This past fall at Messalonskee Middle School, students were given a variety of field guides in Mrs. Ripa’s science class. We looked at the different ways the guides were organized and thought about how useful they would be to us in our school forest. There were “Mammals of North America,” “Birds of the Northeast,” “Trees of Maine,” and “Amphibians and Reptiles of Maine” to name a few. Students gathered that we would have to take all of the different field guides out with us to be able to conduct research on the species that are in our school forest. We thought, there must be an easier way! Our team of students decided to create our own field guide: “A Catalog of Species” found in our school forest and pond that could be used by faculty and students at Messalonskee Middle School as they explored the natural environment in our backyard!
The first category we chose to investigate were the trees of the forest. We invited Morten Moesswilde, our district State Forester to join us and teach us ways to easily distinguish different tree species from each other using “diagnostic characteristics.” Students worked in pairs to carefully identify a tree using field guides and resources such as Vital Sign ID cards, which are not available for all Maine tree species. We used comparative anatomy to rule out other species and then created our very own ID cards using a template. Students also took pictures using our “vintage” digital cameras which did not produce the quality of photos we desired to publish in our field guide. Here is where the Natural Resources Council of Maine grant comes in—Mrs. Ripa applied for the grant to purchase a professional digital camera to support the production of our field guide, allowing us to take reference photos of the species we find in our forest. We also were in need of orange safety vests as the fall is hunting season and we could use the vests as we explore our incredible forests.
Through the fall we continued to catalog species, including those animals that we had seen throughout our school forest. We were not able to use our own photos for our ID cards, so we hope to revise the cards we made this spring once we are able to purchase the camera and get back out onto our trails!