’s Office Manager, promptly signed me up for an ICU tour and answered all my questions about volunteerism, referring me to Christy Wall, the Director of Science and Education, to address specific questions.

The Intensive Care Unit tour, led by Dawn and Jordan, a member of the rehabilitation staff, provided an excellent overview of how wounded and orphaned creatures come to NMWC; the entire process of treating and rehabilitating them; and even how food is prepared for the center’s permanent and temporary residents.  Sadly, but not surprisingly, much of the equipment the rehab staff has to work with is clearly way out of date.

Throughout my visit, I found it easy to read the staff’s and volunteers’ genuine commitment to the creatures in their care and to the center’s mission.  All questions addressed to them by visitors were answered thoughtfully, enthusiastically and often with humor.

Close Encounters with Other Visitors

I had no idea how many others would take advantage of a gorgeous Sunday to visit NMWC. It was a small number when I arrived at 10:30 am but grew steadily. And when I left at 2:30 pm, they were still streaming in. Many visitors arrived with bags of things on the center’s wish list: paper and cleaning products, old towels, greens.

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Kids explore the grounds of NMWC   (Photo by Angela Bentley)

As expected, the mix included families with kids of all ages.  I found myself interacting with many young visitors and found their observations interesting.  One young boy, observing Joni the bobcat, talked about her in terms of his own cats and displayed a good knowledge of the varied mannerisms of the broader feline family.  Kids tend to ask good questions, and throughout the day these certainly did.  Some were quite impressive and persistent.

Perhaps the best part of the whole day was the looks of delight and wonder on the faces of visitors of all ages as they became acquainted, at a personal level, with the creatures that inhabit New Mexico Wildlife Center.

Catherine Carlozzi, a speech and business writer, lives outside of Santa Fe. She has shared a home with turtles, finches, a blue jay, dogs and cats.

Back at the Rio Chama with River Classroom

Fall is here at last, and that means that River Classroom has begun again! This is our 6th year of River Classroom, and so far we are working with some fantastic groups. These include the Española Public School District’s GATE students in 4th-6th grade and 7th-10th grade, the 4th-5th grades from Chama Elementary, and the 5th-6th grades from Tierra Amarilla Elementary.

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A ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers talks to our students about the Rio Chama.

We began honing our skills as scientists by doing some very close observation of limes. Groups of students selected a lime, recorded observations about the lime, and then had to select their lime from a pile.

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We also like to begin the year by doing some initial exploration of the ecosystem that we will be studying, so we handed out waders to test the waters of the Rio Chama.

Two of the groups got up close and personal with some of the local inhabitants.

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Students meeting a crayfish

 

The year is off to a great start, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with these amazing groups of kids. We’re going to have a great time exploring the beautiful habitats of New Mexico, and we’ll be collecting data and learning science along the way! Don’t forget to “follow” our blog to stay up-to-date on the latest.

 

 

April ICU Update

Since the last update, we have released two Desert Cottontails that came in with no injuries, both of the Red-tailed Hawks we’ve had in care, one more Northern Saw-whet Owl, four Rock Pigeons and the Collared Dove. We also released a Cooper’s Hawk who came in with mild head trauma.

Inside, we have eight juvenile Desert Cottontails, one Collared Dove, a fledgling Rock Pigeon, two fledgling House Finches and one nestling House Sparrow. Summer is definitely upon us.

 

Outside we have one last Saw-whet owl, the Black-headed Grosbeak and a Collared Dove. The Saw-whet owl has just passed mouse school with flying colors and will be ready for release in the next few weeks. The Grosbeak is showing some great feather growth and will be ready to go once the Grosbeaks get back from migration.

Thanks to everyone’s support, we are able to take excellent care of all of these critters. We couldn’t do it without YOU!

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Releasing a Northern Saw-whet Owl

Blog Under Construction

 

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We apologize for the mess, but we have some exciting news!

Our NMWC blog has become so popular that we are expanding! In the near future, we’ll include more articles about wildlife rehabilitation, animals that we have here at NMWC, and what it’s like to care for education animals.

Please excuse us if things look a little unorganized for a while.

Geology rocks!

For the second week in a row, we had snow on Tuesday! We’re so glad for the water, but our Chama Elementary and Tierra Amarilla Elementary students were again disappointed that we couldn’t go outside for our geology hike.

Since we couldn’t take our students to the rocks, we brought the rocks to our students!

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We began by reviewing the three main types of rocks. Students guessed as to what each type could look like. We made a chart with columns for each factor that students felt could help in identification. The last column was their guess as to the type of rock. We also reviewed subjective and objective observations. Students had to include at least one subjective observation and at least one objective observation.

Most students worked in groups, although a few chose to work independently. Each group got through about 15 rocks, and by the end of the exercise, everybody was doing a great job at identifying whether a rock sample was igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic.

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After becoming pros at identifying rocks, we moved on to learn about the Law of Superposition. Next time we talk about this, somebody remind me to bring a layer cake.

Utah Education Network has a fantastic activity for helping kids understand how geologists use rocks to piece together the story of Earth’s history. Our students began by trying to put the “nonsense cards,” which just have seemingly random letters on them, in some kind of order.

We didn’t give our students much information about this, aside from asking them to put the cards in some kind of order. Initially almost everybody tried alphabetical order.

Finally, with a few hints, everybody got it. If the letters represent rock layers, two layers that have the same kind of rock must belong next to each other. Students were also able to use the Law of Superposition to explain which rock layer must be the oldest.

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After everybody had discovered the pattern, we played the game again with different cards. This time the cards had different fossils on them. Students again put the cards in order based on the fossils found in each “layer”.

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This version of the activity is much more like what geologists do. Their job is to solve the puzzle of what’s happened on Earth in the past.

By the end of this class, all of our students had the same opinion…. geology rocks!

Introducing… Geology!

New Mexico (in general) is a pretty dry place. It seems like most people don’t own rain gear. We seldom have to adjust class for weather. This week was a rare exception- with all of the rain/snow, we had to move our outdoor River Classrooms for our Española 4th-6th graders, our Tierra Amarilla 5th-6th graders, and our Chama 4th-5th graders in to the classroom! Obviously being outside is much more fun than being inside, but we worked hard to come up with a fun activity to make up for it.

We decided to start one of our very favorite topics…. GEOLOGY!

To gauge how much our students understand about geology, we began by talking about the three primary types of rocks- igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. As we discussed the different types of rocks, our students created a cool foldable to stick in their science notebooks.

After cutting, gluing, and drawing, our students had a neat way to remember the three types of rocks and the rock cycle.

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Next, in order to make this concept stick, we used crayons to model the rock cycle! Students began with crayons with no wrappers. These represented igneous rocks. Students used plastic knives to carefully weather the rocks into sediment.

This sediment was converted into a sedimentary rock by lightly pressing on the sediment to replicate the weight of water on it. Students used even more pressure, as well as body heat to transform their sedimentary rock into a metamorphic rock.

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Students working on transforming their rock

Finally, the most exciting step: melting our “rocks” into “magma” and letting them cool to form “igneous rocks”!

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This student “carved” his “igneous rock” into an arrowhead as if it were obsidian!

While I’m sure our students would have preferred to be outside, we made lemonade out of lemons and had a lot of fun learning about the rock cycle in all three classes! The best part: now our students have the background knowledge for our next outdoor trip to be a geology hike!