Camp Cooper Critter Camp

Submitted by Summer Marshall, Cohort 7

Did you know that bobcats have binocular vision? Or that some animals can mimic certain colors in nature to hide from predators? Students from the Sunrise Drive School spent a Monday and Tuesday morning at the Cooper Center for Environmental Education to get their hands dirty and learn about desert animals and their adaptations at the annual Critter Camp. Teachers, parents, and volunteers enjoyed helping them learn how to use binoculars, get up-close-and-personal with some reptiles, and identify tracks and skulls.

Each student came equipped with a neat green notebook filled with pages of activities to complete at each station they stopped at. After a land acknowledgement and brief introduction, the kids eagerly broke into groups with their teachers and parent chaperones and got to work.

Master Naturalists Kathe Sudano (C3), Peggy Ollerhead (C3), Richard Linsenberg (C6), Summer Marshall (C6), and Dana Hook (C6) assisted at different stations and lended their knowledge to help the students complete their workbooks and have memories and knowledge to last.

Station one taught students all about bobcats and binocular vision, courtesy of the wonderful group Bobcats in Tucson, where volunteer Gale Sherman explained the adaptations bobcats have evolved as predators, as well as the important information they have gained by radio collaring bobcats. Students then used binoculars to focus on the den site of Dos Picos in the distance. Afterwards, they created layered art of Dos Picos, the land, and the sky behind them. The kids just loved the tearing of paper!

Station two was the messy one! Art skills were put to the test as students blended primary colors to create different shades of greens, browns, and purples. Then they had to create shades that best matched the desert plants around them – jojoba, saguaro, and bursage – not an easy task! Multicolored fingers wiggled in delight as the students tried their artistic best to camouflage their workbooks into the desert landscape.

Station three was a favorite – snakes and lizards only inches away in glass containers, courtesy of the Tucson Herpetologcial Society, and a real live rattlesnake showing off its namesake rattle. Tails were the attraction here and how they helped each creature adapt and survive. And then, from Mr. Packrat, an ode (actually, a rap!) to packrats – not just a nuisance, but an essential part of Sonoran Desert ecology!

Stations four and five found students identifying animal tracks in kinetic sand and learning critter physiology by studying skulls. Whoa, javelina have huge teeth! Yes, those huge holes really are their eye sockets! Finally, the last station ended with a short hike in the desert, hikers on the lookout for anything that could be an animal den – holes, nests, cavities – you name it.

At the end of the day, both students and volunteers enjoyed an enriching experience on the beautiful sunny, warm morning that the weather provided – perfect for the outdoor activities and much more preferred to last year’s rain and thunderstorms. It was a wonderful day for education and everyone looks forward to the next year!

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