Archive for the ‘Nature & Outdoors’ Category

Migrating Monarchs Bring Out Citizen Scientists in the Holiday Season

By December 5th, 2015 at 5:53 pm | Comment

Migrating monarchs roosting (Image Credit: Nagarajan Kanna/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Migrating monarchs roosting (Image Credit: Nagarajan Kanna/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

As monarch butterflies take their annual migratory trip to the west coast in winter, citizen scientists help researchers keep track with the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. Find more migration projects on SciStarter!

Every autumn, the western North American population of monarch butterflies migrates from the lands west of the Rocky Mountains to the coast of California, where they spend the winter at about 200 sites scattered throughout the coastline. Last winter, I had a chance to visit the Monarch Grove in Santa Cruz, California, where thousands of monarchs were resting in eucalyptus trees and occasionally fluttering about in search of water or nectar. As a monarch conservation biologist who entered the field only after the monarch population plummeted in size, seeing the monarch overwintering in California was an amazing sight. In just one glance, I was able to see more monarchs in Santa Cruz’s Monarch Grove than I normally see in an entire summer. Unfortunately, even the thousands of monarchs I saw were just a fraction of the numbers once found at that overwintering site. Read the rest of this entry »

How Citizen Scientists are Helping the Cause of Bat Conservation

By November 10th, 2015 at 9:15 am | Comment

Big-eared-townsend-fledermaus

by Kristin Butler

About fifteen of us were gathered in a classroom one Thursday evening last month on San Francisco’s South Bay. We were there to hear a talk as part of a bat banding workshop and field demonstration  at a riparian restoration site. The wildlife ecologist and bat expert who gave the talk explained why the nocturnal creatures deserve our protection and respect.

In the field the following night, we watched our teacher wade chest deep across a creek, deftly extract a tiny bat from a mist net by the light of his headlamp, and measure, observe, and band it back at our camp.

As I watched, I imagined what it would be like to be a scientist who gets to study and protect these fascinating animals every day, and I wondered if there was a way for a non-scientist like me to get involved. Read the rest of this entry »

Six Citizen Science Projects to Help Monitor the Environment Around You

By October 19th, 2015 at 8:38 am | Comment

Photo: USFWS

You can play a key role in environmental monitoring. Our editors highlight six projects, below, to help you get to know your part of the world.

Find 1,000 more opportunities to make the world a better place through science!  See SciStarter‘s Project Finder.

Read the rest of this entry »

SMAP patches have arrived! Get one by submitting soil moisture data!

By October 16th, 2015 at 2:48 pm | Comment

SMAP patch final

If you’ve already signed up to participate in NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive research to ground-truth satellite data, great! (And thank you!) As soon as you input your data to the GLOBE site, you’ll receive an embroidered version of this patch.

Interested in joining SMAP? We are looking for teams in the following states: AK, AR, ME, NE, NV, NM, TN, UT, VT, WV

Learn more, sign up, and get trained soon!

The (Citizen) Science of Bird Branding

By September 14th, 2015 at 12:15 am | Comment

A citizen scientist at SFBBO's Coyote Creek Field Station bands a small passerine and collects data on the bird's age, sex, weight, and other characteristics. (Photo by SFBBO)

A citizen scientist at SFBBO’s Coyote Creek Field Station bands a small passerine and collects data on the bird’s age, sex, weight, and other characteristics. (Photo by SFBBO)

 

Have you ever been interested in bird banding? If so, the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO) has the citizen science program for you.

For over three decades, SFBBO’s mission has been to conserve birds and their habitats through science and outreach. One of our longest-running citizen science programs is our bird banding research at the Coyote Creek Field Station (CCFS) in Milpitas, California.

Tucked away from the Bay Area’s urban environment, the field station is situated near three riparian habitat restoration projects on Santa Clara Valley Water District land and is a favorite home and resting spot for many species of birds.

Every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday morning—year-round—citizen science volunteers in the program work with a staff biologist to capture sparrows, woodpeckers, thrushes, and other resident and migrating passerine landbirds in delicate mist nets.

They carry the birds to the field station in soft cloth bags, check the birds’ legs for silver bands, and if a bird does not have a band yet, the volunteers use specialized tools to gently fasten a tiny one to the bird’s leg. They then use scales, rulers, and other measuring and observation tools to collect and record data about the bird’s species type, age, size, and health on data sheets before setting the bird free.

Volunteers in the program go through a thorough apprenticeship training process that can take up to three years. During the first phase, volunteers patrol the mist net lanes to make sure predators like raptors or feral cats don’t get to the birds as they hang in the nets. During this phase, participants begin to develop their bird identification skills, become familiar with the tools of the trade, and get to work closely with field biologists.

During the second phase of training, volunteers learn how to deftly extract birds from the mist nets and bring them safely to the station for study. This tricky task requires the ability to make careful observations about how a bird has entered the net and what part of the bird is caught, and then undo sometimes intricate knots.

In the final phase of training, volunteers learn to use tools like specially-made pliers and viewfinder devices, as well as how to hold a bird securely in the “banders’ grip” while recording data.

Researchers are required by law to have special permits and training to handle wild birds like this, so volunteering at the Coyote Creek Field Station gives participants a unique opportunity.

In addition to the “cool factor” of getting to do avian science in the field, many volunteers also say they appreciate the opportunity to help promote bird conservation and the chance to enjoy nature with like-minded people.

“I really love volunteering at CCFS because it is like a little oasis in the city,” said Deanna de Castro, a citizen scientist with the program. “It’s also really great to be around other people who love birds and studying them as much as I do, and I feel like I learn something new every time I visit!”

Thanks to the commitment of our long-term volunteers, SFBBO has one of the longest-running data sets on birds in the region. We share our data with the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory and with students at local universities, who use it to answer questions about bird populations in our area.

To learn more about SFBBO or become a volunteer, please visit our website at www.sfbbo.org or contact outreach@sfbbo.org.

Kristin Butler is a Bay Area journalist and Outreach and Communications Director for the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.