Students Track Screech Owls in Central Park
students from Solomon Schechter High School of New York participated
in an innovative screech owl field trip in Central Park recently.
In September 2001, 18 Eastern screech owls were released into
Central Park as part of an effort to restore native species to
the park. Since then, scientists from the Parks Department Wildlife
Management Program and Fordham University have monitored the owls
using visual tracking and radio telemetry. The field trip was
led by James MacDonald, one of the urban park rangers involved
in the owl study. MacDonald began by showing the students the
equipment used to track the owls. Each owl has a radio collar
and a unique frequency signal that is transmitted to a portable
receiver and antenna. Four nights a week one of the researchers
for the project walks around the park with the receiver listening
for owl signals. The signal helps the researcher to locate the
owl. Once the owl is located, its geographic location is recorded,
and this information is fed into a computer, with the ultimate
goal of generating a map showing the range of the owl’s habitat.
The students trailed MacDonald as he tried to receive a radio
signal from one of the owls, which he said often nests near the
Park’s Ramble area. However, even after 45 minutes of searching
for a signal, the group was unsuccessful. According to Mr. MacAdams,
this is one of the down sides of all biological field research;
in some settings a researcher can wait days for an animal to appear.
From this, the students learned an important lesson about the
pitfalls of field research.
The goal of the field trip was to give Schechter students an opportunity
to see biological field research in action. Schecter feels it
is important for students to recognize that not all scientific
research takes place in a traditional laboratory setting with
test tubes and beakers. Rather, a great deal of biological, ecological,
and geological research takes place in the field. The field trip
introduced students to field research methods, with a project
that is taking place literally across the street from the school.
(The school is located at Central Park West and 91st Street).
Dorothy Bowser, Head of School, noted, “Our school’s proximity
to major cultural institutions and to Central Park, as well as
the creativity of our faculty, enables us to seamlessly integrate
these outstanding resources into our exceptional curriculum.”
The 11 field trip participants are part of the school’s Science
Research Program, which was established in February 2002 based
on a model developed by the New York Academy of Sciences and SUNY
Albany. Students choose a research topic in tenth grade, and spend
summers and afternoons in eleventh grade working in research laboratories
throughout the City. At the end of eleventh grade, students write
professional quality research papers and participate in prestigious
competitions. In addition to the Science Research Program, the
school plans to expand its laboratory facilities, upgrade its
technological resources, and add elective courses in robotics,
engineering, environmental science, and Jewish ethics and science.#
Skopp is Director of Advanced Studies at the Solomon Schechter
School. She was previously Director of Education at the NY Academy
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