Friday, June 25, 2010

In which I run away to become a Naturalist- long

Last October I met Rudy Mancke at a science teacher convention. He totally changed my life - seriously. Through high school I HATED biology- I hate body systems, and microscopic junk, etc. So when I met Rudy I was impressed with his enthusiasm but the extreme depth of his knowledge was phenomenal. That man knows every plant, bird, animal, insect, fish and shell. It took us 45 minutes to cross a lot in Myrtle Beach because he had something to say about everything. I thought of my students and how I teach ecosystems (and other topics), and thought they deserved someone who really knew that material in depth. So I signed up for a Master Naturalist class through Clemson to try to put together what I already know about the great outdoors. Turns out..... I actually know more than I thought about the natural world.
This week our class met on Pawley's Island and stayed at Belle Baruche's Hobcaw Barony. This woman grew up on a plantation there, bought more land when it was handed down to her, and then left it to USC and Clemson both for environmental scientists to study. It has tons of acres of long-needle pine forest, and a STUNNING estuary which is very protected and pristine.
The first day (Monday) we arrived at 8:00, and took off to Lewis Ocean Bay and stomped around the forest. We were on the look out for bears (only saw the scat) as well as began the process of plant identification. I enjoyed it, but was looking forward to the afternoon period where we were supposed to go to Brookgreen Gardens (one of my FAVORITE places) but we didn't make it there because of some big thunderstorms. I was bummed, but we made it out to dinner (after hunting in the woods for Red Cockaded Woodpeckers - which I think I actually saw on the way out) and got to know each other.
These are the very cool pitcher plants in the forest.
And these are the pretty neat Sun Dews growing close to the ground.

On the second day (Tuesday) things got very exciting for me, because I love estuaries and marshes. We drove out to the shore, and met up with Jen an environmental scientist who works out there. She had us walk out on the dock and do some water experiments (the old school way - since now everything is done my computers), and then we toured the science facility. Graduate students, and environmental scientists stay out here to do their research, for periods of time. She grabbed some nets, and buckets and we went over to the edge of the estuary. On the way out we were identifying plants, learned about salt panne, hermit crabs, and wrack (with a w).

We did some Seine netting (I have video, but don't feel like dealing with youtube tonight) and caught fish, crabs, shrimp, etc in the net and then identified the various species in the net. That was TREMENDOUS fun, and I need to find out if people can still use seine nets for non fishing purposes. The most fun was sinking into the pluff mud up to our knees, and looking for crabs and oysters.

Here I am with pluff mud (I had already attempted to clean it off) on my boots. That stuff is deep, and stains everything. The guy in the white shirt below had us scoop up handfuls and put our handprints (or boot prints) on his shirt - that will probably NEVER come out.

We drove around to a fire watchtower, climbed it and looked at the amazing views, and enjoyed the absolute peace around us. While waiting on the ground for the others, another teacher showed me that some of the limestone on the car path had fossils of shells and urchins in them, so I collected a bunch of samples for my kids, and my students.

We ended the evening with dinner with other Master Naturalists who had previously taken the class. It was great to learn about the projects they lend their time too, and I think it was pretty smart to bring teachers into the program. Most of the others were retired from various different non-science jobs (real estate, etc) and I'm glad they do the work they do, but I will be able to pass it on to the kids.

On the third day (Wednesday) we drove down to Bull's Island. It was used as a hunting preserve back in the early 1900's but now is a protected wildlife refuge/ barrier island. We were supposed to do bird watching, which honestly was not on my list of things I wanted to learn about. Simon, a bird expert from Asheville, NC and his enthusiasm was contagious. I didn't think I would be standing there like my classmates seemed to be able to do for hours:

I very much appreciate, and can identify shore birds, but preferred the plants and obvious landscape of the uninhabited island - and I need to keep moving. Our boat captain was late, so we checked out shore birds, and the birds in the trees around the parking lot. I learned to appreciate the skill involved in identifying those LBJ's (little brown jobs - what I want to call all little birds in trees). We eventually got to the island and saw beautiful plants - totally natural to SC.

When we landed we saw live oaks with palmetto trees growing right next to them. We spent a lot of time watching a beautiful painted bunting, I was amazed at the lengths people go to see a bird, but I would probably do the same thing for an awesome insect, or cool tracks.

Speaking tracks - as we walked along the dikes out toward the beach, we were constantly stopping for birds (mottled ducks, indigo bunting, etc) and plants, but my total appreciation were for the above tracks of a gator that dragged itself through the mud and off into the marsh. Wish I could have seen him to see how big, but I'm thinking not too big of a guy (kind of narrow tracks).

So, this caught my eye, and I'm touching it (and getting pricked) and observing how stiff the flower casing and petals are, and I ask - hey Karen (our Clemson Ph.D) what is this thistle thing? "Why Kelly," she answered, "that is a thistle." Oh, okay. I still liked it.

Then we made it to the coastline and with NO ONE else on the island, we all ran to the ocean and jumped in (because it was H-O-T). We saw HUGE Horseshoe crabs lying on the beach, and these loggerhead turtle tracks. There is always a naturalist (from the program I'm in) who walks this beach every couple days to look for them. Only 1 in about 10,000 will survive to make it back to the beach to nest, so they are very endangered. The tracks below show how she crawled up on the right side, dug her hole, laid her eggs, and then headed back to the water on the left.

In the picture above Karen is pointing out the disturbed sand where she (turtle) buried her eggs.
Karen works in my district teaching preschool, and was selected for the Teacher to Ranger program at Congaree. She and I are going to be GOOOOOD Friends. I am totally ready to go canoeing and kayaking with her - now have to figure out how to get the kids in boats.

After lots of wandering we headed back to the boat for the ride back, and were escorted by a pod of 6 or 7 dolphins. I'll post video of that tomorrow.

I LOVED this experience, and look forward to sharing my information with students, as well as identifying more things around me (like the hairy woodpecker on my porch today). I am definitely going to make more opportunities to hike and explore with my kids too.

No comments: