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Fennessey Ranch sends kids running, learning for Monarch Day (video)

By JR Ortega
Oct. 20, 2013 at 5:20 a.m.
Updated Oct. 21, 2013 at 5:21 a.m.

Diana Romo, 10, left, and Dakota Skinner, 9, right, look at a bug they caught during Monarch Day at Fennessey Ranch in Bayside. In addition to looking for monarch butterflies, the students caught dragonflies, crickets and other types of insects.

BAYSIDE - An azure morning sky served as the perfect backdrop for fluttering monarchs - that is, if there were any.

Students at the Fennessey Ranch's Monarch Day may have fallen short of tagging monarchs because of unpredictable migration patterns, but that did not stop them from learning.

Buses of kids from several schools in Refugio, Calhoun, Aransas and Nueces counties ran Thursday through the grass fields of the ranch catching all types of butterflies and other bugs and insects.

"I think it's cool just to experience it," said Dominic Ford, a fourth-grader at Olsen Elementary School in Port Aransas. "Just to go and catch them is cool."

Sally Crofutt, ranch general manager, said throughout the morning and early afternoon, one monarch may have been tagged on its migration south into Mexico.

The lack of monarchs is not surprising - it all depends on time and weather, she said.

Drought and rain conditions change constantly, which affects the monarchs. Some were seen early in the morning but were much too high off the ground to be caught because they were already in full migration, she said.

Still, the experience alone for the students is enough to spark some young minds. This year brought out 329 students, Crofutt said.

"They are completely engaged," Crofutt said. "We got them out in the field, and that's where they want to be. They were hands on."

Students from the various schools, from fourth to seventh grade, ran around the field swinging their butterfly nets while toting small plastic terrariums for their catches.

While the monarchs were pretty scarce, students did catch other species of butterflies, like cabbage, blue metalmarks and peacock, Crofutt said.

But for Crofutt, one of the true amazing species seen out at the ranch Thursday was not a wildlife animal of any sort - it was volunteers.

Park rangers and other scientists with several organizations, like the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, showed up ready to help teach.

"Those people are so dedicated," she said.

Aside from tagging monarchs, students walked through the ranch to 13 stations ranging from the habitat of wildlife to difference species of bugs and marine animals.

Sydney Burkett, a 14-year-old seventh-grader at Seashore Middle Academy in Corpus Christi, oohed and ahhed at Station 10.

There, the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas offered touch tanks filled with all sorts of critters from starfish to crabs.

"I just love it," Sydney said, watching as other students from her science class handled some of the animals. "I've lived by the ocean my whole life and decided that if I lived here, I would learn more about it."

Seashore science teacher Katie Sikes has brought her past classes to the event every year, saying it never disappoints.

"Bringing the students into their outdoor classroom gives them a true appreciation of what nature has to offer," she said.



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