VetsWork: 64 Kid Field Trip, 65 Including Me

Matthew Carrell HeaderHow I remember field trips

When I think back to school field trips, I remember the bus ride as being the best part, closely followed by just not being in the classroom. Didn’t matter the reason. A couple that stick out in my memory were to the Police station and the Nature Preserve. I believe that one of the goals of a field trip is to give the kids a positive memory that will encourage them to return. (Maybe except the Police Station unless they become Officers.) I am confident that this field trip we prepared for the West Louisville fourth grade elementary class would be one they find the inspiration and desire to return to.

Preparing for 64 fourth graders

When I heard that the head count of the fourth graders was to be 64, my mind thought the worst. We held the field trip at German Ridge Recreation Area on the Hoosier National Forest. The area has a small pond, picnic shelter, trails, campgrounds and other standard amenities. I envisioned these kids running all over the forest, jumping in the water, skinning their knees, sick kids, kids that have to use the bathroom all the time, crying, screaming, laughing, basically utter mayhem. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We organized them into 3 smaller groups by marking their hands in a certain color. Their behavior was outstanding. No doubt, due to their respect of their teachers and chaperones. They all seemed genuinely interested in what we had to teach them and show them.

The Activities

We had three stations that the kiddos would rotate through: fish nets, wildland fire truck, and a nature walk down a trail. I worked with the fish biologist and in preparation we set up 3 fyke nets the day prior. The nets extend from the bank towards the center of the pond, guiding fish as they cruise the shoreline into a series of funneling nets that the fish can’t find their way out of. We were extremely successful with many different species including: redear sunfish, bluegill, green sunfish, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and a few turtles including a monster snapping turtle which the kids talked about the rest of the day. We passed around the different fish for the kids to touch, hold and look at.  At the fire truck station the kids sprayed water and learned about the benefits of prescribed burns and how we fight wild fires. The Nature walk introduced these children to different types of trees and plants found in our forests.

Exhausted

After all the excitement we put the kids through, we let them eat lunch and loaded them back on the bus. All of that plus the brisk fresh air of October, they were out like lights as soon as they drove away. We were all exhausted. The teachers were thankful for a bus full of sleeping children all the way back to Louisville.  Overall I think this field trip was a total success! I really feel like we got them excited about being outside and enjoying the land that belongs to them. I’m sure they will make this a reoccurring event for this school out of West Louisville. If only we could get some local schools to participate in their own backyard.

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VetsWork: Battle for Bats!

Matthew Carrell Header

We caught bats today! Well, tonight.

I’ve always enjoyed watching the bats in the evening as the day turns to dusk and their silhouette flashes between the trees. Their agility to catch a flying insect belittles the most advanced fighter pilot in a dog fight.

I’ve had two unfortunate encounters with the flying fur balls. The first I’ll speak of was when I was in maybe 7th or 8th grade. It was the middle of the night at my parents’ Victorian style home in Indiana. My mother wakes up in her bedroom to the cat’s head swiveling in a circle, around and around. She looks up and sees a bat circling the bed. She yelled and before my father knew what happened, he woke up, they both left the room and slammed the door, leaving the cat to fend for itself. Mother had the window open for fresh air while sleeping, and when father peeked back in the room he did not see the cat. Assuming that the cat must have went out the window and onto the porch roof, he throws on the first thing he finds which happens to be a suit coat, grabs the ladder, and heads to the front of the house. By now I’m wondering what all the commotion is and find my sister is awake and crying about the cat, mother is yelling at father to find some pants to put on because boxers and a suit coat is not appropriate for climbing on the roof at midnight to save a cat. Once sister explained the situation to me, I went back to my room, grabbed my BB gun and returned to the bedroom door. As soon as I propped open the door and pulled the BB gun up to sight level, my father (on the roof) looks through the window and yells at me to not shoot the BB gun in the house. I was already pulling back on the trigger and fired a single shot dead center of the bat. Casually, I walked back to my bedroom and went back to sleep, leaving my family silent in their moment.

My second run in with mythical creature was in the same house but down the hall in the bathroom. Thankfully I looked before I sat. Somehow a bat had trapped itself in the toilet. It must have been going in for a drink and the porcelain was too smooth for the bat to grip. Without much thought, I put the seat down and asked dad for his opinion on what to do with this flying devil mouse. We both pondered the situation for a minute or two. We were both afraid to lift the seat and risk the attack of the creature. I slowly reached for the toilet lever. I half expected Dad to verbally arrest my advance. He did not. And the poor thing went down to the underworld forever.

Fortunately, my most recent encounter was not as tragic and much more informative. Mist netting allows us to safely catch many different species of bat in a large flat net, like a bunch of volleyball nets lining the poles from top to bottom. The nets allow most bugs to fly through it but the bat is too big. Once caught we would measure and take statistical data on them and release them back into the night. Before my internship at the Hoosier National Forest, I did not have much knowledge of bats. I knew of a few different species and their echolocation abilities, and that if you see one that looks sick, not to touch it. I did not know of the white nose infection of the Indiana bat, or how many different types of bat there are in just Indiana, or the mystery of their evolution. In just one netting session, I have found a new appreciation for the frightening little mammals. They are the only sustained flight mammals, which give me hope that one day humans will grow wings and fly.

One of the focuses for this survey was the Indiana bat and White Nose Syndrome. In North America, there are 7 species of bat affected by White Nose Syndrome, of which, the Grey Bat and the Indiana Bat are endangered. White Nose is a fungus that lives in the cool dark caves, the same that hibernating bats like. The syndrome disorients the bats and they come out of hibernation too early and it’s believed that this uses their fat stores at a rapid rate and they essentially starve. The fungus is presumed to be spread from bat to bat and by humans traveling and visiting the caves.

It was hard to capture many good pictures as most of the work was done at night and the little buggers don’t like to sit still. Here’s a video made for the Forest Service explaining White Nose Syndrome.

Battle For Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome from Ravenswood Media on Vimeo.