This page served the students of the Introduction to Ecology class (Year 2) at a local homeschool cooperative as we studied a section of riparian ecosystem that has been restored on the South Fork of the Palouse River as well as the adjacent University of Idaho Arboretum & Botanical Garden. This class structure may be used for virtually any field based ecology class regardless of where you live. Feel free to borrow anything you find here. This class meets once weekly for 1.5 hours during the Fall semester. Students are ages 10-12. The class was held for three consecutive years (2015-2018) with plans to formalize and conduct future field courses.
Class Bird List: ecology-bird-list
Class Plant List: ecology-plant-list
Week 1: Class overview and first field site visit
After introducing ourselves and going over course expectations we walked down to the study site and discussed scale on the way. Our first view of the site was from a distance, a landscape scale view. Students were asked to make observations. Thus we began our semester long effort at becoming adept interpreters of nature. We zoomed in as we made it down to the river, only visible as a strip of green vegetation from a distance. As we got closer we discussed the horizontal and vertical structure of the various parts of the site. The lawn and bike trail didn’t have too much obvious structure at all, unless, as one student pointed out, we considered what lay beneath the grass. The riparian zone had much greater structure. We then moved closer to an organismal scale. We identified several tree/shrub species and looked closely at their form, leaves, and other features (quaking aspen, hawthorne, willow, nootka rose, snowberry). We discussed observation and the importance of listening, smelling, and touching in field observation. The students wrote their first field journal entry which included: date, time, location, temperature, general weather observations as well as descriptions of the species we identified.
Evidence of burrowing mammals proved to be a conundrum to us. We thought the piles of dirt and holes must be moles or ground squirrels, but upon further study the instructor thinks that pocket gophers and/or voles are more likely. Here is an interesting article on these two creatures. Here is Idaho’s species catalog which has entries on these rodents as does Idaho State University’s Digital Natural History Atlas.
Week 1: Begin to learn all of the birds on the bird list included in the Course Expectation Document. Use All About Birds to help learn field marks, vocalizations, etc.
Week 2: WessexAssignWk2
Remember the weird mossy growth on the rose bushes? Check this out: Mossy rose gall article.
Start learning your trees and shrubs! Here is an online tree guide that is very helpful. And here is a complete plant database which will include the shrubs on your list. You need to select common name or scientific name when you search for a plant species.
Week 3: WessexAssignwk3
Week 4: ecologyassignwk4
Vocabulary words and definition: ecologyvocab
Note and Quiz: ecologyquiz
Week 5: ecologyassignweek5
Part of this week’s assignment is to read about famous Palouse Ecologist Rex Daubenmire from a recent WSU Magazine article.
Our main focus this week and next are measuring some physical properties of our site and using our landscape and ecosystem view maps to better understand these properties. Here are the maps:
Week 6: ecologyassignwk6
This week we headed to the arboretum to learn the parts of the compass and to do an introductory compass activity.
Week 7: ecologyassignwk7
This week we are doing a Fall Leaf scavenger hunt. The Arboretum Associates have designed a series of scavenger hunts.
Fall leaf chemistry handout and worksheet
Week 8: ecologyassignwk8
We have shifted our focus from trapping pocket gophers to observing another mammal, the remarkable wetland-creating beaver! We have also begun to do a field sketch in our field notebooks every other week at different locations at the study site and the arboretum.
Beaver lodge diagram and reading courtesy WA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife: beavers
Week 9: Field trip to Philips Farm County Park to conduct an informal biodiversity census. Students brought clipboards, paper, and pen. After putting name, date, location, and time as their heading they drew three columns with the headings: Group, Species, Notes. We identified signs and direct observations of plants and animals. A few included: paper wasp, robin, porcupine. Here is how we recorded our notes using the porcupine as an example: 1) Group: Rodents; 2) Porcupine; 3) scat found at top of trail near park interpretive sign about scat
Photos from our riparian zone webcams below:
Here is the study guide (ecologystudyguide) for the end of the semester exam. Students who pass will receive the David Douglas Explorer Naturalist Award for Level One. Second year Ecology students have the opportunity to take the Level Two test in the spring and advance to Level Three for next Fall’s class.
What is an explorer naturalist? Read about one of the great American explorer naturalists, David Douglas.
We got photo evidence of the beaver! And upon further review a sparrow as well. We are still working to identify the sparrow.
Climate summary database: Input your state and city and get a easy to read spreadsheet like the one below
The topsoil on the Palouse is composed primarily of loess. This is the fine silt that in combination with years of decaying shortgrass prairie plants make the Palouse such a fertile region. Pronounced “less,” this silt is found in immense quantity in the Palouse, the Midwestern United States, and China. It’s presence has long been explained by wind erosion, which cannot effectively account for the quantity and depth which we find it. This article makes a strong case for the presence of thick loess deposits caused by alluvial action which can be attributed to the worldwide flood.
There are a slew of terrific creatures that inhabit the Palouse, including the diminutive locust borer and the famous yet mysterious Palouse Giant Earthworm. Here is a more comprehensive list of Palouse Prairie species.
Ecological Studies of the Palouse and their Authors
Traveling Ecologist, Rexford F. Daubenmire – This article introduces us to the foremost Palouse Ecologist of the 20th century, Rex Daubenmire. Reading this short article will give you some perspective for the field of ecology in the Inland Northwest and the importance of the stories of scientists of the recent past and their process of discovery (by Adam Sowards, from Washington State Magazine, Fall 2015, page 19).
A picture of oceanspray, which we observed at Philips Farm County Park: