Onsite outreach: Elkhorn Slough Reserve
Last week we had the opportunity to practice our nature interpretation skills with a group of students from MERITO at Elkhorn Slough Reserve. It was a great day to come out to the trails for a day of learning about birds, plants, history of Elkhorn Slough Reserve, and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. We had close to 70 students and only two teachers, two parents, and three volunteers. I was very happy to see that both of the classes were very diverse. We had two nature walks. One was led by Stephanie and I led the second walk. I had approximately 40 students on the trail with a teacher and a parent.
This was my first time I led a group that large but I didn’t let that distract me. It gave me confidence to know that the Reserve is a great place to be and everyone who attends will have a good time. Throughout the walk we stopped at the old barn, the bridge, and several areas along the Oak Woodland. The old barn offers students the chance to see Barn Owls or owl pellets. The kids were very excited to learn about owl pellets and when I was done telling them what they were they all started searching for them on the floor. After the barn we walked down to the bridge where we stayed for a while to see if we could catch a glimpse of a leopard shark or a bat ray. We did not see any but some of the students that were in the back saw a sea otter. Normally sea otters are not seen from this trail, they tend to stay closer to the main channel. During the program the students saw gulls, dusky footed woodrat nests, Acorn Woodpeckers (and their granary), egrets, cormorants, and Great Blue Herons.
After taking a little snack break after the hike some students went to the plankton lab and others to the visitor center. In the plankton lab the students used microscopes to see tiny organisms that live in the ocean. In the Visitor Center students got into groups and went on a scavenger hunt. The kids were very excited about visiting the different exhibits and trying to answer the 14 questions on the scavenger hunt. When they couldn’t figure out the answer to one of the scavenger hunt questions they would come up to me for help and eventually they would get it. For them it was a competition to try to finish the whole scavenger hunt activity before other groups finished. Overall, it was a great learning experience for me. Going on a nature walk with approximately 40 students is not easy but it is rewarding to see them all smiling and having fun while learning different things in the outdoors.