Anna recently completed her Master Naturalist training! The classroom training was extensive and covered subjects from the ecology of the prairie to the geology of the Rocky Mountains.
One of her favorite topics during the training ended up being prairie dogs. They are fascinating creatures, and a true keystone species, with about 160 other species benefiting from their presence. Prairie dogs turn the soil as they dig their complex tunnel systems, inadvertently aerating and fertilizing the soil. They are a great food source for larger animals like eagles, hawks, and ferrets. Plus, their abandoned burrows serve as homes for other animals, like burrowing owls and rabbits.
Master Naturalist training requires not just absorbing information, but also teaching it. In mid-April, each trainee had to create and present a lesson plan on a topic of their choice. Anna decided to give a talk about the water cycle and water conservation, geared towards 3rd graders. Her water cycle drawing connected with people, but the real hit was her Lego dioramas depicting the river and various ways humans use its water. She filled the river container with water, then poured the water into other containers representing a variety of city and agricultural uses. This demonstration visually showed that our water supply is limited, and that we need to conserve and share the water with wildlife.
With most of their classroom training complete, the Master Naturalist trainees ventured outside to connect their new knowledge with the local landscape. Seeing animals, plants, and geology in person added an invaluable dimension to their learning.
The final steps were to serve as an assistant during a field trip, and then to be evaluated by a staff member while leading an educational event. Last Tuesday, Anna was supposed to serve as a Master Naturalist Assistant, helping teach a group of 3rd graders. However, at the last minute one of the lead Master Naturalists got sick, so Anna stepped up to teach the cattails lesson. This was her first time leading a lesson, but since it was a last-minute change, there was no time to get nervous. It went great! A staff member even said Anna did so well that this was going to count as her certification trip.
After 4 rotations of 20 students completed the lesson, the bus came to pick them all up. Anna stayed back and enjoyed some well-earned quiet time by the pond. Then, after a few minutes, a great blue heron flew in to land within feet of her. It saw her at the last second and took off again…with a red-winged blackbird chasing it. What a perfect way to finish up her Master Naturalist certification!
Throughout the summer Anna will volunteer to lead groups of students and adults through the Natural Areas of Fort Collins. Maybe she’ll see you out there! For those of you farther afield, we’ll keep posting about our hikes on this blog, but with a bonus: our posts will be enriched by Anna’s newfound knowledge.