On a recent cold and snowy Friday, students from St. Agnes Catholic School in Scottsbluff spent an afternoon on an indoor camping trip. Tying in with St. Agnes’ reading theme of “Camping Out With a Good Book,” presenters from Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, the Riverside Discovery Center and the Scottsbluff National Monument talked about the plants and animals that can be seen and heard while camping. Divided into four groups with a mixture of all grade levels, students rotated through four different activity stations, while outside snow swirled during the first winter storm of the New Year.
Around the ‘Campfire’
Down in the basement meeting room, students gathered around a small tent listening to bird calls around a flickering candle in lieu of a campfire. Using construction paper, crayons and their imaginations, they drew and narrated pictures of all of the things they might hear on a camping trip. Unsurprisingly, there were many birds and pine trees drawn, but also a rocket ship, a motor car and even aliens in their small spaceship. With the sounds of birds singing and the only light coming in through the window and provided by the candle, you could almost imagine yourself sitting inside a tent on a cloudy morning listening to the world wake up around you.
Wildlife in the Gym
In the gymnasium, students were able to meet several of the animals that they might see while out hiking or camping, or at least whose tracks they might see. The most popular visitor from the zoo was Pasta the common ferret. While common ferrets are not native to the western plains, their close cousin, the black-footed ferret, is, and Pasta gave the students a visual of the general size and shape of a ferret. Each group of students met a different animal native to the shortgrass prairie and was able to get answers to their questions about these animals.
Birdfeeders and Animal Tracks
Across the gym, teachers from St. Agnes helped students to create their own pinecone bird feeders using sunflower seeds and peanut butter. While birdfeeders are not part of the usual camping kit, this time of year food sources can be scarce, and even in town the birds will flock to feeders. Backyards are often a great spot to see – and identify – new birds, and provide up-close looks at many of the common songbirds of the area that winter here.
Staff from the Scottsbluff National Monument taught the students about tracks and showed tracks of animals native to western Nebraska. Tracks are frequently the only sign that animals such as turkeys, rabbits and bobcats passed through an area, and discovering and identifying tracks can feel like a sleuthing game.
Overall, the afternoon was a fun, educational experience for everyone involved, including the 87 students who got to experience the outdoors while inside on a cold, snowy day.
~ Maggie Vinson, Nebraska Education Coordinator