Carson Nature Center Adventure

We were very fortunate to spend three whole days at the South Platte River/Carson Nature Center April 23-25! Each one of us is writing our own reflection about our time there, so this post will be a list of each day’s activities.

Wednesday, April 23

We started our day meeting our guide, Beth, in the Carson Nature Center classroom. We began talking about the parts of the South Platte river and the types of things we would find in this riparian ecosystem. We learned about some different vocabulary words through some activities and then went outside for a hike where we could “put it all together.”

  • Biotic – living and once living things of an ecosystem
  • Abiotic – non-living things of an ecosystem (water, sunlight)
  • Process – some force or cycle that affects biotic and abiotic parts of an ecosystem
  • Individual – one biotic part of an ecosystem (ex. one trout)
  • Population – multiple individuals of the same species (ex. a school of trout)
  • Community – differetn populations that depend upon each other in the community

We loved hiking with Beth and learning about the flood of 1965 that “accidentally” created the area of the nature center. In one area near the river, you can find a train car that was carried a few miles to this area. It’s mostly buried in a wooded area, but some parts are still sticking out so that you can see them.

Around the river, we found cut banks, point bars, secondary channels, and backwater areas in the river. There were so many areas where we were able to observe animals in their habitats. We saw ducks, an osprey, hawks, cormorants, lots of insects, and we could hear frogs chirping along the banks of the river. We learned from Beth that there are insects called “midges.” When they are still larva, they live in the water. As adults they are able to fly. They look and swarm just like mosquitoes, but midges don’t have mouths. They can’t bite humans or suck their blood. Adult midges only live for a couple of days.

After our hike, we returned to the nature center to gather around a water table. This was a simulation of rivers and sediment – we discovered how channels are formed, examined erosion and deposition when water levels change, and even simulated a flood to see how the water can be a very destructive force. We had a great morning with our new friend, Beth!

In the afternoon, we ate lunch, then went on a hike ourselves. We found a wonderful area to sit and write in our field journals about our day. In this small area, we had a choice of sitting in a wooded spot or a grassy spot near the river bank. Mrs. Baldwin asked us to include a “sensory” activity. We took a few minutes to engage our senses – what did we hear? what did we smell? what did we feel? what did we see? We wrote and sketched these things in our field journals, too.

That was a full day of learning! We headed back to school after that and geared up for the next two days.

Thursday, April 24

On Thursday, we were entirely self-guided. Our day started with a hike to a different part of the river than what we had seen the day before. We stopped at the memorial sculpture of the flood and took a photo. Then we hiked for about 20 minutes until we came to a part of the river that had numerous places for us to sit. At this time, Mrs. Baldwin asked to go on a “habitat hunt.” In this activity, we were to look for at least four different habitats. We had to find one bird, one mammal, one insect, and one animal of our choice. For each habitat, we had to describe what we found and then list food sources, water sources, the type of shelter each creature used for protecting its young, and any other details we thought we should include. In our field journals, we used a combination of writing and sketching to help us complete this activity.

After eating lunch, we hiked again and found a man-made eagle’s nest! It’s big enough for people to stand in! We searched for sticks and branches to add to the nest. Next, we ran over to an open meadow and played a game we call Producers, Predators, Prey, and Decomposers. Mrs. Baldwin gave us each a card that had some different names of producers, predators, prey, and decomposers. We ran around in the meadow until Mrs. Baldwin yelled, “Freeze!” When you freeze, you have to find the closest person to you and then look at each other’s card. If you have a coyote and the other person has a rabbit, the coyote wins. We had to decide which animals would win by thinking about food webs. Also, some cards had dead animals, while other cards contained decomposers. The decomposers would win that battle. This was a really fun game that helped us think more about primary predators, secondary predators, and other parts of food webs. We also got to run around a LOT!

By the time we hiked back toward the nature center, it was already time to go back to school! Our days went by very quickly!

Friday, April 25

Friday morning, we met our friend Beth back at the nature center classroom. We talked about the cycle of insects and small fish and amphibians. Beth helped us learn about how some insects create homes for their larvae and nymphs in rivers and still water. Then we hiked to a part of the river, and we got to wade in it! Because the water is still coming down from the melting snow in the mountains, the river water was really, really cold! Every single one of us waded, though, and Beth complimented us – no one screamed!

In the river, we found midge larvae, caddisfly larvae, caddisfly nymphs, and the homes they build out of tiny grains of sand. In the pond, we found a snail, dragonfly nymphs, worms, midge larvae, caddisfly larvae, sideswimmers, boatmen, waterstriders, and even a leech! We talked about everything we found with Beth, and we knew that we found more in the pond due to the fact that it was still water.

We ate lunch after we hiked back, and then we returned to the our writing spot from Wednesday. We continued sketching and writing about our experiences of all three days. To complete our day, we hiked back to the nature center building for a quick tour. We saw different examples of the wildlife at the nature center, and the man that was working there brought out a snake for us to see!

It was such a great experience to learn about an ecosystem while we were actually in the middle of one. We learn a lot in our research online and through books, but this was a really special opportunity for us. Again, we’re grateful that we have options like this at our school!

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