By SUNNY LOCKWOOD
Tuesday morning, while dew still clung to meadow grasses and dried weeds, 38 fourth-graders from Hazel Fischer Elementary School descended on the Monte Vista Recreation Area near Valley Springs to become "habitat detectives."
The students, plus two teachers, seven parents and naturalist Annette Faurote, were on a quest to discover what creatures live in the area around the River of Skulls Interpretive Trail below New Hogan Dam.
Each student received a bucket containing a journal, a pencil, crayons and a small hand lens. Parents and teachers guided groups of five or six kids through the Chaparral trail and along the banks of the Calaveras River, studying habitats and looking closely at evidence of life.
Each student received a nature workbook to help him or her identify animal tracks and scat, and to help them learn about the importance of water in the cycle of life.
Joan Jordan was among the parents who led a group through the meadow and along the river.
"I love nature and exploring. It is fun for me. And I wanted to spend time with my son," she said.
Exploring proved to be fun for many, as the children checked under rocks to see what was living there, studied plants close-up with magnifying glasses, listened for sounds of animal or bird life and compared acorns with buckeyes.
Even though it is winter, the students found much to excite them.
Cries of "Ooooh, a beetle. Look you guys, a beetle," could be heard from the trail. They also found insects and fish in the river.
This is the first of two field trips to the area near Hogan Dam. The students will return in the spring and compare what they found Tuesday with what is blossoming and buzzing in April or May.
The field trips are part of Calaveras County Water District's Adopt a Watershed Program, designed to help youngsters learn how important clean water is to life, said Kirstin Coon, CCWD's administrative technician for public relations and grants.
The watershed program fits comfortably into the fourth-grade science curriculum, Coon said.