Believe it or not, I actually don’t spend all of my time catching frogs or hiking in the Smokies (ha ha, I swear!). Instead, I center much of my free time on assisting other CRESO projects. So here is a much-deserved shout out to them!
Rectangular wooden bird boxes are hung upon trees around CRESO and various schoolyards. The boxes have a circular opening on their front face and one of the sidewalls turns up completely for easy peeking into the box. Students open the sides of the boxes and record what type of nesting material they find, the presence of eggs, birds or mammals and remove intrusive pests like wasps and their nests. All of the data collected is used by CRESO but also uploaded to a national database hosted by Cornell to contribute to a wider reaching long-term study.
As I’m considering what to write for this description I’ve suddenly realized I’ve been brain washed by the W.E.L. into loving turtles! I almost began this description with, “this project is a personal favorite because of SWIMMING TURTLES!” Ha ha, what is happening to me?! For this project, we set barrel-sized nets about 80% underwater over night in freshwater ponds. Each net contains a small can of, wait for it ……VIENNA WIENERS! Apparently, the snappers go crazy for these tiny salty morsels because we catch at least 3/session on average. The following afternoon, we pull all of the nets and gather our catch in an assortment of sanitized plastic bins. Finally, we collect and record morphometric data on all of the animals.
These slithery surveys require the kids to hike through the woods and flip over “cover boards,” which are basically large sheets of plywood and metal that are laid on the ground and provide a covering for wandering snakes. There is certainly an element of surprise with this activity because one cover board has the potential to conceal multiple snakes of varying sizes! When snakes are found, students collect morphometric information and scan each animal for a pit tag. The pit tag, similar to a canine microchip, is a unique feature of this CRESO project and is used to ID the animals.
Box Turtle Tracking
Short and sweet, this activity is just like it sounds – we find wild box turtles, we glue fancy radiotransmitters to their carapaces and then we track them all summer! Students enjoy hiking through brambles, clear-cut forests and all sorts of tick-laden trails to find these animals. We have to make sure we consistently find each of our 6 turtles on a weekly basis. If not, we risk losing them amidst the thorny ridge valleys of eastern TN.
Clinch River Raptor Center
Yup, that’s right – CRESO has its very own raptor center in the courtyard of Clinton Middle School. Similar to UIUC’s WMC, their goal is to rehabilitate birds of prey that were orphaned or injured regardless of circumstance. As of 2012, they’d seen over 2,000 animals and they successfully released about 55% back into the wild! Unfortunately, I have not truly volunteered with this program yet but I was able to tour the facility and meet some of the critters that reside there.