The Community Naturalist Program 2010-2011

Community Naturalist Program-Larry Weeks at St. Joseph SchoolThe Community Naturalist Program (CNP) represents a portion of the Chapter’s education effort. This program includes classroom presentations and field trips for grade school and high school classes, workshops to improve bird identification skills, and other requests from miscellaneous sources for bird‐related education. During the year ending on June 30, 2011, there were 60 CNP presentations that reached 1058 children and 229 adults. This effort was by far the largest outreach for the Chapter’s CNP. I should point out that some of the children participated in 5 separate programs and were counted 5 times.

The major aspect of last year’s program was the hiring of Hillary Kimbler as an intern. Hillary was a senior in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana and graduated in May. She contacted the 30 teachers that received the Audubon Adventures kits from the Chapter, asked them if they would like a bird presentation, scheduled the requests, and made most of the presentations. As a result of this effort, 23 bird presentations and 2 field trips were made to grade schools in St. Regis, Charlo, Arlee, Potomac, Bonner, Frenchtown, Alberton, DeSmet, and Missoula. A bird presentation lasts 1 hour and includes a brief discussion about the Chapter’s activities in birding, conservation and education, general bird information, bird migration, the importance of habitat, and the showing of about 40 bird skins. Pertinent information about each skin is shared such as field marks, behavior, how it died, and the status of the population.

For the seventh consecutive year, I have presented a fire ecology program to the 3rd grade classes at St. Joseph School. I developed this program after participating in a Fire Works Curriculum training session at the Fire Science Laboratory. For one classroom session, I use an exercise where the students are separated into 8 groups and are given samples from a known tree and are asked to fill out a data sheet about that tree. Then each group is given an unknown tree and copies of the data sheets from all 8 trees. Their assignment then is to identify the unknown tree by matching it to the proper data sheet. As a result of the exercise, each group gets exposed to 2 different trees which are common to Western Montana. A second classroom session deals with several plants which have their roots covered up. The students are asked to draw what they think the roots look like. Then I remove the covering and discuss the various roots such as rhizones, corm, tape root, root crown, and bulb. I also discuss the depth of each plant root and whether or not it would be a survivor after a fire. The main theme here is that the roots are the “buried treasure” that restore the plants after a fire destroys everything above ground. A third classroom session illustrates two different types of fire; a creepy crawly fire such as occurs in large Ponderosa pine stands and a roaring tree‐top fire that occurs in lodgepole pine stands. As the students read the narrative of each fire, I change a felt board to graphically depict the fire. The main themes from this exercise are that fire is needed to regenerate the forest and that by preventing fires, man has allowed the growth of “ladder fuels” which allows ground fires to become crown fires. Then the class is taken on a 3‐hour field trip to a recent forest fire. During the past 3 years, I have been taking them to the Black Cat fire near Frenchtown. We identify trees, review examples of different types of fires, examine new plant regrowth, and talk about the role of wood boring and bark beetles. Chapter volunteers assist me by setting up Little Professor hikes where the students are given two or more facts about a plant or fire condition and then they recite those facts individually to the other students in their group. A fire scavenger hunt concludes the activities. Cynthia Hudson and Virginia Vincent were the volunteers.

Another activity that I have done for several years with Patti Walker’s 3rd grade class at Hawthorne is to do a classroom presentation on bird identification which is followed by an all‐day field trip. This year, we went to Metcalf because Smurfit‐Stone was no longer available. The class is split up into 4 groups and I arrange for Chapter volunteers to go with each group for 2‐hours of birding. The volunteers were Ruth & Russ Royter, Virginia Vincent and Judy Bungarz. In the afternoon, I worked with half of the class by making cattail decoys while Patti did journaling with the other half. Then we switch groups. During the cattail exercise, I explain that all parts of the cattail can be eaten; the leaves make good salad greens, the pollen spikes can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob, cattail fluff can be used as an extender for wheat flour, and the whitish stalks can be eaten like celery. Some of the brave ones will even eat the stalks. Then we make the cattail duck decoys and test them by floating in the water. The kids just love the exercise and most of the decoys are taken home.

This last year’s workshop was for advanced birders and included presentations on owls by Denver Holt, shorebirds by Jim Brown, flycatchers by Kristina Smucker, forest birds by Jim Sparks, raptors by Kristi DeBois, and sparrows and gulls by Terry McEneaney. Twenty‐nine people attended at least one session and 3 people attended all seven sessions.

by Larry Weeks


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