Photo courtesy earthwatch.org

A forest owl in a tree cavity.

Prep Students Join Earthwatch on Trip to Arizona

The first of the global studies trips to depart will be to Arizona where students will be doing field research with owls. This trip incorporates a scientific element as students will be able to have a hands-on experience with field science and encounter science in completely new way than we’re used to with labs and chemicals.

This trip is organized through a nonprofit organization called Earthwatch whose mission is “to engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment.” They encourage people from all around the world to go on expeditions like this one to Arizona and be more involved in science.

Ms. Lee, the coordinator of this trip, has gone on several trips with Earthwatch. Lee describes, “[Three years ago,] I went to the Cayman Islands, and I monitored coral for a week – so basically snorkeling twice a day in the Caribbean in the summer which was outstanding. Two years ago, I took my students from New York to Catalina Island and we did some marine mammal stuff, some algal stuff and then just monitoring the land in general which was really great.”

During this upcoming trip to Arizona, Prep students will be studying owl ecology and learning about nesting and breeding behavior.  The goal of this field research is seeing how climate change affects owl habits as well as other wildlife.

Ms. Lee explains, “We’re monitoring native owl populations in these mountains in Arizona called the sky islands. They’re super cool, these tiny forest owls. We’re trying to get a sense of what the population look like right now and then track them over time to see how climate change impacts them.”

Small forest owls are currently understudied, and their habitats are being threatened by all kinds of factors, most significantly, climate change. These forest owls live in tree cavities, and climate change can potentially eliminate these trees all together within this century and may also disturb the owls’ food sources.

Photo courtesy earthwatch.org
Researchers measure, photograph, and band the owls.

In explaining what volunteers do during this project, the Earthwatch website says, “During the day, you’ll measure owl habitat—locating tree cavities and taking GPS and other measurements. At night, you’ll listen for the low-pitched ‘boop’ of the Flammulated Owl, the morse-code call of the Whiskered Screech-owl, the bouncing ball song of the Western Screech-owl, or the non-stop ‘reverse signal’ tooting of the Northern Saw-whet owl while you survey for, capture and band owls that fly above you.”

Tim Zhang ’21, one of the participants of this trip, says that he was particularly interested in this trip because, “I think it’s a great experience for me to be a scientist, especially working with like my peers to do a seven-day research thing.  […] I like nature and I like research, so I think combining those two things is an ideal research program for me.”

As for the future, Ms. Lee says that she hopes Prep will go on more trips like this one involving field science.  She remarks, “There’s so many diverse experiences with. Earthwatch and like field science in general that even if we go every year, we won’t run out of new experiences and new opportunities. So like a student who has gone with me this year, if we go again next year it probably won’t be the same trip. We’ll do something new and then you could experience a new type of field science.”

We’re looking forward to seeing what Prep has to offer in-terms of science-related global studies trips in the future, as well as what students will take away from this upcoming trip to Arizona.

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