Deer Creek Elementary kids take a walk on the wild side
Second-graders go to Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve on a fieldtrip
As birds of all kinds went about their business in the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve on April 5, some new sounds erupted during the morning: Three classes of second-graders from Deer Creek Elementary School toured the site as an end-of-the-school-year fieldtrip, their excited voices mingling with chatters, clucks, hoots, cries, quacks, trills and tweets of dozens of varieties of birds.
Sarah Pinnock, a wildlife education specialist, led half the group made up of 1 ½ classes on a huge loop from the Wetlands Education Center past ponds and wetlands and marches, stopping periodically to point out various features and birds.
As the group started out, Pinnock said, "You will see lots of nesting boxes we built for tree swallows. They eat lots of insects - that is why we love them."
However, Pinnock pointed out a hanging nesting box that squirrels had commandeered and turned into their own nest.
Stopping at the first body of water, Pinnock told the kids that they might see mosquito fish, so called because they eat mosquitoes. "And we have perch, bass and carp but no salmon or trout," she said, adding, "The Tualatin River floods into this area - this is part of the Tualatin River floodplain. This road we are standing on right now is completely underwater during the winter.
"We have estimated that when the water is at its highest, there are 10 billion gallons of water spread over the land here."
Pinnock pointed out a Canada goose sitting on her nest across a pond before the group walked by a viewing blind, which was a wall at the edge of a pond full of openings for people to observe birds without scaring them away.
At the water's edge, Pinnock pointed out a killdeer bird, so named because their call sounds like, "Kill deer!"
And the kids also saw three little American coots, with Pinnock telling them, "We have gazillions of birds here."
She pointed at telephone poles sticking out of the pond and asked the kids, "Why are there telephone poles in the middle of a marsh?"
When the kids didn't know, she gave the answer: "They are used as raptor poles, where raptors can sit and rest."
Pinnock told the kids some neat facts about osprey: "They have polarized lenses in their eyes, so they can see underwater," she said. "And when they catch a fish, they turn it around so it faces forward, and its flapping tail doesn't slow them down while they are flying with it."
Approaching another pond, Pinnock said, "We need to go into sneaky feet mode and be especially quiet because here at the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve, we are so lucky that this is the 13th year we have had an active bald eagles' nest. The eggs should be hatching any day now."
Making another stop, Pinnock asked a boy named Antonio to volunteer while she used his arms to demonstrate the wing movements of various birds.
"People come out here and think this will be like the Discovery Channel, and they will see a gazillion things everywhere they look," she said. "But this is a wetlands area, and we have to look for clues of what has been here."
One clue that reveals which birds and animals have been in the area is the poop or scat they leave behind, to which at the mention of the word poop, all the kids said, "Oooooooooh."
Pinnock showed them some owl pellets and explained that people can deduce what the owls ate from examining the pellets.
The group stopped by the Jackson Slough, which empties into the Tualatin River, and Pinnock pointed out a bush named thimbleberry, "which is what we call nature's toilet paper." The kids all tittered at that comment.
Walking toward the Tualatin River, Pinnock explained that the wire fencing along the path was called a beaver-protector fence to keep beavers from eating plants when the area is flooded.
At the river's edge, Pinnock warned the kids not to fall in and showed them areas on the trees 8 feet high where big pieces of bark were missing.
"Do beavers climb trees?" she asked. "No? When this area was flooded, the beavers swam through the water and ate the bark off the trees."
As the group headed back to the education center, Pinnock told the kids not to step on logs lying on the ground. "There might be salamanders and frogs under them, and they would get smooched," she said."
Back at the center, the kids had time to view the displays and eat lunch before they spent the afternoon learning more about birds and doing hands-on experiments while the other half of the group toured the wetlands.
The Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve is located at 2600 S.W. Hillsboro Highway, Hillsboro 97123. For more information, visit www.jacksonbottom.org or call 503-681-6206.