Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
A New Adventure Every Day
Midwest Region, July 3, 2013
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Fifth grader, Ella Strong, drew this picture in her journal.
Fifth grader, Ella Strong, drew this picture in her journal. - Photo Credit: Ella Strong
New Albin fifth graders show off backpacks the Friends of Pool 9 donated to the project.
New Albin fifth graders show off backpacks the Friends of Pool 9 donated to the project. - Photo Credit: Debra Masek

Thirty-eight fifth graders from New Albin Elementary School in Iowa turned the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge into their personal classroom last school year. Refuge land and the Pool Slough Wildlife Management Area are literally a hop, a skip, and a jump behind the school grounds, giving students the opportunity to experience the natural world hands-on instead of just reading about it in a book or online.

The Friends of Pool 9 bought backpacks, complete with water bottles, for each student. Armed with digital cameras, field guides, binoculars, and journals, the students set out to explore nature and make new discoveries. One of their first assignments was to take photographs of shapes in nature that formed the letters of the alphabet. But that quickly fell away to the more exciting sights and sounds of migrating geese, ducks, egrets, and sandhill cranes. No one wanted to leave, despite the cold, wintery weather.

The sound of 38 kids practicing duck calls is deafening and completely ineffective on nearby waterfowl, but hilarious to watch. Their bulging eyes, ballooning checks, and sheer exuberance would make anyone laugh. But over the course of time students also learned the value of being quiet and attentive when stalking wildlife. They pointed and whispered, “Why are those two geese circling around that sandhill crane?” Or lifted their binoculars and exclaimed, “I can see the eagle sitting in the nest!” and “eewww, what is that dead bird?”

One of the highlights of the year was bird banding. Refuge employee, Cindy Samples, and District staff set up three mist nets early in the morning along the edge of the marsh and timber and waited. Soon the nets came alive with birds fluttering and bouncing, trying to escape. Cindy untangled and bagged each in a small sack for safe keeping. Students helped identify and record data for each bird and then released them. Although Samples has been banding for many years she was able to add several new species to her list because they do not live here, they only migrate through the area on their way to their breeding grounds. She talked about the many International Migratory Bird Day celebrations that would be held that coming Saturday, and the importance of banding birds to learn more about them.

The grand finale of the year was a boat ride on the river and building bluebird houses. Several of the students had never been on the river before. It was a good way to tie everything together they had learned that year and to share their thoughts and feelings about their experiences. Allamakee County Conservation Board employee, Jerrod Olson endured the banging of 38 hammers and bravely held parts together while students determinedly beat nails into the wood. Wildlife discoveries did not end in Harpers Ferry Landing parking lot. Numerous turtle hatchling were found crossing the parking lot to begin their maiden voyage to the river while a tenacious killdeer refused to flee her nest despite all the commotion.

The parting message to the students was about what an extraordinary place the refuge and the Pool Slough Wildlife Management Area is and best of all, how close they live to it. They were encouraged to visit it often and observe how it changes through the seasons and over time. With luck, in the coming years, all New Albin fifth graders will get the chance to experience, as one student wrote in her journal, “a new adventure every day.”

Contact Info: Ann Blankenship, 563-873-3423 Ext. 14, ann_blankenship@fws.gov
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