Mount Madonna School science teacher recently accompanied a group of high school students on a field trip to Elkhorn Slough to participate in an annual bird count. Here is Lisa’s description of their hands-on activities:
Recently Mount Madonna School’s AP Environmental Science class had the chance to contribute to an ongoing field study of migratory shore birds at Elkhorn Slough near Moss Landing. Four times each year, biologists are sent to different parts of the slough to count the number of migratory birds and permanent shore birds out for their early evening forage. The slough reserve staff asks seasoned field biologists and experienced birders to go out with field scopes and journals and get an accurate count of how many birds are there.
The study is very important in determining the health of the different bird populations who call the slough home, explains Lisa Catterall, MMS high school science teacher. “Some of the birds are on their way from Canada to Mexico, and the slough is a critical stopping-off point on the journey. Without data to support what numbers are healthy, scientists would not be able to determine whether a given type of bird is threatened or in trouble from environmental pressures.”
Elkhorn Slough is a critical wetland resource for the land surrounding Watsonville. It helps filter runoff pollutants before they reach the sea, and it supports a wealth of diverse animal life. The tides that run up the slough and the mixing of salt and fresh-water in the estuary environment create homes for unique animals and birds.
In preparation for the trip, students spend several sessions studying specific birds in-depth; this allows them to be useful assistants to the scientists at the slough. This year, students had the opportunity to work with A.Todd Newberry, Professor of Biology at UCSC and an avid birder.