Observations from Environmental Science Class

March 18, 2016
by Annika Alexander-Ozinskas, Environmental Science Teacher

Our land at Woolman is steadily changing and blooming with the onset of spring. Last week, we were inundated with rain - our creeks rose, and the South Yuba became a torrent of churning, brown runoff. In environmental science, we are learning about the inner workings of the natural world through observing the constant change around us. In the past month we have talked about global warming, the greenhouse effect, fossil fuels, oceans, bees, and fungi: all topics requested by students. For 4 days we journeyed from the Sierra Nevada to the Pacific Ocean to explore the role that water plays in ecosystems all along the way. Our group was especially enchanted by learning about the historic salmon runs in our watershed; by wandering around an old growth redwood forest; and learning about whales while sheltering from gale force winds in the Pt. Cabrillo lighthouse.

We continue to study water by observing the ebbs and flows in the waterways around Woolman. Along with water, we have been observing the flora and fauna in our ecosystem, the life that water makes possible here. Besides class field trips, students are going into the woods around Woolman on their own with field journals to record what they experience. Here are some photos that current student, Adrian Struck, has captured on campus: 

        

Here are a few selections from our class journals to give you a taste of what students have seen in the foothills this past month:

“Whiteleaf manzanita. We have lots of these at Woolman, but up here they look greener. I think it’s because they’re wetter in this cooler, rainier climate. The leaves are egg-shaped and green with golden edges. The little flowers are pink and taste super fantastic, so sweet.” –Lucia Sedoo

“The feeling of bugs on your face and ears. Meditated and tried to become one with the muddy pond. I observed tadpoles, newts, even frogs for a while. How spiders were crawling on my hands and knees and at that moment I had let go of my big fears towards these small insects.” –Bryan Mejia

“Stream in the ravine. Went through clearing to get here. Amazing luck! Started walking along stream and a huge dark red and orange newt swam right by me! Probably at least six or seven inches from nose to tip of tail. Beautiful dark velvet red with orange underside. Saw another when I walked a few feet upstream. A third making its way steadily upstream. Fourth one walking on an island made of rocks in the middle of stream. Disturbed one by bumping a rock, it swam away. It’s lighter red than the others. Another lying motionless in the stream. Another more orange one right below my sit spot, as well as two mating. The two mating are rolling over a lot. Showing their stomachs and undersides. Wait! There are three in the mating jumble! Color doesn’t seem to be a function of their gender. Two of the newts who are actually mating keep trying to deter/exclude the third, which I’m guessing is a male. I wonder how their reproductive systems work?” –Tara Padovan

“Himalayan blackberry. The stem and branches are a deep burgundy. The leaves are dark green. The branches are alternating and fairly regularly spaced (every 2-4 in). The stem is about a centimeter in circumference at its widest, though it narrows toward the middle and at one end. Both ends appear anchored into the ground, growing near rocks. The leaves grow in clusters of 2 to 5. Most of the leaves are cut or shriveling. Thorns, which grow in no set pattern, are ubiquitous along the branch and stems. The thorns have wide bases, which taper into sharp points. The thorns are burgundy at the base a yellow-tan shade at the tip. There is no discernable smell, but the thorns stop me from wanting to get my face too close.

The creek is calmer today, though it seems to have picked up over the last 10 minutes. Two clusters of foam have formed under the rock that I am sitting on. It’s 7:26, and the sun is not yet visible but it seems to be rising quickly. A patch of the moss seems to have come off; it was ailing before and now it looks like it has been sloughed off in places. I don’t see any newts, but they are the same reddish-brown color as the rocks lining the creek, so they might be camouflaged. The creek is slightly lower that its been before; I barely had to worry about getting my feet dirty as I walked to my rock. The creekbed is full of rocks, mostly large ones that are exposed and dry on top. Dry pine needles are on top of them - long (10+ in) needles that are clustered in threes. A banana slug is perched on top of one rock. Either it just appeared or I just noticed it.” –Sara De Roy

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