Wildlife Spotters: Hatfield elementary students tracking animal activity as part of science project

Kaitlyn Huang, a Amherst College student, talks to John Higuera and Ted Prajzner’s fifth grade classes at Hatfield Elementary School about the MassMammals Watch project they are part of. Huang was at the school to help the class install a trail camera.

Kaitlyn Huang, a Amherst College student, talks to John Higuera and Ted Prajzner’s fifth grade classes at Hatfield Elementary School about the MassMammals Watch project they are part of. Huang was at the school to help the class install a trail camera. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Michi Como and Alexander Matteis, students at Hatfield Elementary School, look at a black bear claw as part of the MassMammals Watch project for the fifth grade science curriculum.

Michi Como and Alexander Matteis, students at Hatfield Elementary School, look at a black bear claw as part of the MassMammals Watch project for the fifth grade science curriculum. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Madison Renner, left, and Harper Phaneuf, eighth graders at Smith Academy in Hatfield, install a trail camera Friday with the fifth grade classes at Hatfield Elementary School as part of the MassMammals Watch project.

Madison Renner, left, and Harper Phaneuf, eighth graders at Smith Academy in Hatfield, install a trail camera Friday with the fifth grade classes at Hatfield Elementary School as part of the MassMammals Watch project. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Madison Renner, an eighth grader at Smith Academy in Hatfield, installs a trail camera with the fifth grade classes at Hatfield Elementary School as part of the MassMammals Watch project for their science curriculum.

Madison Renner, an eighth grader at Smith Academy in Hatfield, installs a trail camera with the fifth grade classes at Hatfield Elementary School as part of the MassMammals Watch project for their science curriculum. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Madison Renner and Harper Phaneuf, eighth graders at Smith Academy in Hatfield, talk to students at Hatfield Elementary School, about their participation in the MassMammals Watch project and what kinds of animals they caught on their trail camera.

Madison Renner and Harper Phaneuf, eighth graders at Smith Academy in Hatfield, talk to students at Hatfield Elementary School, about their participation in the MassMammals Watch project and what kinds of animals they caught on their trail camera. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 03-11-2024 1:15 PM

HATFIELD — If deer, bobcats or foxes are passing through their neighborhood, Hatfield Elementary School students have a new way of finding out.

With the help of two Amherst College students and two Smith Academy eighth-graders, John Higuera and Ted Prajzner’s fifth grade class took part last Friday in setting up a trail camera in the woods by the Mill River.

Amherst College freshman Kaitlyn Huang and junior Mimi Hamada-Peña, with the citizen science research project MassMammals Watch, said the project initially was focused on black bears, and has gathered significant data on their prevalence.

The project has since expanded to cover all mammals, and uses the small, inexpensive trail cameras to document animal activity wherever they’re placed. Data from the cameras can then be mapped and tabulated. Schools have become a growing focus of the citizen science initiative.

Huang and Hamada-Peña passed around two carefully sealed artifacts — a bear tooth and claw — along with a clump of bear fur, collected as another means of tracking the region’s largest mammal.

Giving the younger students a taste of what their camera might reveal, Madison Didonna-Renner and Harper Phaneuf presented a slide show of images from Smith Academy’s trail cam.

The camera, set up in the fall of 2022, has captured numerous images of deer along with the occasional bobcat, fox and coyote.

The camera is triggered by movement, so some images are less useful to science than others.

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“We get a lot a squirrels,” Madison said.

One image showed a coyote that was part wolf, she said, indicating there are wolves in this area and they’re breeding with coyotes.

Hamada-Peña said she enjoyed images of birds, which are usually just a blur because their movement is too fast for the camera to capture.

With the school’s playing fields stretching down to the Mill River, there was limited space for setting up the camera.

The four older students eventually decided on a tree and secured it at head height, facing downstream toward the woods on the other bank. With a range of about 30 yards, it may be able to capture activity there.

Higuera said the plan is to collect data from the camera every week. If it fails to capture much activity, the class will try to figure out a new site.