Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

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:
iPhone App:
WildObs on Flickr:

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

Spring is Here!

By March 20th, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Comment

The equinox is upon us. Budding trees and baby birds will soon greet us. As the weather gets warmer, be ready to Spring into action with these five springtime citizen science projects!

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Project BudBurst

Help scientists understand the impacts of global climate change! Report data on the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants in your area. To participate, you simply need access to a plant. Get started!


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Camel Cricket Census

The Your Wild Life team needs citizen scientists to share observations and photos of camel crickets in your home! Many keen citizen observers have reported a preponderance of camel crickets, and interesting patterns in cricket distribution have emerged! Get started!


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Where’s the Elderberry Longhorn Beetle?

This beautiful beetle species lived throughout eastern North America but in recent decades it’s all but disappeared. To help solve this mystery, a Drexel University researcher wants you to be on the lookout for this beauty of a beetle now through June. Get started!


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CoCoRaHS:Rain, Hail, Snow Network

When a rain, hail, or snow storm occurs, take measurements of precipitation from your location.Your data will be used by the National Weather Service, meteorologists, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, mosquito control, ranchers and farmers, and more! Get started!


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Help scientists understand how environmental change and habitat destruction affect breeding birds. Visit nests once or twice each week and monitor their progression from incubating eggs to fuzzy chicks to fully feathered adults. Get started!


See how WCVE’s Science Matter’s is also jumping for  citizen science this spring with FrogWatchUSA!

Want to bring citizen science into the classroom? Check out our Educators Page to learn more about how to integrate projects into your curriculum.

SciStarter and Azavea (with support from Sloan Foundation) spent the last year investigating developments in software, hardware, and data processing capability for citizen science. Here’s what we found.

Calling hackers and developers! SciStarter is organizing pop-up hackathons to develop open APIs and other tools to help citizen scientists. Contact the SciStarter Team if you’d like to join us in Boston, Philly, NYC, or Washington, DC in April! Email

Want your project featured in our newsletter? Contact

Why Did the Salamander Cross the Road?

By March 5th, 2014 at 11:00 am | Comment

Count and protect migrating amphibians. Help salamanders cross the road at night with the Salamander Crossing Brigades.

Citizen science after hours…here are some citizen science projects you can do at night.


A spotted salamander spied on one of AVEO’s volunteer nights. Photo courtesy of Brett Amy Thelen.

Springtime means that love is in the air. Bees are buzzing, birds are chirping,  animals are mating–and salamanders want to do it too. That is, if they can reach their breeding grounds safely. Salamanders, known for their permeable skin and their capacity to regenerate limbs, make use of rainy spring nights to trek from their underground forest habitats to nearby ephemeral pools to lay eggs. In their travels, salamanders often have to cross roads, and yet so far, they don’t have crosswalks.

To help ensure salamanders’ safe passage to their breeding grounds, the Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory (AVEO), the citizen science arm of the Harris Center for Conservation Education in New Hampshire, trains citizen scientist volunteers as crossing guards for the northeast’s amphibians every spring. Salamander migrations are highly threatened by automobile traffic- rates of deaths on roadways are predicted to be high enough to lead to local extinction of spotted salamanders in the next 25 years according to a study published in Wetlands Ecology and Management. Citizen scientist volunteers are trained to safely usher amphibians across roads and enumerate the species that they see. Through efforts over the last six years, AVEO’s collaboration with citizen scientists has prevented over 15,000 amphibians from being victims of roadkill.

In what AVEO calls, “Big Nights” as part of the Salamander Crossing Brigades project (official site), citizen scientist volunteers work collectively at crossing brigades for wood frogs, spring peepers, and salamanders, including the protected Jefferson and blue-spotted salamander species. Hundreds to thousands of amphibians can cross in one night depending on temperature and precipitation conditions. AVEO studies snow melt and weather patterns, among other variables, to predict nights of maximal amphibian movement on which they schedule their crossing brigades. Salamanders generally prefer rainy nights when temperatures rise above 40, but unpredictabilities arise making designating Big Nights the most challenging, yet critical, aspect of the project. This year AVEO anticipates that early to mid-April will be salamander crossing season this year in southern New Hampshire.

View Amphibian Tracker 2014 in a larger map

AVEO also trains citizen scientists to help protect the salamanders of New Hampshire by identifying new road areas which salamanders traverse to reach their breeding grounds. “We add new crossings to our map every year, all based on the knowledge of our citizen science network. Our volunteers are essential. We simply wouldn’t have a Salamander Crossing Brigade program without them,” says Brett Amy Thelen, science director for the Harris Center for Conservation Education. According to Thelen, one of the project’s biggest accomplishments was inciting the City of Keene, NH to purchase a parcel of conservation land encompassing multiple amphibian crossing sites identified by citizen scientists. “The land was originally slated for development, and the City’s decision to purchase it was based in large part on the data collected by our volunteers, which demonstrated that the site was an important migratory amphibian corridor in Keene.”

AVEO leads another citizen science project, the Vernal Pool Project, where citizen scientists help locate new vernal pools, the ephemeral breeding grounds of salamanders and other amphibians. Breeding in permanent bodies of water is hindered by resident fish populations which prey on salamander eggs. As a result, the transience of vernal pools provides salamanders with a safe breeding location that they can return to each spring. The Vernal Pool Project has identified 130 vernal pools in southwestern New Hampshire, enabling AVEO to implement forestry practices designed to protect the pools from the potential negative effects of timber harvests. Because vernal pools are generally within 1000 feet of salamanders’ normal habitats, protecting the surrounding forest areas is also important for salamander conservation.

Want to participate in a night of helping hundreds of colorful and noisy critters get to the other side? Salamander Crossing Brigade volunteer training sessions will take place on the evening of Thursday, March 13 in Keene, NH and the morning of Saturday March 29 in Hancock, NH. To find out more about salamander migrations, you can check out University of Connecticut Professor Mark Urban’s “amphibian tracker” on his lab website.

Image: Courtesy of Brett Amy Thelen (top), Urban Lab (map)

Sheetal R. Modi is a postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University where she studies how bacteria develop and spread antibiotic resistance. She has a PhD in Biomedical Engineering, and when she’s not growing her bacterial cultures (and repeatedly killing them), she enjoys science communication and being outside.

Citizen Science on the Radio: The Great Backyard Bird Count

By February 8th, 2014 at 12:08 am | Comment


This is the sixth year Pat Evans will be participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count from New Jersey. (Kimberly Haas/for The Pulse)

This week on The Pulse and SciStarter’s segment about citizen science, producer Kimberly Haas  tags along with local birdwatcher Pat Evans as she studies migratory bird patterns and fluxes in bird populations from New Jersey.

The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place from February 14th to 17th this year, so get started and let us know how many birds you count in the comments! Or “tweet us” (get it?) at @SciStarter when you participate!

Listen here to learn more about how this all contributes to a larger picture! Here’s an excerpt from WHYY’s related blog post:

“All you have to do is bird, either one of the four days or all four days, a minimum of 15 minutes,” [Stephen Saffier] said. “Just look out your back window, count the birds that are there in your yard. You can go to parks, you can go to schoolyards. And you tally that information on a piece of paper and then you submit it online and it all gets bundled up into this data source for Cornell and Audubon.

Recently, Science Matters, a multi-platform initiative to engage the public in STEM media, created a how-to video for those interested in participating in the GBBC this year. Their intern Margaret Carmel gives us a walkthrough.

Here’s where you can help. If you’re a citizen science researcher, project manager, or participant in the PA, NJ, or DE areas, we want to hear from you! If you have an interesting story to share about a citizen science project or experience, let us know. Send your stories for consideration to


WHYY (90.9 FM in Philly) on-air schedule:

6-9 a.m. – Morning Edition
9-10 a.m. – The Pulse
10 a.m. to 12 p.m. – Radio Times
10 a.m. following Sunday  – The Pulse (rebroadcast)

Audubon’s Adopt A Bird

By January 6th, 2014 at 11:32 am | Comment


Is your friend or family member an ornithologist, a conservationist, or a general appreciator of the environment? How about a Baltimore Orioles or Philadelphia Eagles fan?  Stanford Cardinal? Consider adopting a bird through Audubon’s gift program! (Orioles, eagles, and cardinals among a number of other birds are all available for adoption). For $30, through the adoption program, the recipient will be given a personalized card showcasing their adoption, a year subscription the Audubon magazine, and a year of membership to the National Audubon Society. Your donation will support Audubon’s programs aimed toward conserving and restoring natural ecosystems for birds and other wildlife.

The adoption program contributes to Audubon’s efforts to protect flight paths that birds use during migration, or flyways, and other important bird areas around the world. Through Audubon’s work with local chapters, conservation partners, and citizen scientists, the organization has identified over 370 million acres (more land than California and Texas combined) in the U.S. for active monitoring and restoration to ensure birds safe passage and healthy breeding. A case in point is the Atlantic flyway, which is home to roughly 150 important bird areas prioritized by Audubon. Spanning diverse ecosystems all the way from Maine to Florida, the Atlantic flyway is a passageway for over 500 different species, totaling millions of individual birds. One of the main challenges posed to the birds that depend on this flyway for habitation and migration is the populous nature of the region – although the Atlantic flyway covers a tenth of the nation’s landmass, it is inhabited by one third of the nation’s people. Urban development, climate change and overfishing have adversely affected the avian community and have rendered 40% of the resident species in need of conservation. Sadly, some species’ populations have decreased by as much as half in recent years.

This year, you can choose to adopt the Atlantic puffin, a protected bird in the Atlantic flyway and a great choice for the holiday season. Donations through the adoption program have supported Project Puffin which has restored puffins to their historic nesting habitat in the Gulf of Maine. In 1973, just two small colonies of puffins existed in Maine. Over years of transplanting puffins from colonies in Newfoundland and extensive monitoring and habitat sustainment by ecologists, there are now over 1,000 puffins in Maine. These birds, with their unique beak coloring, can fly up to 55 miles per hour (which is faster than a racehorse can run) and can dive 200 feet underwater. Puffins usually mate for life and return to their home burrowing grounds to breed, a critical factor for the success of the repopulation of the Maine site. In spite of the project’s productive results, more pufflings and adult birds died last year than in all previous years of the the project. Biologists suspect that recent increases in temperature of the Atlantic Ocean have contributed to changing fish populations that puffins prey on, affecting the viability of this Atlantic flyway resident. Audubon employs a combination of supporting science and education and habitat conservation to aid in the recovery of the Atlantic puffin population.

Adopt a bird this year and check out Audubon for more information on their conservation programs.

Image: Wikipedia

Sheetal Modi is a postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University where she studies how bacteria develop and spread antibiotic resistance. She has a PhD in Biomedical Engineering, and when she’s not growing her bacterial cultures (and repeatedly killing them), she enjoys science communication and being outside.