ROCKLAND — Volunteers for the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge spent the past winter creating a field trip experience for children to learn about our seabird islands through the eyes of a wildlife biologist.
Last September, Carney McRae Doucette, of Rockland, and Jane Hardy, of Lincolnville, took a webinar series through the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center on integrating education standards in education and outreach programs.
Cyrene Slegona, of Belfast, joined to the team and these educators spent the winter and spring designing a 3-hour field trip experience aimed at 4th and 5th graders. The Visitor Center at 9 Water St. in Rockland has a replica seabird island outside that allows visitors of all ages to experience what it is like on a seabird island.
Since people cannot land on these islands during nesting season, this replica provides a way for anyone to get a sense of how biologists are restoring nesting seabird colonies. A recording of seabird sounds sets the atmosphere. Bird decoys representing the different species are on the island. Bird blinds and a boat provide an imaginative mind with an opportunity to see what it is like to be on the island as a wildlife biologist.
Inside the Razorbill Research building, there are tools of the trade, field guides, rubber boots, hard hats and life vests. A basket of wooden eggs can be laid out in the different nests so that one can conduct an egg census while identifying birds and nests. Inside the visitor center, you can learn how biologists track birds using the old school method of bird banding and new technology with nanotags and GPS satellite tags.
At the end of the school year, three classes from RSU13 volunteered to field test the program.
Lynn Snow’s 5th grade class from Thomaston Grammar School came on a sunny day. Their class has been studying birds, so had some background before they came.
Susan Oliver’s 2nd grade class from South School came the next day to see if we could adapt this to a younger age.
Then Wendy Jacques’ 4th grade class from Ash Point Community School came on a rainy day, allowing us to adapt outside activities.
With the information learned from these classes, the education team will now make changes, so that the program can become available to schools in the Fall.
Brian Benedict, Refuge Manager, is delighted to see this outdoor seabird island come to life with children conducting their scientific investigations.
Thanks to volunteers from the Friends of Maine Coastal Islands NWR, there now is an active seabird colony at the Visitor Center.
The center is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except holidays.
To learn more, call 207-594-0660.