Place Based Education: Camp Chickagami
BY JOSEPH GERBYSHAK ALPENA FWCO
rainbow darters that they caught beach seining. Credit: USFWS
On May 31st, biologist Joseph Gerbyshak taught a lesson on aquatic ecosystems to a group of 5th graders from Lincoln Elementary School, Alpena, Michigan. The students were on a field trip to Camp Chickagami, a youth outdoor educational camp established in 1929 on the shores of Lake Esau in Southern Presque Isle County, Michigan.
The students participated in a hands-on presentation about the food web in Lake Esau. First, a quick review was given about how energy gets into the food web and how food webs start with primary producers. Primary consumers were the next link discussed. The students viewed a short video clip of an adult stonefly emerging from its nymph exoskeleton. This was a new concept for many of the students, most had no idea some insects start their lives in the water. The students then sorted through kick net samples for aquatic invertebrates. They were surprised by the size of the dragonfly and mayfly nymphs that were found in the samples. One lucky student found a juvenile painted turtle in her sample.
Transitioning from the base of the food web, the students used different types of gear to catch additional members of the food web. First, the students tried their luck at beach seining. They were fortunate enough to capture numerous rainbow darter; most students had never seen a fish with such brightly colored markings. In order to capture a larger diversity of fish species, minnow traps and mini-fyke nets were set a day prior.
The students pulled the minnow traps and caught shiners and juvenile rock bass, more key forage species. In anticipation of catching upper level predators, the students assisted in pulling the mini-fyke nets. The mini-fyke nets did not disappoint as they yielded an assortment of predator and prey species. A large walleye was capture and served as a good example of the upper end of the food web in Lake Esau.
As Gerbyshak explained that the walleye likely moved into shallow water in the evening to feed on the same forage species the students had capture earlier, “right on cue” the walleye regurgitated a partially digested rock bass. Most students were intrigued, as it was a perfect example of the food web interactions in Lake Esau. After seeing many parts of the food web, the students gained a better understanding of the dynamics and complexity of aquatic ecosystems.