Young explorers thrilled about wetland adventurePublished 12:39pm Friday, June 21, 2013
An inaugural explorers program conducted by the Morgan County Soil & Water Conservation District received a thumbs up from its 16 young participants on Thursday after they spent six hours observing the wonders of a 650-acre preserved wetland, adjoining the Morgan County Extension Center east of Hartselle.
Even before the program got underway at 8 a.m., the explorers, ranging in age from 7 to 12, witnessed the eye-opening adventure of spending a day on the preserve.
A pair of baby rabbits were playing in the grass near the entrance to the wetland.
“The first rule is if you see a snake, leave it alone,” said Summer Stidham, program coordinator. “They won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.”
“We have lots of wildlife out here and they’re moving around and eating at this time of the day,” added Travis Badger, a wetland specialist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service. “If we’re quiet while we walk, we might jump up something.”
A short distance down the first trail, Badger stopped and motioned the explorers to come in close.
“A coyote has been here,” he said pointing to a brown spot on the ground. “That’s coyote poop. They walk the trails often hunting for prey such as rabbits, squirrels, lizards or just about anything that moves. But they’ll run if they see us.”
The next stop was made at a pool of water surrounded by several species of trees and plants growing in the water.
“That’s a swamp or what is otherwise known as a wetland pond,” Badger said. “A wetland has to have a presence of water, but not all of the time. Wetlands are important to us. They trap rainwater and filter pollutants as it seeps into the ground and help flooding in low-lying areas.”
At another location, the explorers dug red dirt from a field and later mixed it with water to make a dye for their new white T-shirts.
But perhaps the highlight of the day was using nets to capture crayfish, tadpoles and other aquatic wildlife in a wetland pond.
Using knee boots, the explorers were able to wade into the pond and use their long-handled nets to scoop up anything that living in the water. Containers filled with water were used to hold the critters while they were being observed. Tadpoles were a common find with small minnows and crayfish following in that order.
Despite being forewarned, the kids seemed to get the biggest kick out of wading into water above their boots and coming out soaking wet.
In a later session, the explorers learned about the diversity of wildlife using the large wetland as their habitat. from Spencer Bradley, a wildlife agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service.
Some of the more common animals found on the preserve are wild hogs, deer, coyotes, possums, rabbits, raccoons and squirrels. The preserve is also a habitat for many fowl, including hawks, owls, quail and ducks.
“This is a new experience for most of these kids,” said Stidham. “We told them before they registered to come prepared to walk, sweat and get dirty. It was a good exercise, both mentally and physically and they were certainly up to task. Some of the things they experienced today will be with them for the rest of their lives.”