Crayfish, blackstripe topminnows and bluegills. Oh, my!
Those were just some of the 14 species of freshwater fish that children cataloged during a recent seining class with members of Citizens for Conservation, based in Barrington.
With nets in hand and boots on their feet, the 20 children waded into the banks of the Fox River in Carpentersville, to begin their study. They came from Barrington, Cary, Lake Zurich, Fox River Grove, Hawthorn Woods and Kildeer for the chance to get wet.
Working together, they cast their large seining net and dragged it slowly over the rocks, picking up an assortment of fish.
Within minutes, they found the blackstripe topminnows, who feast on mosquito larvae and mussel shells. They also found a gizzard shad, a member of the herring family; a blacknose dace with the black stripe running from the tip of its nose to its tail; as well as a spottail shiner, spotfin and sand shiner -- to name just a few.
"We want them to see just how much diversity of life there is in the water," says Pat Winkelman of Deer Park, the youth education coordinator for Citizens for Conservation. "They learn about the different types of fish, including ones that are transparent, about their different types of fins, and why some are top feeders and others are bottom feeders."
The organization offers a variety of programming for children, all focused on getting them outdoors.
"We want them to experience all the incredible things that are out there in nature," Winkelman says, "and overcome any fears."
They have offered a seining class for nearly 15 years and it remains one of their more popular classes. This was the first year they took students to the Fox River, which they chose in part because of its shallowness due to the drought this summer.
With water levels low, the group found plenty of creatures to catalog, including crayfish and macroinvertebrates, such as water beetles and brown water scorpions.
They also found a lot of trash along the banks, from plastic bags, and bottles, to cast off fishing lines and hooks. The amount of discards led to a teaching moment about how such things could affect the habitat for the fish and wildlife living in the river.
"Next time we'll have to bring trash bags to collect it all," Winkelman said.
Later this month, Citizens for Conservation will host their annual field trip for fourth-graders in the Barrington area, who visit their preserved prairies and savannas to collect data about the diversity of life that depends on the prairie to live.
Winkelman has volunteered with CFC for 10 years, and has led the youth education programming for the last two.
"I've become so passionate about all that I've learned," she says. "I want to pass it on to the next generation, because they'll be the ones taking care of it."