Story last updated at 5/7/2014 - 1:22 pm
It's not every day you get a devil's club thorn in your tongue - but that wasn't even the most exciting part of the trip. The trails behind Auke Bay Elementary School are full of mysteries and dangers.
Juneau Charter School fifth-grader Carrie McVey was the unfortunate thorn recipient, but that didn't dampen her or her friends' enthusiasm.
For a third year, students from Juneau elementary schools gathered for a BioBlitz, an event held by several different organizations and volunteers to acquaint students with science - and gather a little bit of data in the process.
Riverbend Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Tisa Becker makes science lessons a regular part of her classroom. Days like BioBlitz help put what they learn in the classroom into context, she said.
"The kids are making so many great connections," she said.
One of those is erosion. She explained it in class, but her fourth-graders' eyes lit up when they recalled how they'd seen the process in action in the field.
"A piece of dirt fell down," said student Alyssa Allio.
During BioBlitz, kids went out in two different survey sessions, learning how to survey and collect data. Trail cameras, aquatic insects, intertidal zones, birds, plants native to Southeast Alaska - all kinds of flora and fauna, terrestrial and marine, got attention in forest, stream, and intertidal outings.
It wasn't just Thursday; some students went to the Mendenhall Wetlands with Discovery Southeast earlier in the week, or learned from Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center naturalists.
Gastineau Elementary School student Luke Kulm said the students noticed a nest of what was probably a vole during their wetlands trip. Another find? Owl droppings full of hair from what was likely a mouse.
"We discovered things," he said.
BioBlitz is a project from partners including the U.S. Forest Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Alaska Southeast, the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center, the City and Borough of Juneau, and the Juneau Economic Development Council. About 30 different people from the community and the above agencies volunteered their time, said Michael Kohan, wildlife biologist with the ADF&G.
"It's gone on for three years now," Kohan said. "Every year, it kind of morphs into something better and better."
At first, she said, BioBlitz, which happens other places as well, was more of a community race to identify as many species as possible within a 24-hour period. This time, however, they've started to try to establish a reliable, repeatable taxonomic survey. Students aren't just collecting species; they're working on collecting protocols, equipment, abundance calculations and processes.
"What we're trying to do is get kids excited about how to collect data - to give them the means and the ways, and to learn from the scientists," she said.
That worked for at least one kid.
"I had a girl who said 'This is fun. I want this to be my job,'" NOAA employee and aquatic insect expedition co-leader Hannah Findlay said.
Asked her favorite part of the day, Auke Bay fourth grader Jasmine Barr had a simple answer: "All of it."