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Refuge classroom celebrates opening with birds of prey

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By Pam Darty

To celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week 2012, the Lower Suwannee NWR had several events throughout the week.  The celebratory ribbon cutting for the grand opening of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge classroom was anticlimactic compared to the exciting events for the remainder of the day.

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Home-schooled students from three neighboring counties joined Refuge managers, rangers and volunteers for the best day of school they’d ever had. Students from second to ninth grades arrived for the opening ceremonies, then hopped aboard the hayride that would take them down the Refuge Nature Drive, through wetlands, uplands and past a bat house to the historic Suwannee River.  

Each student filled in the Refuge Wildlife Scavenger Hunt sheets as they passed by zebra swallow-tails, blooming purple liatris, downy woodpeckers hammering on a snag and coreopsis, our state wildflower.

The lesson at the river’s edge was testing temperature, turbidity and dissolved oxygen – or Suwannee River water quality. Refuge volunteer and former ranger, John Lohde engaged the kids with his humorous teaching antics and the interactive water testing and reporting.

New vocabulary, new tests, new confidence for students

Upon returning from the educational hayride, the students were treated to birds of prey handled by rehabilitator and veterinarian Dr. Dawn Miller and her assistant, Elizabeth Yates, of Eye of the Eagle Wildlife Sanctuary. Wings flapped, a great horned owl hooted and an osprey made noise like a duck as the students settled-in for a close-up experience with the raptors. After Dr. Miller’s raptor behavior lesson, the students were provided cameras by the Refuge Ranger and were able to take close-up photos of the magnificent birds.

After the excitement of the spectacular birds, the students were given nature journals in which they could glue their photos and write the observations they had made. While the kids learned about native bees, volunteer Sandy Palfy printed-off the photos for the students’ journals. By the end of the environmental education event, parents had scheduled future lessons with the Ranger to take place in Dixie County.

“This is just the kind of activities I’d like to have my children involved with; they enjoyed the birds especially,” said one mom, Amy Brodahl, a former teacher.

These free classes happen throughout the year, even in the summer.  The Refuge Ranger is more than happy to set up lessons for your group, scouts or club at the Refuge or she can come to your location with lessons.  Call Ranger Pam at 352-493-0238, extension 223 to make your reservation.