Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bamberger Camp, A Nature Adventure


The following is from Mary Kay Sexton, fifth grade science teacher at St. Andrews School, on the information sheet about the camp, "Bamberger Camp is designed for those children who have an affinity for the natural world. Our hope is to open their eyes further to the amazing world in which we live, start them on the path to a lifetime of nature adventures and help them become good stewards of the earth.

"Bamberger Camp is a five-day, four-night intensive nature adventure held on the Bamberger Ranch Preserve near Johnson City. We will explore the ranch while acquiring knowledge and experiences in many areas."

This group picture of our campers was taken at Madrone Lake after a swim.

Mary Kay Sexton, and I started the camp in June of 2004. This was our fifth session.

David Matthews teaches at Small Middle School, and has been teaching here at our camp for 4 summers now.

Campers have a swim test in the morning of our first day. It is important to know that everyone has some swimming skills.

There were a large number of young Red-striped Ribbon Snakes (Thamnophis proximus rubrilineatus) around Madrone Lake. The kids caught 14 of them, kept them for the afternoon, fed them small fish and tadpoles, and let them go later that day.

One of the campers saw this Blotched Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster) eat a frog. I didn't get there in time to see the meal being consumed but you can see that the snake is looking a bit full around the middle. It was in the water below the bridge.

Cole found this little turtle swimming in the lake. It has no spots on its plastron (bottom shell), and we think it is a Texas River Cooter (Pseudemys texana). It was released back into Madrone Lake.

Rico came to share his expertise about insects with the campers.

Rico is an entomologist (expert on insects) and answered all of their questions for an hour. He also knows a lot about spiders and scorpions, and about the ecology of terrestrial arthropods (animals with skeletons on the outside of their bodies, which includes insects, spiders and scorpions).

This kind of ant is called an Acrobat Ant because it raises it black abdomen when disturbed. We accidentally destroyed their nest when we took out a canoe. They built it in the front of the canoe. You can see the ants in this photograph tending to a pupa.

This African species of roaches are huge, I think almost 3 inches long. If I remember correctly they are outdoor critters.

One of the campers found this female Scorpion with her back covered with babies.

This Funnel Spider rushed out when we accidentally disturbed her web.

Justin demonstrated the water situation here using the "rain machine" or Rainfall Simulator. It shows the difference between land covered with cedar, and land covered with grasses. Cedar cover land after a 1 inch rainfall event produces dirt filled runoff and little or no groundwater. Grass covered land after a 1 inch rainfall produces clear runoff and lots of clear groundwater. The large stone on his shoulder is Edward's Limestone and is the rock that forms the top 100+ feet of the hills here, and has lots of holes which can store water, which makes it a good aquifer.

The next morning was a field trip to the Blanco River to the west of town, where on the limestone bed of the river, there are tracks of Sauropods, long neck dinosaurs, most probably a Pleurocoelus. Each rear footprint is approximately a meter in diameter.

After seeing the trackways, the group looked for interesting critters, including aquatic insect larvae.

Several boys look for snakes along the edge of the river.

Frankie, the young man with dark hair is holding a water-snake that they found. Sam, on his left holds a "snake stick". Frankie and Sam are both experienced at identifying, catching and holding snakes. Ian and Nick enjoyed learning from them.

The snake, a Diamondback Water Snake (Nerodia rhombifer rhombifer) is happy to be back in the water when the boys release it. If you go to the website link you will see the difference between the Diamondback WATER snake and the Diamondback Rattlesnake.

Sallie brought some of her unreleaseable birds that she uses for education. This Screech Owl is full grown and is the red variety that lives in the piney woods of East Texas.

Ed Sones is holding a Mississippi Kite. They catch and eat their prey mainly on the wing. They live to the east of the Edward's plateau in far east Texas and across the southern states, and in the panhandle of Texas. I believe this kite was imprinted on humans and couldn't be released for that reason.

Bill Oliver who writes and sings songs about the environment, visited the ranch on Monday evening, which was enjoyed by both the campers and the adults. (Photo taken in June 2007)

The ranch tour included the Sauropod tracks that are here at Selah. Theropod dinosaurs are meat eaters that walked on their hind legs and had feet with 3 toes and long claws. It was probably an Acrocanthosarus, whose skeletons have been found in north-central Texas, from around the same time in the Cretaceous Period that our footprints were made.

Jared Holmes, a graduate of Texas A&M University studied Herpetology, which is the study of reptiles and amphibians. He has been a snake specialist since he was a little boy, because his dad Jeff Holmes has hunted and collected snakes too. He showed a power-point on reptiles and then showed some live specimens he brought to share with them.

This beautiful black and red snake is a Texas Longnose snake (Rhinochelus lecontei tessatus). It looks a bit like the Coral Snake but is not poisonous.

This handsome Great Plains Rat Snake (Elaphe emoryi emoryi) was given to the ranch by Jared to be an education snake. We like to have an easy to handle snake that students can touch (but only if they want to).

A friend of one of our campers was in a tragic accident in May, and because she had been a special friend, Lillian wanted to plant a tree as a memorial to her. Madeline Anderson was an outstanding person and her death a blow to those who knew and loved her.

Lillian holds a Texas Snowbell plant which she and J. David will plant as a memorial to her friend Madeline. Lillian tells us how hard it is to lose a friend, and how much she will miss her.

I have left out lots of interesting activities that were part of the 5 day camp. I hope that what I have included gives you at least a glimmer of how special the Bamberger Nature Camp is. It is one of my favorite times of each year. I have heard the same from both teachers, Mary Kay and David.

I will publish a separate post with quotes from the thank you letters the campers sent to us.

Hope for rain, and enjoy the outdoors!

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