Located in the southern part of San Antonio, TX, Mitchell Lake Audubon Center is dedicated to the conservation of birds. Though it’s open to the public, the majority of the tourists are the birds who stop in the area during their migrations. The Center offers field trip and guided tours, and is a must-see destination for local birdwatchers.
When planning a drone demonstration for my gifted students with Justin Moore, @texasbyair, Mr. Moore mentioned that he had done some work with Mitchell Lake. My 5th graders were researching field trip locations, and I thought it might be the perfect match as they seemed mostly interested in nature and wildlife. The staff at Mitchell Lake, especially Jake Stush, were very accommodating as we worked with them to customize a unique field trip for the students. Mr. Moore and Mr. Stush teleconferenced with the 5th graders a couple of times to finalize the plans before the tour. We wanted to show the benefits of using drones, and give the students the opportunity to learn more about the habitats the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center is trying to preserve.
On the day of our trip, 23 gifted students from 3rd-5th grades visited Mitchell Lake. We separated the students into two groups. Mr. Stush took one group on a hike of the area near Bird Pond to learn more about the resident birds and how the sanctuary has changed over time. Mr. Moore took the other group to get some drone footage of the region.
As the students learned about the importance of preserving areas like Mitchell Lake and used their binoculars to see some of the birds and other wildlife up close and personal, they also got to find out how drones can be used for scientific research. Mr. Moore divided the students up into groups to give them jobs for the drone flight – allowing them to look up weather conditions, keep the launch/landing pad area cordoned off, take pictures and video, and to keep the drone in sight and away from obstacles and predators.
It was incredible to learn about this lesser-known part of San Antonio which actually has a huge impact on the ecosystem, as well as to allow students to see the amazing potential of drone technology to help us to work on improving our environment.
As I watched the drone take off, and saw curious birds circle it from a cautious distance while my students watched from the earth below, I felt that I was witnessing a certain kind of tentative balance among man, machine, and animal as we all try to learn how to exist together.
The next day, Mr. Moore sent us a highlight reel of our trip, using video from the drone, as well as video and pictures taken by the students. He also sent a digital 3d map that was created from the drone’s footage. It even included our school bus! We talked about how the information could help the researchers at Mitchell Lake and how much we enjoyed our trip.