World Water Quality Monitoring Project

 Science and Service Learning have long been seamlessly intertwined in my life since I started teaching full-time.  Though I am no longer in a formal classroom, the two share an even larger part of my life.  Hands-on, real-life science comes naturally to me.  It is a major component of our daily living and learning.  We seek out opportunities to put our skills to work and to learn about the world around us in a natural way.  This is Unschooling at its finest.
wwmprojectOur Roots & Shoots group has been taking part in a great service learning opportunity called the World Water Monitoring Project for the past few years.  The international education and outreach program builds awareness and involvement in protecting water resources around the world by engaging citizens in basic monitoring of local water bodies.
Upon learning how to collect water quality data with our group, the kiddos asked if we could purchase our own.  The cost of a Basic Kit (shipped to any location in the US) is just $13 plus shipping. At this price – I couldn’t pass it up!  We now carry the kit with us on all our nature outings and it has provided us the necessary tools to engage in meaningful, hands-on science.  I supplement the kit with other tools that I have used for years – including a Kestrel 3000 Pocket Wind Meter – a handheld weather-monitoring device that provides a wide range of functions.
We also make every effort to identify the little critters we capture in our nets.  Sometimes this is easier said than done, but dichotomous keys are helpful and we carry a few laminated ones with us.  We record our findings in a Rite In The Rain Journal.  When we return home, we upload our data to the  World Water Monitoring Project and if we’ve spotted critters, we upload images to Project Noah.

Our outings are more meaningful when we know that our data will be used to help the scientific community better understand our world.

Gold Run Creek

We enjoyed a delightful walk down to Gold Run Creek this morning with our Roots & Shoots group.  Sadly, we are often the only family to join in on these outings but this week, a new family joined in (a little guy of about 5 years of age and his infant sister brought their mother along).  It was fun to have company and to share in the delight of their new discoveries.
Interesting galls on the Oak leaves
While we didn’t make any new observations or discoveries ourselves, we did observe an Oak with many more galls than we have seen on one plant.  We’ve seen these galls before but as of yet have not been able to identify them.When we reached the creek at the bottom of the hill, the kids were not shy about getting their feet wet in a hunt for frogs and other amphibians.  We found some small tadpoles but no adults in the vicinity.  I’m sure they observing us from a safe distance.  We took a few moments to collect a water sample and test the water quality.

Young Cattails along the creek bank

We also observed some young cattails growing near the creek.  The kids were quick to remark on them, pointing them out to our new friends.  They shared some of the things we had learned about cattails in the past – Cattails Part 1 and Cattails Part 2.  I am continually amazed at what they remember!

Wintu Trail :: Nature Study

Our Roots & Shoots outing this month was to the Wintu Loop trail.  We observed some wonderful beauties so our outing was a success.
 We observed these acorn woodpecker holes in a pine tree near the trailhead.
Here you can see a close-up of an actual acorn tucked into one of the holes. We were not fortunate enough to observe a woodpecker in our presence.  Perhaps another time.
When we returned home, we took a different approach to our nature journal.  Rather than choose a specific organism to sketch, we journaled about the outing more broadly, listing the highlights or what was of most interest to us.
We also included a photo of the trailhead along with a map showing the location.  We’ll likely do this more frequently as we progress.

First Fridays

Our new Roots & Shoots group meets on the first Friday of each month.  Our leader, Karen, picks the trail and/or location.  I love that she is an avid birder and that I am learning as much as the kiddos.  This past week, we went for a walk along  the river … a trail in which we are very familiar … and she pointed out the Bald Eagle nest to us.

Bald Eagle sitting on her nest

Fortunately, the female (we assume) was present and sitting upon her brood.  Though I do not have a great camera, if you click upon the image to enlarge it, you can see her head just above her nest.   We spent quite a bit of time observing the eagle and watching the other birds in the area.  We came up with quite an extensive list:  

  • 3 Double-crested Cormorants
  • 1 Blue Heron
  • 20 Canada Geese
  • 1 Gadwall
  • 2 Common Mergansers
  • 2 Canvasbacks
  • 12 Buffleheads
  • at least 10 Mallards
  • 1 Ring-necked Duck 
  • a possible Black Scoter
  • 3 Turkey Vultures 
  • 6 killdeer
  • 1 Mourning Dove
  • 25 Coots
  • about 200 gulls
  • 1 Anna’s Hummingbird
  • 1 Northern Flicker
  • about 3 Western Scrubjays
  • 3 Oak Titmice
  • at least 5 bushtits
  • 1 Bewick’s Wren
  • 2 American Robins
  • 1 House Finch. 

Thereafter, we continued our walk and observed numerous other birds as well as a few other interesting things I’ll share with you visually.
Interesting growth patterns or galls ?? on the trunk of an old Oak tree
Pinipevine (the plant on which the Pipevine Swallowtail we observed in Aug lays its eggs) 
Sadly, this tree has been girdled by deer and will likely die 
Cliff Swallow nests

The munchkins haven’t yet illustrated their observations in their journals.  I am curious what they will select.  Along the walk, however, I collected several twig samples for a twig study I hope to accomplish in the next few days.

Ladybugs Ladybugs Ladybugs

We met our Roots & Shoots group this morning for our monthly outing.  First, I should clarify, that since we have moved we are now involved with a new group and the nature walks are led by someone other than myself.  Our leader, Karen, is very knowledgeable (particularly about birds) and it is such a delight for me to be a participant rather than the the facilitator.  Being new to the area, it is also a blessing because she knows the area much more so than I.  She has been able to take us to places with secrets known to very few.

Today was one of those days whereby secrets were revealed.  She shared with us a location in the area of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (that is as much as I’m willing to divulge for she stated that some collectors, if they knew the location, would come and scoop them up to sell).

Most coccinellids overwinter as adults, aggregating on the south sides of large objects such as trees or houses during the winter months, dispersing in response to increasing day length in the spring.  We observed them all around the pine tree pictured above, not just on the south side.  On the forest floor, there were literally millions of ladybugs aggregating under the leaf litter.  One had to be careful when taking a step.

Our next step is to journal our discovery in our nature journals.  I’ll be sure to share our entries soon.  Undoubtedly, however, this is one outing we will never forget.  🙂

Clover Creek Preserve :: Nature Study

Our Roots & Shoots group gathered recently at Clover Creek Preserve for a nature outing. Prior to arrival, I was a little hesitant upon reading an online review of the area,  “My house is nearby and before this area became a preserve, it was a lush green area filled with wild flowers, plants, and trees. There were a myriad of unpaved, forged trails that ran through this area of wilderness. I moved away for a year and then came back only to find that every tree on the 128-acre space was knocked down, 
every hill was leveled, and a man-made lake was put in.”

Upon first look, it was clearly a recent ‘development’ as there were no mature trees.  The small lake in the center of the preserve, however, does have a number of water-loving plants (Aspens, if I recall) along the perimeter.  A number of birds could be seen floating on the water surface from a distance so we happily proceeded forth, curious as to what species we might observe.

Our leader – a welcome change for me – and another mom in attendance are avid birders so our focus soon became apparent and I began to record the species we were able to identify.  

a white duck (un-identified)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
White crowned sparrow juvenile
Lark Sparrow
Western Meadowlark
Acorn Woodpecker
Red winged blackbird 
Northern Flickr (audible)
House Finch
Lesser Gold Finch
Western Scrub Jay
Western Bluebird
House Wren

As a novice bird watcher, I was quite impressed with what we observed in just a two hour outing.  Upon our return home, I asked each of the kids to select one of the birds from the list and to sketch it in their journals.  

We look forward to going out again soon.  I’m considering a long-term project of the preserve as it would be interesting to see how it changes over time.  Perhaps I can even inspire the munchkins to research a little more about what the area looked like prior to the development of the preserve.