Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

How Many Can You Spot with Celebrate Urban Birds

By May 29th, 2014 at 9:36 am | Comment

In ten minutes, record the number of urban birds you observe in your neighborhood; your observations can improve the bird habitat in your community.

Want more birds and bees citizen science projects? We’ve got you covered!

Baltimore Oriole  (Photo: David Brezinski)

Baltimore Oriole
Photo: David Brezinski, for the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Spotting birds in an urban environment not uncommon and these feathered friends have certainly found a place for them in the city. But how are they coping with an environment that is less green and more concrete? This is exactly what a citizen science project from Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology is set out to find out.

The project — Celebrate Urban Birds – started in 2007, after consultations with community organizations across the US, as well as scientists and educators. From the start, the objective has always been to develop rigorous protocols to provide reliable scientific data, but also to encourage a strong educational and engagement component to make it happen in communities which citizen science wouldn’t normally reach.

Participation is simple: all you have to do is see how many birds from a list of 16 you can spot in 10 minutes and submit your results online. Not surprisingly, the team has been inundated with submissions across the country and beyond, from Canada to Mexico, and from Boston to Portland.

Despite this overwhelming response, the team has so far been a bit shy about showing their results, as they feel the project needs enough data to allow a reliable analysis. The good news is that, according to ornithologist Karen Purcell, the driving force behind the project, they are currently deep in analysis and we should expect some news in the upcoming months. “This is an exciting year” says Purcell, “because of the fact that we can take a look at the data and we’re going to be able to really understand what’s going on”.

The interesting part is that they’re not just looking at birds. “We’re looking at both the people factor and the community factor, in addition to the bird factor”, says Purcell. This is exactly what differentiates this project from other citizen science projects, as it is as much about the science as it is about the participants and their communities. In fact, although participants can join as individuals, it is through the links with community partners that the project thrives. “We work a lot with organizations that have community events, and that engage participants in the citizen science component, so that’s a big way in which we reach out”, says Purcell.

Very generously, “Celebrate Urban Birds” awards mini-grants to participating organizations, not only to help them develop ways for their members to learn about bird identification and submit their observations, but ultimately to improve bird habitat in the community. This approach “lets us reach a big variety of ages, people that have not participated in this kind of thing before, and the idea in terms of making it appealing towards that audience, is to create something that is useful in the community”, says Purcell.

Ruby-throated hummingbird.

Ruby-throated hummingbird.

Nothing was left to chance and this community focus is also strongly reflected in the list of 16 focal species which participants need to spot. They’re characterized by a strong urban presence throughout the US and further afield, but most importantly as the project deals with novice bird spotters, it includes some species people are likely to see, allowing them to engage with the project.

The list also contains some species chosen for conservational reasons, such as orioles and brown-headed cowbirds, and the team hopes to add more to the list. Top of the wish list at the moment is the hummingbird, which is both a great urban bird to get people to fall in love with bird spotting, and it’s also an important species due to their impact as pollinators.

The project is ongoing, and you can submit your results at any time. So, why not grab your binoculars and see how many birds you can spot in your neighborhood?

Resources: Celebrate Urban Birds Official Site

Images: Wikimedia Commons (Baltimore Oriole, Hummingbird)


Dr. Alex Reis is a freelance science writer, with a particular expertise in the field of biology and genetics. She holds a degree and MSc in Animal Science, topped up with a PhD in Embryology. In a ‘previous life’ as a researcher, she worked in the field of cell and molecular biosciences and published various scientific manuscripts including in Nature. Nowadays, however, she spends most of her time reading and writing science articles for several news outlets. Recent work includes articles published in The Munich Eye, Decoded Science, United Academics Magazine, BitesizeBio and Science NOW. After moving around the UK for a while, she now lives in the Highlands of Scotland. When not working, she can be found trying to get friendly with the ‘locals,’ from deer to seals, otters or even sea eagles.

Track Lilacs and Loons with Nature’s Notebook

By May 19th, 2014 at 10:59 am | Comment

Observe and collect data to learn how climate and habitat affect plants and animals with Nature’s Notebook.

Track the phenology of plants and animals with these citizen science projects.

Observing a tree in Tucson, Arizona.  Photo credit: Brian Powell

Observing a tree in Tucson, Arizona. Photo credit: Brian Powell

Most North Americans are relieved that spring has finally arrived, especially after a winter when ice storms, snowstorms, frigid temperatures or droughts were regular occurrences. For many, winter was not only harsh, but it was also longer than expected. How could a plant grow and survive with cold temperatures or dry conditions? How would the animals that depend on these plants be affected by these changes? These are a few of the numerous questions the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) investigates. The organization studies phenology, the study of the seasonal plant and animal life cycle events. Consisting of staff members, an advisory committee, and partner organizations (such as the U.S. Geological Survey), the USA-NPN collects and analyzes phenology data in order to address scientific and environmental questions.

Recording observations in Tucson, Arizona.  Photo credit: Sara N. Schaffer

Recording observations in Tucson, Arizona. Photo credit: Sara N. Schaffer

Unfortunately, the USA-NPN has a small staff that cannot observe the wildlife of the entire country by themselves. They decided to enlist the help of citizen scientists so they could gather as many pieces of data as possible. In 2009, the USA-NPN established an online monitoring program for over 200 plant species. The following year, they recognized the need to include animals in the monitoring process; as a result, they added animals to the observation program and formally named it Nature’s Notebook (official site).

This year, the USA-NPN hopes to collect 1 million observations through Nature’s Notebook, and invites anyone who wants to participate. To become an observer, set up an online account; then, you can learn how to observe with aid of a detailed handbook or instructional videos. Nature’s Notebook has also created a mobile app (for iOS and Android systems), where observers can enter observations into the database while they are outdoors. The data is readily available through the Phenology Visualization Tool, where you can look at the data of a particular region or species.

Flowers at the Santa Rita Experimental Range, Arizona. Photo credit: Lorianne Barnett

Flowers at the Santa Rita Experimental Range, Arizona. Photo credit: Lorianne Barnett

The observation process might be overwhelming for someone who is new to it. With over 900 plant and animal species in the database, what should you observe? Theresa Crimmins, the Partnerships & Outreach Coordinator for USA-NPN, recommends that you “start small; pick 1 or 2 plants that are familiar to you. Make it low-effort and fun! Observe plants you know and are familiar with.” You can also join a regional campaign, and focus your observations on a particular species, such as the campaign to track cloned lilacs. For educators who want to incorporate Nature’s Notebook into their curriculum, the USA-NPN has educational material available. Crimmins recommends that instructors incorporate the program around the same time each year, in order to contribute to the long-term record of particular species. While there is a time commitment involved for this citizen science project, repeated observations are necessary to notice the long-term changes of a particular species.

USA-NPN and Nature’s Notebook have definitely made an impact on phenology in the United States. It has partnered with almost 200 organizations, contributed to many peer-reviewed publications, and is collaborating with government agencies such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service to see how the data can be used to inform decisions about wildlife refuges.  This year, Nature’s Notebook is excited to offer an opportunity to learn and interact through their webinar series. Their next webinar, on June 10th at 11am (PST), will be “A Summary of Spring”; a fitting way to celebrate the season and everything that happens within it.

References: USA-NPN 2013 Annual Report: Taking the Pulse of Our Planet

Images: USA-NPN


Rae Moore has a BS in Chemistry from McMaster University and studied Bioinorganic Chemistry as a PhD student at McGill University. She has also been a cheerleading coach, yoga teacher, and preschool science educator. Now she focuses on science education and advocacy, and blogs about scientific job searching on her blog, ThereOnceWasaChemist.com.

Citizen Science for Lovers of Birds and Bees!

By May 16th, 2014 at 10:43 pm | Comment

Let us tell ‘ya about the birds and the bees — for citizen science, that is! Here are just a few buzz-worthy projects to get you started.

Also, don’t forget to stop by DISCOVER Magazine and SciStarter’s online Citizen Science Salon; look for our new collaboration in the pages of Discover starting this month; or listen to beautifully produced citizen science stories from our partners at WHYY radio!

 

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The Great Sunflower Project

Help researchers create a national bee population map to study the decline of bees. Simply plant sunflowers and watch for bee visits a few times a month. Get started!

 

Celebrate Urban Birds

Help ornithologists learn about 16 key species of urban birds by tracking up to 16 species of birds for just 10 mins in a small area near you. Get started! (Photo: Louise Docker)

 

Bee Hunt

Use digital photography to help provide a better understanding of pollinators’ importance in growing food and maintaining healthy natural ecosystems. Get started!

 

 


North American Bird Phenology Program

Millions of bird migration records have been scanned. Care to illuminate almost a century of migration patterns and population status of birds? Transcribe records so they can be included in an open database for analysis. Get started!

 

ZomBeeWatch
The Zombie Fly has been found parasitizing honey bees in California, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington. Where else in North America are bees infected by Zombie Flies? Help solve the mystery by collecting honey bees and reporting easy-to-spot signs of infection. You’ll know it when you see it! Get started!


On Sunday, 5/18 at 9:26 am ET, the Space X Dragon Cargo will be released from the International Space Station to return to Earth. The Cargo will splash down into the Pacific Ocean returning our very own citizen science research project, Project MERCCURI, to Earth! You can watch this all take place, LIVE, on NASA TV: May 18, Sunday 9 a.m.

Learn more about Project MERCCURI at SpaceMicrobes.org.

Want your project featured in our newsletter? Contact jenna@scistarter.com

Citizen Science in The Classroom: Urban Birds

By May 12th, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Comment 1

Using Celebrate Urban Birds (CUB) to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards

CUB poto Judy Howle

The brown-headed cowbird is one of sixteen birds observed in the Celebrate Urban Birds project. (Photo: CUB website, by Judy Howle)

 

Grades:

K-12th

Description:

Celebrate Urban Birds (CUB) is a project through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It is a year round project specifically designed to engage classrooms with local urban birds and citizen science. Cornell offers a free classroom kit for you and your students when you sign up for the project. They cite that 88% of their partner organizations work with under-served audiences and 75% or more of the participants have little to no experience with birds. The project materials they offer are also bilingual. (Spanish) To participate you need a yard or open area that is about half the size of a basketball court. They are not strict on the size of this area or what is in it as long as you can look out and make observations. CUB focuses on sixteen specific urban birds, with observations lasting 10 minutes each. There is no minimum or maximum participation. These observations are supported with an easy-to-understand data sheet and a bird ID check-sheet with clear images. You can upload your information to the website and the site will show you a bar graph of your sightings. Cornell also offers mini-grants of $100-$750 to support community events and activities around urban birds (from arts and culture to science and nature) and your school.

urban birds project

Materials You’ll Need:

Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:

  • This project can be done in any urban environment.
  • The project is free and comes with free classroom materials supplied (including bilingual materials)
  • You do not have to be an expert bird watcher to help your students participate in this project.
  • Cornell provides training materials for you.
  • You can track your data and use it for classroom analysis.
  • Cornell strongly supports the “Zero Means a Lot”concept along with the idea that observations with zero birds are still valuable, which is an important lesson for students.
  • Students become aware of the wildlife in urban environments and more conscious of the life native to their surroundings.

Read the rest of this entry »

WildObs: Instagram for Nature Lovers

By April 10th, 2014 at 3:36 pm | Comment

Collect and share pictures of memorable encounters with nature using the WildObs app.

Want more citizen science? Don’t worry. There’s an app for that.

Gopher Snake

There are nature lovers, wildlife photographers, hikers, kayakers and birdwatchers who pursue their passion every day, and most of them do so in the hope of spotting an osprey, or catching a glimpse of a mountain lion or bear. As rewarding as these sightings are, there is an equally fulfilling joy to be found in identifying a clump of apple snail eggs, butterfly or a nighthawk chick. This is what WildObs (official site), a crowdsourced program that partners with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) does—it serves as a portal geared for enthusiasts rather than naturalists or scientists—users who want to gather, share and comment on their day to day sightings.

Adam Jack the creator of the program launched it in 2008. “As a nature lover with a glorious number of encounters, and a reasonably technical iPhone user, I wanted to be able to remember wildlife I saw; what, where and when I saw the wildlife, and ideally try to build a community database to identify good places to find critters,” he said. The idea to build WildObs came in part from Goodreads; the system for books you’ve read, books you’d like to read, and book discovery. “Why not be able to record what wildlife you’ve seen, mark species as favorites, and so on. Given that knowledge the system could inform you about what has been seen recently around you, educate you with the wildlife you might not know existed, and bring you local news from other wildlife lovers.” The idea was to connect people, places and wildlife.

You can record your encounters for your own studies, or enjoyment, use the records you produce to develop a personal wildlife calendar for the year, or maintain a life list as you learn about new species. The NWF uses the program as part of their Wildlife Watch initiative, to track the occurrences of natural phenomena. In addition you can share wildlife Stories online and join the NWF Flickr group. All of this is available to both first timers and professionals.

Western Snowy Plover Family

As a wildlife community, WildObs participants help each other find the nature (for a photograph or close encounter) and users learn about the species in their neighborhoods, so the app essentially offers a collaborative wildlife experience—it helps people connect people to wildlife. When asked if the project plans to publish any findings related to the user collection, Jack says, “The database only has tens of thousands of records to date. WildObs has become more a system of ‘interesting encounters’ than every encounter. It doesn’t have bioblitz-type data, but rather more individual sightings—a Moose here, or a Bobcat there.” There are currently a few thousand users.

WildObs Android

There is always at least one exciting thing about a participatory project—something that enthuses users or that sparked the first idea for it. For Adam Jack and WildObs that would be how the app shares encounters amongst the community. “The app send its users custom notifications tailored to their interests, location and species encounter history. The ultimate goal for WildObs is to connect and engage people with the wildlife around them, and to excite them to go explore and enjoy,” says Jack. It actually sounds a bit like Instagram for nature lovers, which seems to be a pretty neat idea. Join the WildObs community via your Android or iPhone and use technology to help you connect with nature.

Images: Ian Vorster

Android App: http://wildobs.com/about/android
iPhone App: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wildobs-observer/id309451803?mt=8
WildObs on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/services/apps/72157607039309200/


Ian Vorster has a MS in Environmental Communications and most recently served as director of communications at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Prior to that he worked in the health communications field. Ian has served as a designer, writer, photographer, editor and project leader in the field of science, and now works freelance in a blend of these roles. You can see more of Ian’s work at dragonflyec.com.