Archive for the ‘Birds’ tag
Attention all backyard explorers and rosebush whackers: this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Your days of leading patient parents on perilous neighborhood expeditions are over. Put down that “machete.” Stop mushing the dog. Grab your merit badges. Adventure is calling!
This Friday, August 24, the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society will host their annual BioBlitz species count at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Hundreds of students and thousands of local citizens will join about 200 scientists, naturalists, and explorers from around the country to collect and analyze wildlife data, transforming the forest into a massive outdoor classroom alive with curiosity and discovery.
“I am always moved by the commitment of the National Parks Service to protecting our country’s ecological diversity and sharing it with the general public,” said Daniel Edelson, Vice President for Education at National Geographic. “The BioBlitzes are…explicit strategies for preparing young people to care for their world.”
National Geographic has been “inspiring people to care about the planet” through its magazine since 1888, but it is relatively new to the business of “preparing” them to do so. With the rapid proliferation of digital media, the society saw an opportunity to provide teachers and students with the resources to learn (curricula, films, games) and the tools to take action through a more robust educational initiative, thus engaging with their audience in ways never thought possible. Can’t make it to Colorado to catch bugs, spot birds, and count elk on Friday? You can take part in the action via their Google Hangout starting at 3 PM (EST), or even plan your own BioBlitz by following their instructions.
“It’s exciting to see that other people are embracing the concept and using the resources we developed to conduct their own biodiversity research in their own parks in their own communities,” said Sean O’Connor, a BioBlitz project manager.
This year’s BioBlitz, the sixth in a series of ten leading up to the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016, comes amidst the strain of another round of federal budget cuts and continued lack of funding for the program. As the National Park Service prepares to face the challenges ahead—political, economic, environmental, or otherwise—National Geographic aims to show its next generation of stewards why its 397 parks encompassing ver 84 million acres of land are worth preserving.
“We believe [the most important lesson] we can teach young people is how interconnected our world is,” said Edelson. “Even in our most pristine National Parks, you can’t escape the impact of human activities on the natural environment. A BioBlitz is a chance for young people to see those impacts and learn about the connections between their own actions and the health of ecosystems.”
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.
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.
How are museums getting young people involved with citizen science? Guest blogger Katie Levedahl tells the story of how her museum, the Sciencenter in Ithaca, NY, is helping kids become citizen scientists while they learn about climate change.
It is becoming more apparent that people of all ages want to learn more than just the facts about climate change—they want to know what they can DO to address this problem.
The Sciencenter in Ithaca, New York, has been working on projects that go beyond learning the facts about climate change, empowering children to use science to shape a better future. Sure, we still encourage kids to save energy by turning the lights off and riding their bikes whenever possible, but a recent collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) has allowed us to start exploring citizen science as an avenue of climate change education.
Three years ago we embarked on a project to engage middle school students in CLO’s NestWatch program, which contributes to our understanding of how climate change affects nesting birds. Studies have already shown that some bird species are nesting earlier in the year, which impacts important timing considerations such as food availability. With funding from the National Science Foundation, great support from scientists at CLO, and a group of middle school volunteers, we began using citizen science to explore the link between climate change and nesting birds.
After building and installing our nestboxes around school grounds and in our backyards, we waited for the birds to arrive. Within days, the middle school volunteers were observing and recording bird behavior, including adhering to NestWatch data collection protocols such as discretely sneaking up on the nestboxes. We recorded our observations on the NestWatch data sheet and entered them online into the growing continent-wide database. We also completed activities and research that helped us understand our own local ecosystem and its vulnerability to climate change.
In general, citizen science, or “regular, normal, average people helping with science” as our middle school participants would say, involves people of all ages learning how to collect data, make observations, and contribute to research projects. There are many citizen science projects with implications for understanding climate change — from monitoring frogs through FrogWatch to observing the timing of plant behavior with Project Budburst.
Energy is a strange thing. It floats around you, fills you up until you’re about ready to burst, and then it skips off, leaving you to keep up as best you can. Last Thursday and Friday were two full days of such energy, when 60 professionals from such exotic places as Alaska, Colombia and New Jersey got together to discuss why and how public participation in scientific research (PPSR) is necessary if we are to save the world’s biodiversity. The amazing thing about this workshop wasn’t so much that these people had a similar goal (after all, who doesn’t want to save the world?), but rather that the participants brought such a diversity of backgrounds, academic disciplines and institutions to the table.
Although the participation of citizens in scientific research goes back centuries, it is only very recently that there has been a push and pull from many different areas, leading to an amazing expansion of this kind of research and a demand for new ideas, ways to engage, and methods to understand how and why this can ultimately lead us forward in conservation. The 50+ projects that were represented during this workshop illustrated this expansion not only by what they had in common – citizen engagement, data collection, and links to better conservation management – but also by what they didn’t. While some projects, like FrogWatch USA or Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, invite participants from across the United States to collect data on a wide geographical scale, other projects such as Ndee bini’ bida’ilzaahi (Pictures of Apache Land) and the Fresno Bird Count are place-specific, uniquely adapted to the needs of their local community and natural environment. Read the rest of this entry »
As spring revs up to full gear, I enjoy taking runs around my neighborhood to enjoy the colorful bursts of flower and bits of cheerful birdsong. If you too have a soft-spot for feathered creatures, consider becoming a citizen science observer for one of these three great projects!
If you live in a city or town, the first project is for you! The Cornell Lab of Ornithology runs a year-round celebration of urban birds. Right now there’s a contest on to see who can spot the craziest nesting place for birds. The funky nests in funky places challenge asks contestants to peer into and over anything they can think of to spot a nesting spot. Any nests on top of a telephone pole nearby? What about in that old woodpile out back? A previous contestant found a nest inside an old tractor!
Sneak up to the funky nest and take a picture (without disturbing the nesting occupants!) then email your story and photo to firstname.lastname@example.org before June 1st to be considered.
For birders in the city or country, sign up with eBird, a world-wide, online bird-monitoring program gearing up to collect tons of bird-related data in 2011. Consider contributing your time (or funds) to their amazing effort to catalogue bird ranges throughout the western hemisphere (and beyond!). Over the past few years, the number of observations submitted by citizen scientists like you has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2010 alone, they report that over 1.3 million hours were spent by birders gathering data for eBird checklists!
The bands were put on by scientists to help us better understand the migration patterns and habitat of these birds to aid conservation efforts. The color of the bling tells you in what state(s) the bird has been banded.
To report a sighting, fill out this online form.
Shake off your Valentine’s Day chocolate-induced haze and break out those binoculars: The Great Backyard Bird Count 2011 takes place this Friday through next Monday, February 18 to 21.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event during which bird watchers count birds to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are located across the continent. In as little as 15 minutes a day, you can help scientists learn how climate, disease, and habitat changes are affecting bird populations. Plus, you’ll have fun checking out your backyard visitors.
Last year’s event was a huge success. Bird watchers across the continent submitted nearly 100,000 checklists, reporting more than 600 species — a new participation record. This year, we can do better!
The Great Backyard Bird Count is free, fun, and easy, and it helps the birds. In addition, yearly data collection makes the information more meaningful and allows scientists to investigate far-reaching questions. For example, the data can be used to better inform scientists about certain species that may require more research.
If Santa had time during his busy holiday schedule, there is no doubt he would join the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, an annual event that dates back to the year 1900! That’s right: a citizen science event 110 years in the making!
From December 14 to January 5 each season, volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile (24-km) diameter circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day.
Why has the Christmas Bird Count been such a huge success over the years?
First, you don’t need to be an expert to participate. Families, students, and birders at all levels are paired together with seasoned Christmas Bird Count veterans. You’ll be supplied with binoculars, bird guides and checklists — all you need to participate in a successful count.
Second, the counts take place all over the world. To get involved in a count near you, visit the Christmas Bird Count Get Involved web page.
Finally, the data collected through the Christmas Bird Count has been extremely useful to researchers, conservation biologists, and others interested in studying the long-term health and status of bird populations. In the 1980’s, for instance, data was used to document the decline of wintering populations of the American Black Duck. As a result, conservation measures were put into effect to reduce hunting pressure on this species.
Visit the Christmas Bird Count website to learn more about how you can participate in the longest-running wildlife census this holiday season.
HO HO HO!
Deep in the heart of Wisconsin is a nature lover’s dream destination – the Beaver Creek Reserve. With a citizen science center, butterfly house, nature center, observatory, field research station, summer camp, and miles of trails to explore, there’s something for everyone to get excited about. We recently spoke with Sarah Braun, Citizen Science Director at the Reserve, about this amazing facility and its helpers.
Said Braun, “The most exciting part of working at Beaver Creek Reserve is meeting and working with our diverse cadre of volunteers. Many of our volunteers are retired and held previous careers in the Marine Corps, US Postal Service, environmental consulting agencies, insurance, banking, marketing, engineering, and teaching. The volunteers have a lot to offer and I learn from them every day.”
During a typical year, approximately 200 volunteers put in about 3,000 total hours at the Citizen Science Center (in addition to the approximately 1,000 volunteers that work at BCR as a whole). Staff at the Reserve also conduct outreach programs in nearby counties. As it turns out, Citizen Science Center volunteers even show up at unexpected times to help. Braun told us about a memorable day out on the lake sampling for aquatic invertebrates. After their small hand-held dredge and the backup dredge broke, the samplers motored over to a hardware store at a nearby boat landing. As it turned out one of the workers was a Beaver Creek volunteer who proceeded, with some creativity, to get both dredges working again. As Braun cheerfully recalled, “It was an unorthodox kind of day, but it worked out great!”