For nine days last month, Anne Reinhard tracked songbirds in Wyoming for a study on the effects of human development on bird populations.
Reinhard, who teaches Spanish at Clark Magnet High School and coaches students as they develop their senior projects, worked alongside fellow instructors and scientists to study four species of songbirds in developed, semi-developed and undeveloped areas of Jackson Hole.
Reinhard has gone bird watching with the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society but had never participated in scientific research. She said the experience was eye-opening as she chased after the American yellow warbler, the black-headed grosbeak, the song sparrow and the American robin.
She worked with eight Los Angeles Unified teachers who also volunteered for the trip through Earthwatch, a nonprofit environmental organization that encourages volunteers to work in scientific fields.
At night, the teachers bunked in cabins at the Teton Science School. By day, they joined scientists in a vast search for the birds’ nests and monitored ones that were already on the scientists’ radar.
“It was a lot of crawling over things,” she said, followed by logging data onto Excel spreadsheets, including the measurements of vegetation surrounding the nests and the lengths of birds’ wings, feathers, beaks and their overall weight, when they were able to capture the birds.
When Reinhard’s group discovered more than a dozen new nests, they marked their locations with ribbons placed about 10 meters away so they would not be too visible.
The scientists have studied the birds for nearly a decade in hopes the data will reveal where the songbirds’ nests are most successful.
In the mid-2000s, scientists worried about the dwindling number of yellow warblers but over the years, data has revealed that the birds thrive in the most developed area in their study in an open green space that contains a creek and marshland.
“They had expected there would be less diversity and a lower population in the developed area,” Reinhard said.
Reinhard said that gathering research alongside scientists made her discover that “rather than giving you definitive answers, [research] really gives you a lot more questions.”
The information collected from the project will be folded into a comprehensive land management plan for Teton County.
“It was really something we were contributing to,” said Reinhard, whose trip was sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Durfee Foundation. “It really made me feel we were doing something worthwhile.
Now with school back in session, Reinhard said she will encourage her students to participate in similar research.
“The broader my experience is, the better the resource I am for the kids,” she said.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.