Bio Blitz holds surprises for local middle-schoolers

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Wed., May. 25, 2011
Middle-schoolers from Mansfield and Sterling study the stream, under the supervision of scientist Robert Roehm (right). Photos by Melanie Savage.
Middle-schoolers from Mansfield and Sterling study the stream, under the supervision of scientist Robert Roehm (right). Photos by Melanie Savage.

A group of nine middle school students from Mansfield and Sterling listened intently as Joshua’s Trust volunteer Pat Bresnahan told them the history and legend behind the cinquefoil plant, a.k.a. the Potentilla. “Anyone interested in witches?” she asked. No response. “Harry Potter?” asked Bresnahan. Nine hands went up. Bresnahan described the origins behind the plant’s scientific name. “Potent means strong,” she said. “Legend says the witches would use this in their potions to make them more powerful.”

Suddenly, something crashed from the underbrush less than 2 feet from where the group stood. “A baby deer!” the kids shouted. Sure enough, a tiny fawn, still heavily spotted, was dashing into the forest. “There’s his mom,” said one of the students, as the fawn went to reconnect with a doe. Mother and baby trotted deeper into the woods.

“Awesome,” said a teacher. “Feel the spot where the fawn was hiding, is it warm?” As a student reached to touch the leafy forest floor, a bird burst out of the rose shrub above him, angrily chattering as it headed to a nearby branch. “A nest!” exclaimed the student, pulling the branch down to get a look inside. “And there are eggs inside, blue with speckles.”

Such were the surprises in store for middle school students taking part in a Bio Blitz on May 24 at the Allanach-Wolf Woodlands in Windham. Four schools in total took part. In addition to Mansfield and Sterling, there were middle school students from Coventry and Windham. “This is a collaboration between EASTCONN and Joshua’s Trust,” said EASTCONN’s Dan Mullins, the event coordinator. A total of 13 volunteers recruited through Joshua’s Trust led groups of students through study modules focused on different aspects of the ecosystem. “Joan Hill, the chair of the Conservation Committee for Joshua’s Trust, played a huge part in putting this together,” said Mullins. Focus areas included plants, soils, aquatics, a streams study, birds and vertebrates.

“There are a number of different reasons for holding these events,” said Mullins. “For one thing, we want to develop an appreciation in these kids for nature, and help them to value these habitats.” Working with scientists gives students hands-on experience with the identification of local flora and fauna. “And this gives us a chance to highlight the Joshua’s Trust properties,” said Mullins.

Joshua's Trust was founded in 1966 as a joint venture of the Mansfield Historical Society and the Mansfield Conservation Commission. A nonprofit organization, the Trust currently protects more than 4,000 acres of land in northeastern Connecticut. For more information, visit the website

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