About Trinity Woods Preserve and Bird Viewing Blind
Since 2012, students at Trinity Episcopal School have worked on restoring an eleven-acre portion of the campus by helping to create a healthy and diverse ecosystem and wildlife community. Campus students work on habitat restoration projects, conduct field studies, and make observations to classify both invertebrate and vertebrate wildlife species. These smaller projects are addressed one at a time, allowing the work to remain manageable and not too invasive to the wildlife on the preserve. Over time, however, these small projects stitch together to form a healthier and more natural ecosystem. Restoration projects have included:
Removal and management of invasive plants,
Creation of ponds from water runoff,
Establishment of meadows along the periphery of wooded areas,
Creation of shelter and home habitats for wildlife, and
Improvement of erosion, removal of litter, and enhancement of trail safety.
Caroline Newby is a rising high school sophomore who, along with her Eagle Scout Troop, constructed a bird blind on Trinity Episcopal School’s Trinity Woods Preserve. With immense support and guidance from her science teacher, Bill Earley, Caroline conducted research, collected materials, and executed her plan to raise awareness for the importance of avian conservation. Bill Earley is an educator whose passions for conservation, wildlife, and environmentalism are passed on to his students. In addition to teaching science for the past 28 years, Earley manages the Trinity Woods Preserve and has overseen the habitat restoration on campus for the last eleven years. He worked closely with Caroline to create the bird blind, which has proven to be a very impactful addition to the preserve.
Project Description & History
Earley’s combined passion for teaching and the natural world moved him to connect academic learning with habitat restoration projects by creating the Trinity Woods Preserve. Dedicating this land to conservation excites students, and allows them the opportunity to learn how to act as good stewards of the land. Earley promotes interdisciplinary academic learning by leading students in data collection and analysis, and allowing them to draw reasonable conclusions for their individual study topics in the preserve. Students plan, design, and budget for project materials and costs, providing a real-world application of authentic project work. This style of learning has been so popular with students that it has become an important educational element for generations of students at Trinity Episcopal School.
Caroline’s project was inspired by a trip to the Oregon coast, where she was able to observe an unobstructed view of countless stars in the night sky. Upon returning home to Austin, however, she noticed that the view of the sky from her home was tinted a shade of yellow-gray and only the brightest stars were visible. Soon afterward, she began an eighth-grade Capstone course at her school, where she was encouraged to take a closer look at an issue that needed to be addressed in her community. Caroline was simultaneously beginning to think about what to pursue as an Eagle Scout Project.
Even though light pollution felt like a challenge (literally) as big as the sky, Caroline was determined to do something. She connected with organizations such as DarkSky Texas and Travis Audubon, who provided tremendous support for the initial research stages of her project. She learned that light pollution has a negative impact on wildlife- Each year during fall and spring migrations, nearly two billion birds travel through Texas. However, as they pass over big cities, they can become disoriented by bright artificial lights and skyglow, often causing them to collide with buildings or windows.
From her research, Caroline realized that education would be key to creating awareness and inspiring change to address light pollution in her community. With the help of her Scouts Troop 72, Caroline built a bird-viewing blind on the Trinity Woods Preserve. The structure allows Kindergarten-8th grade students at Trinity Episcopal School to unobtrusively observe and identify birds in their natural habitat. Species identification cards, information on light pollution, and tips on how to reduce it are available at the viewing site.
Caroline was inspired by the fact that the negative effects of light pollution can be reversible after the success of her project, and her work has acted as a catalyst for a variety of enhancements to Trinity’s campus and to the greater community. The installation of the bird blind is the most interactive of these changes, and Caroline has also mobilized plans to update the lights on the rear side of the campus to be downward-facing and on a timer system to minimize disturbance to wildlife. Caroline has led educational presentations on light pollution for elementary and middle school students, who were incredibly receptive to the information. She has even received feedback from parents and students alike detailing the different ways that they have changed their light usage and habits, creating a ripple effect of change in her community.
The goal of the bird blind was to protect both local and migratory wildlife through education and observation. Bird identification cards at the site represent species that have been located in the preserve, including:
Indigo and Painted Buntings
The preserve was impenetrable twelve years ago before restoration work began. Located in a highly populated area, the woodland had become quite fragmented. Invasive species such as Chinese Ligustrum and Chinese Privet inundated the creek and wooded areas, suppressing native plant growth, food availability for wildlife, and sustaining large numbers of mosquitos. Bermuda grass was located on the periphery of the woods, overtaking any native grasses or wildflowers that could provide food or habitat for invertebrates. Additionally, the creek system dried up during hot Texas summers for months at a time, leaving no natural water sources on Trinity’s campus during the hottest months of the year, and contributing to a poor quality ecosystem on their campus.
The restoration of the preserve has been a tremendous resource to the local community. In its current state, the space now allows teachers and students at Trinity School to go on nature walks and conduct observations and investigations. Family members are also invited to go on nature hikes with their children, and the school has several Eagle Scout projects on the land. With proper management of invasive plants, native plants have returned to take their place, providing fruits, seeds, nuts, pollen, and nectar that benefit the wildlife that call the preserve home. Local wildlife now have all needs met in the preserve and are no longer found in the buildings on campus. Wildlife benefits from the restoration work, including: