Naturalist Studies Students Prepare for the Hudson Alpha Bicentennial Barcoding Project

Ardmore's Naturalist Studies students are preparing for the Bicentennial Barcoding project, a citizen science initiative by Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology. The purpose of the project is to genetically catalog Alabama's native plants. 
We will be traveling around the state and collecting samples to send off for DNA extraction. Students will match the genetic sequences to existing bar codes in a database. With the guidance of our resident botanist, Mr. England, the students have a pretty good chance of finding a species that is not already cataloged in the International Barcode of Life. How cool would that be?
First, though, the students need to learn a little more about botany. We have been plucking weeds from the school yard and using microscopes and a dichotomous key to identify them. Everyone is learning a lot, me included! 

Orienteering at Little River Canyon

Not many people even realize that we have a national preserve in Alabama. Part of me feels sad that so many people miss out on this gorgeous natural area, but the other part of me is glad that it isn't crowded like so many other places in the national park system. It was a striking setting for Ardmore's naturalist program students, who were there today to learn important navigation skills.
Israel Partridge of True Adventure Sports led the orienteering class. Students learned to use a compass, and then learned various ways to navigate just in case they find themselves without one. They learned to magnetize a piece of metal with their hair or clothing to fashion a makeshift compass, to use the shadowstick method and to use the sky to navigate. They practiced by following a treasure hunt-like course and then created their own courses. The two boys managed to stump Chloe and me with their creative course! 
We also found some antlers, a skull and some scat. I was excited that one …

Night Hike at Cherokee Rock Village

Our evening began with a visit to Cherokee Rock Village for an extreme night hike. Cherokee Rock Village is a unique maze of sandstone boulders with an amazing view. Equipped with helmets and headlamps, we negotiated narrow slot canyons and house-sized rocks. At the top of the outcropping, where we paused to enjoy the view, several students spotted shooting stars. Our guides pointed out which clusters of lights belonged to which cities, and we were surprised to find out that we could see as far as Atlanta Georgia.  Mr. England stayed at the top and scoured the area for rare lichens that populate the area. He brought along a portable black light and taught us which lichens are UV reactive and why. I wish that the pictures turned out better, but was dark. Thanks to the helpful experts at True Adventure Sports for keeping us safe during the outing and to AMV RC&D and Dekko for supporting our naturalist program. 

Rappelling at Little River Canyon 

Students in the Naturalist Studies program traveled to Little River Canyon National Preserve to work on their outdoor skills and experience the unique environment of the Lookout Mountain area. 
The first stop was a rappelling class on 85 foot cliffs above Little River. Little River has the unique distinction of being the only river that forms and runs almost its entire course atop a mountain. 
Most of us, teachers and students alike, have a healthy fear of heights. Only one of us had tried rappelling before. Luckily, we had expert Israel Partridge to show us the ropes (See what I did there?) and put us at ease. Israel is the guy they call to do things like rescue people from narrow slot canyons, help with climbing scenes on movie sets and for consultation when Bear Grylls comes to the area to film. He’s a wealth of outdoor knowledge.
After a safety lesson and after 3 separate people checked our gear, we were ready to rappel into the Canyon. While our brains knew that the ropes can hold t…

Ardmore Gives a Whoop

Naturalist program students got to see some of the rarest birds on the planet today. We met up with the Birmingham Audubon Society at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in hopes of spotting some whooping cranes. The birds very nearly went extinct due to habitat loss. At one point, the world population of individual whooping cranes dipped into the twenties. Now there are over 500 of the cranes worldwide, and 20-30 of them make stops in Alabama at the refuge each winter.  We got lucky and saw about 5 of them, along with thousands of sandhill cranes, some egrets, a hawk, and a great blue heron. It was fun to have bird experts along to answer all of our questions. It was COLD (by Alabama standards), so it was nice that part of the morning was spent in Wheeler’s observation building- a toasty warm, glass-sided building equipped with scopes.
This naturalist program was built with the support of AMV RC&D and Dekko.