Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
VENTURA FWO: Young Citizen Scientists and Connecting People with Nature Team collect data during Field Trip to Santa Clara River
California-Nevada Offices , March 14, 2013
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Rachel Henry, Ventura FWO, with Piru Elementary School students at Santa Clara River looking at aquatic invertebrates
Rachel Henry, Ventura FWO, with Piru Elementary School students at Santa Clara River looking at aquatic invertebrates - Photo Credit: Michael Glenn/USFWS
Colleen Mehlberg, Ventura FWO, with Piru Elementary School students learning about birds at the Santa Clara River
Colleen Mehlberg, Ventura FWO, with Piru Elementary School students learning about birds at the Santa Clara River - Photo Credit: Michael Glenn/USFWS

By Michael Glenn

How many second graders can say they have seen a diving beetle swimming or collected data for local climate change research?

Second grade students from Piru Elementary School in Piru, California, did just that and became citizen scientists for the day while observing nature, collecting data on native plants and wildlife along the banks of the Santa Clara River and learning about the importance of clean water for people, plants and animals.

As part of the Fillmore Unified School District’s Santa Clara River Field Studies Program, the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office’s (FWO) Connecting People with Nature (CPwN) team, staff from California Department of Fish and Wildlife and parent volunteers recently supported these young citizen scientists in collecting data on water quality and native plant phenology, a science closely linked to assessing climate change impacts on the natural environment.

Phenology is specifically the study of the timing of life cycle events in plants and animals. By studying these natural events, information can be used to figure out how animals know when it is time to migrate, and what “clock” plants use to begin leafing, flowering, fruiting or reproducing. Such data helps researchers gain insights into the impacts of climate change on the local environment and how such impacts fit into a broader regional and national landscape.

The day began with students learning about native plants, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and aquatic invertebrates living in and around the Santa Clara River such as western toads, pacific chorus frogs, coast horned lizards and western pond turtles.

But the fun really started when the students went on a hike and observed flatworms and diving beetles collected from the river and then viewed the following species: red-tailed hawk, northern harrier hawk, Cooper’s hawk, turkey vulture, American crow, western fence lizard, and small stickleback and arroyo chub fish. Students also had opportunities to touch, see and smell several native plants, including coastal sagebrush, arroyo willow and cattails.

“The best part of my day was hearing one little girl exclaim if people harm the worms then people are harming the native fish that eat them,” said Colleen Mehlberg, Ventura FWO biologist and CPwN team member. “For most of the students, it was the first time they really observed and interacted with native wildlife that lives in their local outdoor classroom, the Santa Clara River. The students really enjoyed getting their hands dirty.”

By the end of the day, students collected an assortment of data on aquatic invertebrates and native plant phenology. The CPwN team entered the students’ phenology data into a national data base at USA National Phenology Network. This citizen science-driven database provides a portal for the public to input phenology information on plants and animals to help assess and better understand the local impacts associated with climate change, and how these changes relate to other areas of country.

Other Ventura FWO team members that assisted the students were Michael Glenn, Schoolyard Habitat Coordinator, Rachel Henry, fish and wildlife biologist , and Jenny Marek, fish and wildlife biologist .

This unique and collaborative outreach project enabled the students to become more aware of how native species abundance can be used as an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. If one species declines in our environment, other species having a symbiotic relationship with them or relying on them for food may also suffer. The students from Piru Elementary directly supported our understanding of these local climate impacts while learning more about their natural world.

For more information about Ventura FWO’s Connecting People with Nature Program, please go to http://www.fws.gov/ventura/ or Contact Michael Glenn, Michael_Glenn@fws.gov

Mary Root of the Ventura FWO contributed to this article.

Contact Info: Stephanie Weagley, 805-644-1766, stephanie_weagley@fws.gov
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