Home sweet nest box

Grant Union High School in the GEO Academy Garden
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | September 29, 2021

Funded by
Sacramento Municipal Utility District SHINE Award

Summary of the Day
For our third and final field day on our restoration project in Grant Union High School’s campus, we were finally able to work with a nearly normal number of students! 22 students joined us for a field day in the GEO Academy Garden.

To begin the day, we circled up in the garden to play a round of Group Juggle to learn each other’s names and then reviewed our agenda for the day. Students grabbed rakes to do some maintenance on the native plant area SLEWS students planted in April. The nearby sycamore trees had littered their leaves all over the area, making it difficult for the plants to get enough sunlight. Once the leaves were removed and composted, we moved on to our next activity – building bird nest boxes!

Center for Land-Based Learning Ecologist Jeanne Wirka led a discussion about cavity-nesting birds and how bird nest boxes can provide critical breeding habitat for these species. Groups of students were each given a bird box “kit” – a drill, cut pieces of wood, and screws and other fasteners. I was so impressed at how eagerly and confidently students jumped into this activity! Students who had never used a drill before figured it out with ease, and built the boxes using only a model box as a guide.

Once all the boxes were complete, each group signed and decorated their box before learning how to install it in the GEO garden – at least 30 feet from other boxes, facing the north or east, and making sure to affix an upside down trash bin around the pole to prevent predators from climbing up. Each group chose their own spot for their box, and by the end students had installed 9 bird boxes in the GEO Garden! Come spring, these students will be able to watch as swallows and/or bluebirds make nests and raise young right outside their classroom door, and will monitor the boxes themselves, contributing data to the Cornell NestWatch program.

Once bird boxes were installed, Jeanne shared her education and career path with students. Many students asked Jeanne for advice and had very insightful questions for her. From there we moved to some flowering plants in the garden and observed many pollinators, including carpenter bees, hoverflies, skippers, honeybees, damselflies, and a fritillary butterfly!

We ended the day with burritos and a “favorite moment” from each student. I was impressed with the variety! Some students loved raking, others preferred building bird boxes, others enjoyed looking at pollinators, and others loved the burritos most of all! I think we can all agree, it was an excellent day.

Davis Senior High School at Gilmer Farm

Participating School
Davis Senior High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Nick Gallegar, NCRS Rangeland Management Specialist
Beth Hellman, UC Davis graduate student
Amanda Lindell, UCD graduate student
Laura McGowan, UCD graduate student
Ha Truong, NRCS Agricultural Engineer

Our third and final field day at Gilmer farm was a huge success both for our students and our hedgerow. After arrival, our day started off with a fun game of group juggle to get everyone moving a bit and thinking about each other’s names. Once we were all familiar, we jumped right into our plant pressing activity! Students walked along Dave Gilmer’s already established hedgerow, collecting a number of different native species as well as some invasive. Upon returning to the barn, students wrote descriptions of there plants on the back of cards and get them and the plants into our plant presses. Once those are dry and mounted, students will have their own plant pressings to take home and remember SLEWS with.

After plant pressing, everyone headed out to our hedgerow to see how many of our plants survived, as well as weed around our native plants. Students were diligent to make sure they removed as many weeds as possible without damaging their plants.

Following lunch, students had a full afternoon filled with learning activities. We began the afternoon with mentor interviews, a amazing chance for students to get to know their mentors a bit more and ask them in depth questions about their chosen field and how they got to where they are today. With interviews wrapped up, students got to encounter some wildlife in the form of our current native mammal and birds nest collection. After an initial inspection, each mentor group was assigned two animals that they got to present on to the rest of the group. To wrap up the day, students did a blind taste test with different kinds of citrus, some from the store and the rest local. After comparing the different fruit, everyone did made their best guess at which fruit was which.

We would like to thank our SLEWS mentors for enhancing the students field experience, and our gracious hosts at Gilmer Farm for engaging youth from Davis High School in their habitat restoration work.

Accomplishments
Weeding entirety of the hedgerow

“It was great to interview the mentors because it taught me it is okay to not know what I want to do for a career now, I can figure it out as my interests change.”