2016 Eagle Watch at Abiquiu Lake

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.

Enjoying coffee and donuts in the Visitor Center.
John Mueller, Park Manager at Abiquiu Lake, welcomes the citizen scientists to EagleWatch 2016
Katherine Eagleson, Executive Director of NMWC, discusses bald eagles and their habits.

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.

Maxwell and his handler, Scott Bol
Maxwell is always a crowd favorite

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.

USACE rangers hand out life jackets for people going out on the boat
Watching for 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!

Tracking Across Campus

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).

Which way did it go!?
Turkey tracks
“A bigger turkey?”
Examining the tracks
Recording latitude, longitude, and other characteristics
Grouping up to review photos and create conclusions

We’re really looking forward to applying our tracking skills to tracks in the snow after the Christmas break!


Teacher Training: New Mexico Ecoregions

Last Saturday was our final weekend 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 College. What better place could there be to end this series of science excursions than Valles Caldera?

This weekend our focus was ecoregions of New Mexico. We touched on this several weeks ago with our Forestry and Wildfire day, but this time we got to experience several different ecosystems first hand.

We began at the Highway 4 pull off looking out over the Valle Grande, where we briefly discussed how the caldera formed.

Putting the caldera formation flash cards in order is so much more fun than you'd expect!
Putting the caldera formation flash cards in order is so much more fun than you’d expect!

After this, we headed to the Valles Caldera visitor center. We found a nice place to sit in the middle of a prairie dog colony, and we discussed typical New Mexico ecosystems. We also received a short introduction to the history of Valles Caldera from one of the tour guides.

Expert tour guide Carmen explaining more about Valles Caldera.
Expert tour guide Carmen explaining more about Valles Caldera.

The prairie dogs around us were very entertaining during this time, and we got to watch a coyote watching the prairie dogs.

Our next stop was History Grove (thanks to our educational use permit- the public is not allowed out to this point). On the drive out, we saw 10 elk running across a meadow, which was another fantastic opportunity to discuss larger animals of New Mexico.

At History Grove, Dr. David Torres from NNMC showed teachers how to use shadows to measure the height of trees.

Dr. Torres explains the procedure.
Dr. Torres explains the procedure.
Dr. Torres and Dr. Linnell test out the method.
Dr. Torres and Dr. Linnell test out the method.
Teachers measure the shadow of a giant Ponderosa Pine.
Teachers measure the shadow of a giant Ponderosa Pine.
Measuring another tree shadow.
Measuring another tree shadow.

The teachers divided into groups, and each group used this method to estimate the height of at least 2 trees. This gave us a small pool of data, and we were able to plot the distribution of these tree heights. This plot lead to an excellent discussion of graphing data.

Plotting tree height data.
Plotting tree height data.

After discussing trees, we moved on to wildlife. Dr. Pedro Chavarria showed the group different ways to survey animals by trapping and tracking with collars.

A teacher examines a tracking device for a fox.
A teacher examines a tracking device for a fox.

Our next activity was a population estimate of an “animal species”. In this example, our “species” was black beans. White beans were the “marked” members of the population. By randomly selecting a number of beans from the population in a plastic container, teachers could mathematically estimate the total number of beans using the Lincoln-Peterson model.

Dr. Chavarria explains the activity.
Dr. Chavarria explains the activity.
Counting "animals".
Counting “animals”.

During this activity, we were treated to a fairly up-close view of a very vocal Northern Goshawk, which was the highlight of the trip for many participants.

It was another fantastic day of learning science with these teachers, and we’re looking forward to our summer institute where we take this new knowledge and apply it to teaching science standards!


River Classroom Update

Last Wednesday was our last River Classroom at NMWC. We spent the day reviewing what we’ve covered this year and preparing for our Open House, which will be on Tuesday, May 5. Everybody is invited to see what our students have learned this year!

I don’t want to give anything away for the parents, but here are a few photos of our students working hard at their projects.

IMG_5805 IMG_5806 IMG_5808 IMG_5810 IMG_5815 IMG_5823

We also had a great treat. One of our volunteers has been working with NMWC’s Harris’s Hawk, and he flew him in front of the River Classroom students. Everybody took a turn watching him land from an up close perspective.

Scott Bol and “Lefty”, the Harris’s Hawk.
Lefty lands on his perch across the room.

We’re looking forward to Open House and to our last session at Abiquiu Lake!