Biology students spot nesting birds with binoculars, thanks to grant

College of the Mainland students sailing to the Rookery Islands in Galveston Bay will have a new way to spot the birds nesting in the shrubs they planted, thanks to a $4,830 Texas/New Mexico Power Grant.

The grant funded the purchase of 20 pairs of water-resistant binoculars with 10 times magnification for COM students in biology, 50 Plus Program or continuing education classes.

“Students can see living animals, not just pictures,” said COM biology professor Sheena Abernathy. “Using these, they are able to see more detail.”

Partnering with Audubon Texas, COM students gather cuttings of native plants from local habitats, tend them in the COM greenhouse and transplant them on the islands for native nesting birds, such as roseate spoonbill and laughing gulls. The birds require flourishing native plants, such as prickly pear, native lantana, bacarus and marsh elder, each year to build nests safe from predators.

“In the spring when we can’t go on the island (because we would disturb the birds that are nesting), we can take the boat and use the binoculars to see the birds in their nests and the baby birds,” explained Abernathy.

The binoculars were purchased from the Pearland Bass Pro Shop, which offered a discount to meet grant funds.

Students in a new biology class focusing on field work, hands-on exploration and volunteering are using them.

“In the class students spend 25 percent of the class doing volunteer projects, such as the Rookery Island conservation project,” said Abernathy. “Many students are already doing the work, but they will get college credit for it.”

Students in the active COM Science Club and bird-watching groups in the COM 50 Plus Program will also take advantage of the binoculars.

For more information about the COM biology program or Audubon Texas partnership, call Abernathy at 409-933-8330 or email sabernathy@com.edu.

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