Stream Studies at Starry Meadows

Sharon Landis, a recent HMN basic training graduate in Cohort VII (aka Cohort Zoom), shares here about the environmental education work that she and her husband and fellow Cohort VII member Jay Landis have been doing on their property in Rockingham County.

Since moving to Virginia in 2016, Jay and I have been offering Stream Studies to local homeschool groups at our farm, Starry Meadows in Linville. Since the section of Brock Creek running through our farm is short, and our space limited, we didn’t contact public schools. This year we added nature walks to our offerings, but the Stream Studies were by far the most popular. In August and September, we hosted six, 3-hour Stream Studies with a total of 62 children and their parents, and two Nature Walks with 7 children and their parents.

For the Stream Studies, we gathered each group by the stream, gave a teaching intro and talked about the data sheet we handed out. The data sheet included weather and how it affects a stream, water clarity, fast or slow current, stream bank health, and how Brock Creek flows northeast to join Turley Creek, then crosses R259 to flow into the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. We talked about erosion, and what creatures they might find in the stream. Sharon instructed them on safety, poison ivy and snakes, plus the proper way to handle salamanders if they catch one. We divided the children into four groups; Jay handed out bins and while Sharon instructed the kids to work from the top to the bottom of the stream: observe and capture surface insects, then scoop water without stirring up the bottom, next lift rocks and scoop underneath being careful to put rocks back where you got them. Lastly, scoop deep into the mud at the bottom, let the mud wash out and see what remains in the net. We handed out clipboards and a paper on macroinvertebrates so they could ID what they find.

Sharon gave special instructions for pebbly areas of the creek bed to search for Caddisfly larva. The kids looked for composite pebbles and put them in separate bins to see if the pebbles moved. This was the highlight of every group – finding caddisfly larvae in their casings. Salamanders and crayfish were also a group favorite.

As the kids worked the water, we moved among the groups helping the kids with IDing, assisting where needed, and exclaiming over their bins full of water striders, minnows, crayfish, and various macroinvertebrates. There is nothing quite like the whoops of happy kids finding a new discovery, or the joy on their faces as they come running to show us the contents of their nets or bins.

After two hours of scooping, digging, observing creatures in the creek, we gathered the whole group together to talk about what was found, tally our catches, and ask questions that stimulate discussion. One group had the delight and horror of watching a fishing spider eat another water bug in one of their bins, which led to a good discussion of the food chain. Together we decided that due to critters caught Brock Creek is very healthy! Caddisfly larvae, Stonefly nymphs, snails and Dobsonfly larvae can only thrive in unpolluted water environments. At the end, we offered extra resources for kids that want to learn more and invited children to help us release the captured creatures back into the creek.

Jay and I are thinking of expanding to groups of kids that may not have such opportunities, possibly schools with small classroom sizes, or the local Boys and Girls Clubs. If we do work well with the Boys and Girls Clubs, we might ask for other naturalists to help us lead field trips/nature walks to public areas as Augusta Springs Wetlands, or birding in local parks.

Sharon Landis, Cohort VII, October 2021

Photo at the top of this post shows Stream Studies participants examining Brock Creek. Middle photo shows Jay – farmer naturalist helping ID. Small photo just above on the right is of Sharon and Jay at Buffalo Mountain, Willis, VA.

All photos on this post are by Sharon Landis.

Click on a photo below to see it better and start a slide show.