Thursday, January 12, 2012

An entry NOT for the faint of heart

I'll begin this with a disclaimer. There will be photos of carnage and mayhem in this entry. That may be an exaggeration,  but there is at least one gross photo, a photo depicting the food chain at work.  Avert your eyes or skip this entry if you'd rather not see animal parts.


I was out at the Ecology Center yesterday with a group of second graders discussing the subject of birds. Just right up my alley. We don't get many teachers who use our bird lesson plan (maybe 2 or 3 a year) so I was excited to be at the right place at the right time. This teacher has obviously spent some time covering this subject with the class because the kids were spot on with the knowledge and enthusiastic.

I had a group of 4 girls and 1 boy. The kids knew what a Cardinal was and were so excited seeing these birds that we kept track of the number we saw (we saw 25 by the end of their visit). We didn't have binoculars so that limited what we saw, but I discussed how to narrow down the list of birds based on their body shape (ie if the bird is big and somewhat plump, there's a pretty good it's a Robin and if it has a crest, it may be a Cardinal etc). While walking through the woods and near the creek, we talked about migration and habitat preferences (Would you see a duck on the prairie? Probably not. Those birds like the creek!).

As with most school visits at the Ecology Center, the focus rarely remains entirely on the assigned subject. There is so much to observe in our urban wilderness. We peeked under bug boards, discussed who could dig small round holes in the soil, collected a few walnuts, came across a praying mantis egg case, and looked at the square stems of a Cup Plant.

The north prairie was burned last week and I took them up a small hill to get a birds-eye view (hehe) of the burned land.

The concept of prescribed burns was new to these second graders so I spent a few minutes talking about the benefits of these burns for the plants, as well as the predators on top of the food chain.

When we went down the hill, we came across evidence of the food chain at work. We found bits of fur and bone scattered in a small radius.

They were silent for a moment before they started talking all at once.

"What IS that?"

"I think it must be raccoon or squirrel fur" I replied.

"What happened?"

"Well, what do you think? What would cause an explosion of fur and bone like this?"

"Ohhh something ate it!"

"Yeah, like a coyote or a fox or or a HAWK!!!"

The excited chatter continued until one of the girls pointed at something with her stick. "WHAT is THAT??"

This is when the little kid inside of me took over. I got down and started poking it with a stick, prompting one of the girls to squeal.

"I don't know but it's disgusting! That's awesome!" I exclaimed, turning the mystery piece of flesh over with the stick.

The same girl who squealed would not be outdone by my enthusiasm (either that or she took courage in it).  She poked it and poop came out, eliciting a unanimous EWWWWW from the group.

"Oh my God you made it poop! How cool is that?" I exclaimed. "That must be a piece of intestine or something. I thought maybe it was a kidney. You guys are the best group ever!"

We spent another minute ohhing and ahhing over our gruesome find before advancing towards the burned prairie. There my kids identified Eastern Bluebirds and American Goldfinches using the field guide I brought along for use.

Kids correctly identifying birds and getting excited over gross stuff. I was so proud.