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Learning about life in the wetlands
December 4, 2023

By William Cramp Fit Flyer reporters | Reporters discovered firsthand why it’s important to protect the environment during a reporting trip to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum.

They’d been researching the benefits of a refuge for people, plants, and animals.

When the fifth graders arrived at John Heinz, they talked to Ranger Brianna Amingwa, whom they previously had interviewed via videoconference. She told them about bird migration paths over the United States, called “flyways.” She explained that places like John Heinz are important because birds can rest and find food to eat while they’re migrating. Reporters learned how to use binoculars so they could see animals close up in the refuge or in the sky.

To prepare for a hike around the wetlands, some reporters took clipboards and paper, and some took field guides to help them identify animals they would see on the hike. “I actually liked having a field guide a lot, because I could identify most of the birds we saw,” Alex said.

Other reporters helped film the experience for an upcoming video that the Fit Flyer will produce. On the hike, reporters spotted American robins, red- winged blackbirds, mallard ducks, yellow fish, a snake, and water mites. They touched the spiky sweetgum tree balls. They heard chickadees, and even saw a flock of geese land to rest in the water. “The hike was relaxing and was good to relieve stress,” Dahlia said.

Reporters saw native plants such as cattails, but they also noticed plastic bottles and plastic bags and a basketball that littered the creek.

A few reporters gathered a water sample from the creek. They took a gray container and placed it in the water, pulled a string, and filled it with water so they could take the water to the classrooms in the refuge’s Visitors Center and study it.

Using magnifying glasses, plastic spoons, and a small container with a magnifying glass built into the lid, they studied macroinvertebrates. Macroinvertebrates are small creatures that have no spines, but are large enough to see with your eyes, according to Ranger Brianna. She said macroinvertebrates are important because they are food for bigger creatures like fish.

Ranger Brianna showed a crayfish for Fit Flyer reporters to touch and see up close. She said crayfish don’t relate well with other crayfish, so they have their own tanks. “It was scary and it almost dropped on me!” said a reporter.

Finally, Ranger Brianna gave everyone a John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge patch that they could take home as a souvenir.

Reporters said it was a really good trip and they recommend it to others.

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Since 2003, Healthy NewsWorks has been empowering elementary and middle school students to become researchers, writers, and confident communicators who advance health understanding and literacy through their factual publications and digital media.

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