Archive for the ‘Nature & Outdoors’ Category
The Carolina Wren nest in David Gessner’s writing shack. Read about how they left the nest in his blog.
When, this spring, writer David Gessner found that a nest of Carolina Wrens had taken up residence in the backyard shack where he writes about all things nature, he started posting status updates about the birds on Facebook and describing their progress on his blog. When did the eggs hatch? What do the chicks look like? There are so many questions to be answered.
I asked him if, in addition to being an on-the-ground bird reporter, he was also citizen scientist. He could contribute his observations of the nest to NestWatch, I suggested, a project that gets people all over the country to spy on the nesting birds in their backyards and report their observations. One person’s wren stories are another person’s wren data. It’s a different lens on nature. And many citizen science projects are relying on the observations of individuals to help us understand the seasonal timing of birds, plants, insects, and other creatures.
Gessner’s response was that he was more of a citizen amateur naturalist than a citizen scientist. Perhaps this was self-deprecation. Perhaps it was a way of telling me that he has quite enough on his plate. But it also made me wonder how people think about nature and how they think about science – how they envision a naturalist and how they envision a scientist.
Imagine someone who is exploring nature. Are they wearing a backpack and hiking boots? Are they roaming the great outdoors? Now imagine someone exploring science. Are they wearing a lab coat and glasses? Are they in a chemistry lab or a room full of computers? Have they been indoors so long that their eyes squint at the light of day? These are stereotypes. Sometimes they fit. Often they don’t.
Fall Birds Series, Flying Birds, by Warner Varno
Yet scientists look at nature. Nature and science are one and the same for scientists who study natural things like the atmosphere, ocean, geology, and living things. The journal Nature is about the science, for example. At NCAR, scientists make models of the planet – simulations of nature on supercomputers that help us understand how nature works. These simulations help us better understand how it might be affected by changes in climate, drought, or other events. Using the model they create to simulate nature, we can answer questions about the planet that begin “What would happen if…” That’s one way of looking at nature.
Artists have other ways of looking at nature. From realistic scientific illustrations to abstract sculptures, nature is a theme of art from all times periods and cultures. Warner Varno, an artist friend of mine, is organizing an exhibit of bird paintings this spring in Denver. I told Warner that I would bring binoculars and my Audubon field guide to the opening so that I could be a birdwatcher in the art gallery, playing the role of scientist and/or naturalist in the realm of art. I was joking, of course, but I do wonder if anyone in an art gallery filled with birds will be seeing science within the art.
So let’s review:
- David is blogging about spring birds,
- NestWatch is studying the science of spring birds,
- Warner is exhibiting art about spring birds,
- And I am planning to birdwatch in an art gallery.
We are all exploring nature, just in different ways.
Japan Birds, Sentinel, by Warner Varno
Warner liked the idea of binoculars. They allow people to see things differently. And it seems that we always look at nature through different lenses, making the study of nature intrinsically interdisciplinary. Uniting how nature is involved with science, art, storytelling and other ways of seeing brings in more perspectives and engages more people.
At Spark: UCAR Science Education we are working with EcoArts Connections to bring art together with weather and climate science. Stay tuned for interesting new Spark projects in the coming year that connect science and art and nature. Until then, enjoy the spring birds and take a look at nature through a lens that is not your usual.
This post was origionally published on the SparkBlog by Lisa Gardiner.
The first blog post in our new series titled “Citizen Science Test Drive,” (where we present first-person reviews of citizen science apps, tools and platforms) featured reviews of three nature apps by SciStarter contributor Lisa Gardner. Today, we bring you Kate Atkins, a regular SciStarter contributor and avid birder. Here, Kate shares her list of personal, favorite apps for birding. If you would like to contribute to this series and share your experiences with our community, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best citizen science apps for birding used to be iOS-only. I’ve known many an Android birder to switch to iPhone or buy an iPod Touch because the apps on that side of the divide were so darn good. But with Android smartphones now commanding more than half of the market, the gap is starting to close. Here’s the best of both worlds.
BirdsEye is precisely a bird-finding app, based on the citizen-driven eBird database. Want to see a specific bird? BirdsEye will show you the most recent, closest sighting and give you directions. Want to see what birds have been observed at a specific hotspot over the last 30 days? What rare or notable birds have been seen near you recently? Done and done.
While helping people find and view birds, this app also teaches newer birders which birds can be found where and when. Yes, this one is still iOS only, but an Android version is likely to materialize soon.
The Audubon Birds app recently added bird-finding functionality via eBird to their existing field guide app. Study birds at home, on the subway, or in the park, then go find and observe birds in the real world with a little help from your friends at Cornell and Audubon.
A good birder keeps field notes. A citizen scientist shares the data. Cornell’s eBird is the key crowd-sourced database, so the ability to either directly submit to eBird or to export lists in eBird format is a must-have feature for any logging app.
If you are not familiar with the project and wish to report your bird sightings using one of these apps, I strongly urge you to first create an eBird account and use it in a browser before taking the plunge with mobile data-logging.
Very simply, this app records and uploads sightings to eBird, from your fingers straight to Ithaca. I’d like to see it more deeply connected to my eBird account, but for base functionality and total simplicity, BirdLog is indispensable.
A nice option if you want the bells and whistles BirdLog lacks. This app is pre-loaded with US, Mexico and UK bird lists. Add your locations via GPS, and list for them again and again. Exports to both eBird and Google Map formats so you can easily share your adventures.
The developers have carefully crafted interactions for use in the field. Big day and group count usage is well thought-out, and as your list archive grows, the more fun it will be to study your own patterns. This app makes a compelling case to trade in your notebook for your phone.
Study & Skill-building
Before, during, and after birding, reference materials and study guides are key elements to the birding life. Most marquis field guides have wonderful app versions with extra illustrations, photos, audio files and links to web resources.
Each is a little different, so it’s worth some thought before purchasing one over another. I’m partial to the Sibley guide for its illustrations, audio files, and side-by-side bird comparison, but beginners may prefer iBird for its guided search.
- The Sibley Guide to the Birds of North America
- iBird Explorer
- Peterson Birds of North America
- National Geographic’s Handheld Birds
Birding by ear
- Nemesis Code’s Bird Codes and Band Codes apps. If you want to be a real ace in the field, these apps will teach you the 4-letter banding codes for birds. Learning these will cut your data entry time, and help you interpret bands if you see them on birds in the wild.
I use some non-birding specific apps to enhance my days in the field. If you’re as phone-fiddly as I am, and like tramping around outside, find out what my home screens hold at Birding Philly.
Spring is in the air, and birds are finally on the move. A recent push of southerly winds through the middle of the United States have put early migrants – particularly geese and swans – on the fast track to their breeding grounds up north.
This weather pattern is set to continue through this week, so keep an eye out for special species, particularly the Trumpeter Swan. This beautiful species was once on the brink of extinction, but with the help of folks like the Trumpeter Swan Society, it is recovering and expanding its territory. Key to the continued success of the species is an accurate picture of where it winters, migrates, and breeds. The Trumpeter Swan Society tracks reports of the birds in eBird, but also accepts email reports.
A few sightings have popped up in Pennsylvania this month, which is pretty special, so get out there and get looking. If you have a pond, reservoir or lake nearby, grab your binoculars – and don’t forget to eBird what you see.
On the morning of Friday, February 17, I will wake up before work, pour myself a cup of coffee, and stare out my window for 15 minutes. As long as I submit my observations to the Great Backyard Bird Count, my 15 minutes of zone-out time before I jump in the shower will qualify as productive science.
The Great Backyard Bird Count runs from Friday the 17th through Monday the 20th, and it’s as easy as using a few pajama moments to participate.
Wherever you are, simply stop in your tracks and take a look around for birds. You can in your backyard, outside of the your local cafe, at the playground, or around your driveway — anywhere! Anyone can participate, and the coolest part is that even a report of a single robin matters more than usual, because people across the world will be observing and reporting all at once. In 2011 alone, this huge concerted effort yielded 1,044,346 robins alone!
The data are collected by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada, and are used to gauge how birds have fared over the winter. With the help of citizen scientists everywhere, researchers get a widespread snapshot of bird abundance and distribution right before migration heats up.
From searching for invertebrates to measuring wind speed, everyone can gain new knowledge and skills and play their part in protecting the natural environment. This is the philosophy of Open Air Laboratories (OPAL), a project based in England that encourages the public to explore their surroundings, record their findings, and submit their results to the OPAL national database making their contribution available to scientists and others involved in environmental science and policy.
OPAL has created six surveys that the public can use to collect data and all are important areas of research:
Each one of these surveys has been designed so that anyone can use them – no specialist knowledge is needed to take part and equipment is either provided or is easy to make or find. The instructions are simple to follow and each survey contains a ‘workbook’ for recording results. Once people have completed their survey, they upload their results onto the OPAL website or send them by post.
Help keep an eye on the health and abundance of wild turkeys prior to breeding by observing and counting young turkeys in New York state. Or, join biologists in New Hampshire studying the impact of winter on New Hampshire turkeys by reporting any sightings of female turkeys and their young.
In states west of the Appalachian mountains, help researchers take the census of winter Monarch butterflies several mornings during Thanksgiving season. Or, spend one hour on Thanksgiving Day, monitoring winter bird populations within a 15-foot diameter in a location of your choosing.
Happy Thanksgiving from the SciStarter team!
Plants have a lot going on as autumn temperatures cool. Some leaves turn bright yellow or red and fall from trees. Fruits grow large and ripe. Grasses become brittle and brown. Some flowers, like California poppies, bloom in the autumn too.
Project BudBurst is looking for volunteers to take note of what plants are doing as the seasons change. During the “Fall into Phenology” event volunteers around the country will be heading outside between September 17 and 26 to collect data about how plants respond to changes in their environment.
Phenology is the science that examines life cycles of plants and animals and how they are affected by seasons and climate.
A timed event like Fall into Phenology can create a snapshot of seasonal change across the country. The more people who take part, the better the picture and the more useful the data is to science. Check the Project BudBurst website to for a map of observations across the country and see how the picture is developing during the event.
- Download the Single Report form.
- Observe a plant September 17 – 26.
- Report your data online
The Project BudBurst scientists are also interested in knowing how plants respond to changes in their environment all year long. They invite volunteers to keep watching their plants all year too, so check the website if you’d like to become a long term plant monitor.
On September 18, 2011, people around the world will be taking a closer look at their local waterways during World Water Monitoring Day. Join in the project and help figure out whether the freshwater near you is clean.
Clean freshwater is an important resource for people. It keeps ecosystems healthy too. The water flowing through a small stream leads into larger rivers and lakes. All that water flows downhill together. It’s all connected in a watershed. Understanding the health of our watersheds is critical to understanding whether people, animals, and plants are getting the clean water they need. Volunteers with the World Water Monitoring Day seek to make measurements of freshwater to identify the health of the world’s watersheds.
Using a test kit, volunteers figure out what’s in their water. They measure the temperature, acidity (pH), clarity (turbidity), and dissolved oxygen (DO) of water and then report the findings online. The test kit costs $13 plus shipping, or you can use your own water monitoring equipment if you’d like. There are kits available at no charge for participants from low and middle-income countries thanks to support of sponsors. Test kit instructions are available in 17 languages.
As summer comes to a close, a young person’s fancy may turn to fretting at the thought of being cooped up in a classroom. But for fans of science and nature—and by that we mean kids who like to watch clouds, hunt mushrooms, prowl around graveyards, and check out what gets squashed on the side of the road—fall need not signal the end of fun.
To keep young minds entertained as well as enlightened, we recommend the following 10 back-to-school projects for student citizen scientists. Teachers and parents, please note: Many of these programs provide materials around which you can build lessons. And there are lots more where these came from. Visit our Project Finder for a full list of citizen science projects for primary and secondary school students.
World Water Monitoring Day: World Water Monitoring Day is an international program that encourages citizen volunteers to monitor their local water bodies. An easy-to-use test kit enables everyone from children to adults to sample local water bodies for basic water quality parameters: temperature, acidity (pH), clarity (turbidity), and dissolved oxygen. Though World Water Monitoring Day is officially celebrated on September 18, the monitoring window is extended to cover the period from March 22 (World Water Day) until December 31. Check out what one of our members said about the project.
School of Ants: Join North Carolina State University researchers in a citizen-scientist driven study of the ants that live in urban areas, particularly around homes and schools. Collection kits are available to anyone interested in participating. Teachers, students, parents, kids, junior-scientists, senior citizens and enthusiasts of all stripes are involved in collecting ants in schoolyards and backyards using a standardized protocol so that project coordinators can make detailed maps of the wildlife that lives just outside their doorsteps.
The Albedo Project: Wherever you are – anywhere in the world – on September 23th, contribute to science by taking a photo of a blank white piece of paper, outside in the sun, between 4:00 and 7:00 pm local time. Your photo will used to to help students measure how much of the sun’s energy is reflected back from the Earth — our planet’s “albedo.” It’s one way scientists can monitor how much energy – and heat – is being absorbed by our planet.
Students’ Cloud Observations On-Line (S’COOL): Report your observations of clouds—their shapes, height, coverage, and related conditions—so that NASA scientists can compare them with data from weather satellites passing over your area. Tutorials and observing guides are available for students. For teachers, the program provides lesson plans, charts, and advice on related educational standards.
Physics Songs: Physics Songs aims to be the world’s premier website devoted to collecting and organizing all songs about physics. It is managed by Walter F. Smith, Professor of Physics at Haverford College. Songs about physics can help students to remember critical concepts and formulas, but perhaps more importantly they communicate the lesson that physics can be fun.
Sara Fitzsimmons is the Regional Science Coordinator at The American Chestnut Foundation
The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to restoring the American chestnut (Castanea dentate) to its original range. Once estimated to be 25% of the Appalachian forests, the species was all but eliminated from the landscape by an imported fungal disease caused by Cryphonectria parasitica, the chestnut blight fungus.
Since 1983, TACF has been working with volunteers and citizen scientists to breed disease-resistant trees and return them to the landscape. The program involves a minimum of six breeding generations, each of which requires labor-intensive controlled pollination to make the seed, and about 5-10 years to grow the trees and properly select them. To work through the entire breeding pipeline, then, takes a large amount of resources, and about 35 – 60 years!
A program such as this would not be possible without the many hands, minds, and legs of citizen scientists. TACF volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds – from salesmen to engineers, farmers to doctors and teachers – all of whom can bring a unique perspective to the program and enhance TACF’s work in a multitude of ways.
Over the past 25+ years, 1000s of volunteers have bred various generations of trees and grown tens of thousands of trees on their land. While breeding is the backbone of TACFs work, and there is continued need for more growers, citizen scientists have not only participated in, but also initiated, some unique programs.