Brant Monitoring in the Field
This chapter gives different options for viewing the Brant in the field, data sheets, and some creative alternative to the typical field trip.
Field Trip Guide for Teachers
Once your class has had an introduction to the Brant project (the introductory activities in Chapter 2) you can begin to monitor for the geese in your local estuary. These field trips are designed to give students an experience that will not only allow them to observe and collect data about the Brant, but also to study the surrounding area and habitat of the Brant.
- Students will have an opportunity to observe the Brant, their behavior, and the surrounding area that may affect the Brant.
- Students will observe and count the population of Brant using sampling techniques.
- Students will map significant areas of their estuary.
- Students will observe other plants and animals that share the Brant habitat, and be able to note any pressures that they are facing.
Through the use of data collection sheets, the students will be able to gather information about the Brant such as number of flocks, bands sited, age of birds, etc. As an optional activity in addition to the normal data collection, students will have a different "focus activity" to do on three different visits to the observation sites to gather additional information. The students are given a "job". The following is a brief description of the three different activities:
1. The Behavioral Ecologists: Students will make careful observations about the area surrounding the Brant and the relationships of that environment to the Brant.
2. The Geographic Interpretation Specialists: In this activity, students will create a map with representations of objects and landforms that are in the vicinity of the Brant.
3. The Marine Plant Ecologists: In this activity, students will conduct a basic survey of the major plant life in the area near the Brant, including their favored foods: eelgrass and sea lettuce.
Procedures (Before you go)
1. Make sure that you have extra copies of the field sheets for your students to use on the field trip. Have students bring the journals on the field trips; they are good place for students to keep field notes and data sheets, and to make reflections.
2. Contact a local resource person in your area. Check with your State Fish and Game, or Federal Fish and Wildlife agency for a wildlife biologist that is knowledgeable of the area and of the Brant. Check early enough to give them time to schedule in your class field trip.
3. Review the activities provided for your class for the field trip. Also in class, give students the opportunity to learn to read a tide table. Have them help decide when the best times to go in the field would be.
4. Let the class know where they are going and the behavior that is expected of them (see field trip etiquette). Discuss safety with the students. See "Field Trip Safety" section.
5. Give the students a list of what they need to bring along, including proper dress for the location and conditions. Remember that you will be near the water's edge...dress with appropriate foot wear!
6. Ensure that students can properly use equipment prior to the field trip and have all completed the "Can You See the Real Brant" activity. Encourage students to bring their own binoculars and bird field guides from home.
7. Clipboards are handy for students to hold field sheets. Mount a pencil to each board. Enclose the entire clipboard in a large ziplock bag to protect from rain
8. Be sure to bring along some empty plastic shopping bags (the kind with handles) for a beach clean-up of the area.
9. Make sure you bring the sample plant pressings of the eelgrass and sea lettuce from the Brant Care Package for the plant group leader to use for that station.
Procedure At Site:
1. Depending on the length of time that you stay and observe the brant, take in to consideration that the optional "focus activities" should be given at least 10 minutes to complete.
2. Try to make the data gathering procedure as accurate as possible. A wildlife biologist will be helpful in determining counting procedures.
3. A strong closing is just as important as the activities themselves. Have students write some reflections while still in the field, or have them finish the sentence "the most interesting thing I learned about the Brant was or they could share something specific that they found interesting.
4. A must before you and your class leave: A Beach or Wetland Clean-Up. Have students participate in cleaning up any litter and encourage them to leave the area cleaner than they found it when you arrived. This might be a good activity to do in their groups as well.
5. Upon your return, the data that the class collected, can be compiled into a short observation report (this could be assigned to a different group of students each week). Any student reflections that the class feels is important can be included. These data are then entered into the brant webpage database. If you don't know how to do this, contact Glen Alexander.
6. A final report at the end of the season (or once all of the "focus activities" have been completed) can be done (see Follow-Up Activities, chapter 9, lesson 1).
Some helpful hints for the teacher:
- Remember to always be versatile. Recognize the magic of the moment. Use unexpected experiences to illustrate ecological concepts, or just enjoy it.
- Enthusiasm is the main attention-getter. Whatever is being done, do it with gusto! If you are not getting excited about it, will your students? Get down on your hands and knees to look at plants and tiny creatures. Point silently at a feature to which you want to draw attention. Enthusiasm is a greater catalyst than knowing all the names. Create an appealing atmosphere.
- Make sure the activity does the teaching and not you. Model good conservation and environmental behaviors.
Field Trip Etiquette:
It is important to not only have an enjoyable time on your field trip and learn about the Brant, but to also promote conservation. By first telling your students these basic conservation rules, and then as a teacher being the model, you will be contributing to the protection and wise use of our precious and limited natural resources. Explain to your students that you are entering fragile wildlife habitat, and that to misuse or be a careless visitor, is to destroy the homes of valuable plants and animals. Here is a list of some things you and your class can do to have a more stimulating and low-impact experience on your field trip:
- Step softly and quietly while observing animals.
- Replace rocks and logs after looking underneath (to keep roofs on animals' homes).
- Handle all animals gently.
- Fill in holes after looking at worms or clams (to prevent suffocation of the animals next door).
- Do not take live animals away from their homes.
- Do not litter.
- Pick up any litter that you find.
- Minimize trampling of plants. If trails are designated, stay on them as much as possible.
- Stay quiet. Yelling, shouting, and "roughhousing" will scare the geese away, and may cause some to abandon the area, and even avoid the area in the future.
Field Trip Safety:
- Have a partner.
- Dress warmly and keep dry.
- Know the dangers of, and treatment for, hypothermia. Take extra clothes, rubber boots and rain gear (plastic bags will do in a pinch).
- Step carefully around the water in the area. Because the ground may be mushy, you could get stuck.
- Observe animals from a safe distance. If an animal shows signs of being crowded or disturbed, sit quietly or move away.
- Do not taste any wild plants. Some plants are poisonous and some people are allergic to plants that are normally harmless.
- Carry a first aid care package.
- Be aware of special allergies or medical problems.
- Always know what students you have in your group. Carry a list of students and take frequent head counts. To prevent stragglers and explorers from getting lost, assign a leader and follow-up person when traveling from one point to another.
- Spotting Scopes
- Field Guides
- Clip Boards
- Large Ziplock Bags for Clipboards
- Data Sheets (extras)
- First Aid Kit
- Garbage Bags
Much of this field-trip chapter was adapted from Shorebirds of the Pacific Flyway, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Homer, Alaska.
Data Sheet Explanations
Point" would be the Site and "Izembek Lagoon, Cold Bay, Alaska" would be Site/Location: Where exactly did you see the banded Brant? Example: "Grant the Location at the top of the page.
Date: The date of your field trip.
Time: The time you started observing the Brant.
Observer: Name of person who read the band.
Band: The combination of letters and numbers. Remember read the band from bottom to top. Also - Dont guess! If you cant quite make out the letter or number, put a "_" in the place of the questionable character. Most tarsus bands contain a 3 character code repeated 3 times around the band. Restricted character set: A,E,G,H,K,L,N,R,S,T,V,Y,Z & ALL NUMBERS.
Color: What color is the band:
Yellow with black letters
White with blue letters
Aqua with black letters
Blue with white letters
Red with white letters
Green with white letters
Orange with black letters
Age: Is it a juvenile (Juv) or an adult (Ad)? Check with your local biologist to find out how to tell the difference.
Was the banded bird standing next to another color-banded bird of the same color?
Was the bird feeding or resting when you read the band? Anything of interest can be added to this column.
Counts Of Brant
Brant Present: Yes? No?
Number of birds
Data Sheet Explanations:
Location: In what geographic area was the count made? Example: "Izembek Lagoon, Cold Bay, Alaska"
Site: Did you count all the birds at that location or just the birds in "Applegate Cove". Draw a map of the area where the counts were made, showing boundaries.
Date: The date of your field trip.
Time: The time you started observing the Brant.
Tidal height: Height of the tide: Low, Medium or High.
Tidal flow: Flow of the tide: Slack, Ebb, Flood
Brant present: Fill out a sheet even if Brant are not present.
Flock number: Number each flock counted.
Number of Brant: Estimate the number of birds present in each flock.
Juvenile/Adult: Number of juveniles to the number of adults in the flock. For example, 15/25 or 15 juveniles and 25 adults were seen in the flock. Try to age >30% of the flock.
You will be investigating how animals interact with their living and non-living environments or how they behaves under certain conditions. Specifically, you are interested in what the Brant are interacting with and how they act because of those certain conditions. It is very important that you learn as much as you can about the behavior of the Brant so that you have information that can support the Brant population in this area if ever there were ever any threats to its population.
1.What kinds of sounds do hear in this area? Where are the sounds coming from? How do think they affect the Brant?
2. Look around you....List 20 things that you see all around. Now, choose 5 of them and describe how they might affect the brant.
3. What types of human activity (buildings, boats, roads, trails, bridges, etc.) do you see around you? Do these things help or hurt the survival of birds, such as the Brant?
4. Find a piece of litter...take it to the litter bag. How might this piece of litter affect the animals and the plants in the area? Why do people litter?
5. Find a piece of living material. How is this connected or related to a Brant?
6. Find a piece of non-living material. How is this connected or related to a Brant?
7. If you were a Brant, where would you go to escape from a predator?
8. Explain how you might behave if a fox or a threatening person approached you and your nest.
9. If you were a Brant, where would you go to find food? Why?
10. Do you see any boats, people fishing, or other human activity?
11. If you were a young Brant just after leaving the nest, would you feel safe on your own, or would you feel threatened by the local disturbances around you?
12. Take turns watching the Brant with binoculars. Record your observations. Be specific about what you are seeing. Describe their behavior and what might be causing that certain behavior.
13. Make note of any air, water or noise pollution.
14. How do the actions and behavior of the Brant relate to their surroundings, the disturbances, and your class being there?
15. In what direction are the Brant moving, if they even are? If moving, why do you think they are?
Your Job: You are a one of a kind specialist in your field. You have training in mapping very remote areas, following certain species of animals, and mapping their location. You have recently joined a team of biologists to determine the whereabouts of the Brant during its migration up and down the Pacific Coast Flyway. It is up to you to investigate the area, learn what is there, why the Brant Geese are there, and to map this information. This information may be compiled into a report for a management team for use in decision making on the future uses of this estuary or bay.
1. Use the back of your paper to draw your map. Decide what kind of map key you are going to use, what types of symbols will represent water, land, eelgrass, human development etc...
2. Where does the water in this wetland or estuary come from? (called an outlet)
3. Mark that on your map. Where does the water go to? (called an inlet) Mark that on your map.
4. Find and name the different bodies of water around you and the Brant.
5. What types of landscape features and objects can you identify (hills, forests, rivers, sand spits, beaches). Put them on the map.
6. Are the Brant in the water? On the sand? Locate where they are on the map.
7. Most importantly, we want to know how close the Brant are to human disturbance. Map any type of human built structures or things (buildings, parking lots, parks, roads, airports, boats, docks and anything else.
8. Compare where you are to an aerial map (if you have one). Can you find where you are?
Marine Plant/Algae Ecologist:
Eelgrass and Sea Lettuce
Your Job: You are a biologist that works with marine plants. You have heard about the Brant Project through some of your other biologist friends and have decided to contribute some of your findings to their work. The Brant get most of their food from two marine plants: eelgrass, and sea lettuce. You are interested in learning more about these particular plants and their relationship to the Brant geese. You are going to sample the area at which you are near today for evidence of these two plants
1. Begin your survey by describing the general plant coverage around the Brant:
2. Go over to the water's edge. What do you see? Is there evidence of plants living in the water? Describe what you see:
3. Are these plants affected by the tide?
How might the tide affect the Brant?
4. How are these plants adapted to live in the very high tides? Very low tides?
5. What might live on these plants?
6. Notice the landscape around you......notice all of the plants in the vicinity. How might the Brant use these plants?
7. How many different types of plants and algae are found in the sand?
8. How many different types of plants and algae are attached to rocks?
9. What do these plants and algae need to survive?
10. Using the samples of eelgrass, find an area where it lives. Describe the color, texture, size, number of blades and its general location.
11. Using the samples of sea lettuce, find an area where it lives. Describe the color, texture, size, number of blades and its general location.
12. Eelgrass is classified as a plant and sea lettuce is classified as an algae. Describe the physical differences between the two.
13. What gives plants their green color? Smear some on your paper next to this question.
14. How would the plant life in this area change if a resort hotel were built here? or if there were an oil spill? or if there were dredging in the estuary?
15. Because Brant primarily eat sea lettuce and eelgrass, how might the above actions affect the Brant?