This past Thursday was the first field trip tour that I was able to help with. The rain held off and 77 students arrived at the Discovery Center at 9:00AM. The new volunteers, myself and Richard and Kathy Trice, were there to learn and assist where needed. Mainly we just observed. And it was a BLAST!
The students were divided into 6 groups of approximately 13 each. The 6 segments for the students were photography; learning to use binoculars and birding; herpetology; studying the exhibits; seining in the marsh; and lab studies.
I followed group #6 which was a mixed bag of students, just like any classroom and we had lots of fun. The first segment was photography. Most of the kids had never used a camera but they took to it like duck to water. In no time at all they were looking at and snapping away at things that they would normally never bother to look at, like spider webs, seed pods and animal scat. Lots of pics were taken of the raccoon scat! The leader of this segment will be downloading the photos to a CD and mailing that to the teacher.
Next we went into the classroom lab. Most of the students had not used a microscope and the Texas curriculum requires it before leaving 4th grade. Before the students arrived one of the volunteers, who has a pond on his property, emptied buckets of pond water into shallow tubs and proceeded to collect a multitude of miniscule invertebrates and put them in small petrie dishes. When the kids came in they sat through a short lecture on “what is an invertebrates” and the types of invertebrates they would be seeing. The classroom has a special microscope that is able to display objects thru a flat screen TV. Then the kids had a chance to look at specimens through their own scopes. They were very enthusiastic about what they were seeing.
Then we spent time in the lobby area of the Discovery Center finding all the animals specimens that are in the wonderful display and learning what is a 'refuge' and the types of animals that live there. After that we stopped for lunch and then boarded the school bus to go out to the slough.
Three stops were out there, the first being a lesson on herpetology. The volunteer had 2 small alligators, about 10 inches long. He shared some fascinating information. The female builds a nest of dead grasses and mud and the grass decomposes and heats up under the sun. We were all surprised that the higher the temperature of the nest determines the sex of the babies. Temperatures above 93 degrees will result in all males, below 86 degrees will result in all females and temps in between will result in males and females! Who knew? Everyone got a chance to 'pet' the alligator. Next came the snakes and again some fascinating information and touching. One of the snakes eats only toads so when the curator wants to feed the captive snake they rub the live toad all over a mouse and then the snake will eat it because it senses the toad. It was fun to see kids go from being afraid to touch the herps to wanting their chance to feel the snakes.
Then it was back on the bus to try their hands at seining in the marsh and see what their net would collect. Lots of little tiny fish, which the volunteer could identify and most of exciting all, a small Blue Crab.
Our last stop was out to one of the ponds and instructions on using binoculars and a chance to see lots of birds up close and seeing an alligator in its habitat. They had lots of fun identifying lots of different bird species.
Finally their stay at the refuge was over and they all promised to come back and bring their parents. We then had a short meeting to discuss the day.
I have mentioned 'volunteers' several times. These are folks from the local communities, who are retired from the chemical companies who operate in the area. Most of them worked for Dow Chemical as chemists and engineers. Also most of them are Texas Naturalists. This is an organization, on the order of Master Gardeners, where people study various elements of Texas natural life and become certified after completing certain areas of study. Brazoria WLR is so lucky to have these folks who are willing to spend so much of their time helping to educate the school kids in the area. And it is so evident that they enjoy it as much as, or more than the students.
Next week, on Tuesday, we will have 78 7th graders! I will be taking a more active role and working in the exhibit area. I hope that I will be able to capture their attention and make it interesting for them. Wish me luck because I will need it!
Rick meanwhile continues to toil at the Brazoria Field Office doing carpentry and other projects that the full timers don't have time for. This Saturday was the time to pull abandoned crab traps out of the lakes and bayous in the area and Rick volunteered to help with this job. Unfortunately we had a huge storm come ashore and it was cancelled. Since Sunday dawned fair Jeff Fraser picked up Rick and they went over to Demi John Island to launch the air boat. They were out for about 4 hours and were able to find some traps. They covered a few lakes, bayous and bays and have a few more bodies of water to check later in the week. It was cruddy, nasty work but somebody has to do it, right? Evidently fishermen either can't locate their traps or simply don't pull them out. Traps need to be tended on a regular basis or the crabs can die in them or fish become trapped in them and they die also. The traps that are pulled in are not a pretty sight plus they are just covered with barnacles! Fortunately Rick wasn't covered with barnacles and he was able to get some great pictures while out on the water.
Stay tuned for more from Brazoria!