Last Tuesday we took these students to this area to explore. For many students it was their first time in this area. We were fortunate to be joined by Officer Zamora, with NMDGF.
The morning began fairly chilly, and the Rio Chamita was covered in a thin layer of ice when we arrived.
These students typically visit the Rio Chama below the village of Chama, and the Rio Chamita is quite different. We discussed the differences between creeks and rivers. Comparing the Rio Chama to the Rio Chamita really allowed students to understand the difference.
Because the Sargent is a Wildlife Management Area, there was an abundance of sign of wildlife to identify and discuss.
Our students had a fantastic time exploring this wildlife area, and we hope that they share their new-found knowledge with their peers and families so that the entire community continues to enjoy and protect this area!
Testing water quality is critical for knowing if the waterway is suitable for organisms to thrive; so this week, our class analyzed the water quality on the Rio Chama through multiple sampling techniques.
Before we began testing water quality, though, we had a surprise for the students …
When I’m not teaching River Classroom, I also work in the ICU at NMWC, so I brought along a juvenile male Cooper’s Hawk to release back into the wild. I explained the natural history and ecology of Cooper’s Hawks to the students and then it was time to set him free!
Once the excitement settled down, we split the students into 2 groups. The first group collected benthic macroinvertebrates using a 1m x 1m square net with 2 students holding it on each side. Then two other students go 2m upstream from the net and kick up macroinvertebrates from the substrate, while slowly walking towards the net. This mode of collection is a version of the kick-sampling method.
Students then removed all the macroinvertebrates from the net using forceps and put them into a collection jar with isopropyl alcohol for the teachers to count and ID at a later time. Each sampling site was given a separate collection jar and GPS coordinates were taken at the sites as well.
The second group learned all the different components of testing water quality through a fun activity of making foldables! We explained each component (e.g. pH, conductivity, etc.), what units they are measured in, and gave a brief explanation/example.
Once that task was complete, the students collected several samples of water from the river so we could test the various components using Vernier water quality probes.
The students switched groups after lunch so everyone got a chance to participate in both activities.
This was our first ‘real’ river sampling session, so students familiarized themselves with the numerous water quality testing techniques. The class will be conducting at least two more river samplings this year, so stay tuned for what happens next!
Last Thursday we headed back north to Tierra Amarilla to meet with the 5th and 6th graders from Tierra Amarilla Elementary. We planned on heading to Heron Lake State Park to test water quality and compare lake and river ecosystems.
This plan ended up being modified a little because the ospreys are back! We pulled the bus over on the side of the road to check out a nest with two ospreys, and we discovered that these students are not only great (quiet) birders… they’re actually very interested in birds!
After this quick detour, we headed to the boat ramp. Once again, we pulled out the spotting scope, and our students were all over it. They spotted many birds, including one in particular that we were very excited to see!
We did discuss water quality and the differences between lake and river ecosystems, but our students learned a great deal about the birds on Heron Lake in the spring, how to use binoculars and spotting scopes to observe these birds, and how to look up birds in a bird guide. This is a perfect example of our philosophy- science is all around us! There’s always an opportunity to learn if you keep your eyes open and ask questions!
Our students were pretty excited to see these images and correlate them with the signs of life we saw at the river!
Once we had reviewed the photos, our students began some basic research on these mammals. We wanted to know their natural history, where they belong in the ecosystem, whether they are threatened, and what changes to the ecosystem and habitat could have negative impacts on the species. We also discussed taxonomy and the scientific names of these species.
After all of this work, we took a much-needed lunch break. After lunch, we began some preliminary work on a summative project. One of the great things about studying the environment is that everything is connected in some way. In most schools many subjects are separated by class- Algebra, English, Science. It’s not easy for students to see how they relate to each other and to the world around them.
To get our students thinking about how everything we’ve learned is connected, we had them brainstorm a (very long) list of topics we’ve discussed. We did this as a group and typed everything up. We printed copies for each group of students and had students organize them into categories. Our only requirement was that students only have between 5-10 categories.
Once again our students exceeded our expectations. These kids are so smart, and we can’t wait to see the finished projects that they will put together connecting all of the knowledge they’ve gained over the last few years!
One very important, and sometimes overlooked, aspect of place-based environmental education is learning what kinds of animals belong in the ecosystems in your area. Last week we addressed this with the 7th graders at McCurdy Charter School by bringing them to NMWC.
We discussed why these animals are here and on exhibit (either because they have an injury that prevents their release or because they are imprinted). We took an up-close look at a few birds and discussed what adaptations make them able to live here and why.
The students also got to meet our bull snake, Basil, and see how he compares to a rattlesnake.
This group of students has been begging to come and tour NMWC all year, and we were excited to give them the chance. We’ve spent the year teaching them about the ecosystems around them, and after getting to meet some of New Mexico’s wildlife, we think that these students are more committed than ever to protecting these species.
Last Saturday we hosted our 2016 Eagle Watch at Abiquiu Lake! This event is held every year in conjunction with our partners the US Army Corps of Engineers. Every year citizen scientists from northern New Mexico come together to count the number of bald eagles on the lake. Data from mid-winter eagle watches all over the country are combined to get an idea of how our national bird is faring.
After a brief talk on bald eagles in New Mexico, some threats to these birds, and comparisons between juveniles, sub-adults, and adult eagles, participants headed outside to get a look at at least one eagle. Maxwell is a mature bald eagle housed at NMWC. Unfortunately due to his injuries, he’s not releasable.
After learning all about bald eagles, participants broke up into groups. Two groups went out on USACE boats to count eagles from the lake, and several groups went to fixed points on the land. All groups had radio communication and the lake was divided into sectors so that we made sure not to double-count any eagles.
Spotting eagles was a little more difficult this year, thanks to more snow than usual. We ended up spotting 10 eagles, although 2 of those were golden eagles (one adult and one juvenile). Of the 8 bald eagles spotted, only one was a sub-adult. This number is much fewer than last year, but it’s important data that will help us determine how bald eagles are doing as a species.
This event is always held on either the first or second Saturday of January. Join us next year!
Yesterday was a prep day for a really cool field trip we have in the works for McCurdy Charter School’s 7th grade. The students practiced their tracking skills on campus!
First, we held a short discussion about tracking. What kind of questions are we wanting to answer? Well, we would like to know what kind of animal made the tracks. It might be nice to determine how many of the animal were there, and ideally we can determine a direction of travel, if not a purpose. It’s very similar to solving a crime- what happened here and why?
Since tracks aren’t very easy to come by on pavement, our students created their own. We secretly placed these across campus, and students had to explore to discover the track. As we found tracks, students were responsible for recording the type of animal, the latitude and longitude of the track, and notes about the tracks (such as direction traveled, number of animals, and the animal’s purpose).
We’re really looking forward to applying our tracking skills to tracks in the snow after the Christmas break!