Phenology: Connecting with Nature Science & Local Culture

Phenology: Citizen Scientist & Local Culture

Independent, citizen science like Nature’s Notebook is a great way to connect with nature, learn about phenology, practice gathering data, and learn the basics of experimental design while contributing to a scientific study. Another way…participate in the many phenology-based community celebrations that happen throughout the year, both locally and all across the nation!

Phenology is the study of cyclic and/or seasonal phenomena in plants and animals, especially in relation to weather and climate.  It is important in terms of processes like bird migration or flowering, and for synchronicity between species.  Relationships and interactions in nature depend greatly on timing, and this timing can be studied in order to better understand climate change.  Recording phenological events gives us an idea of how climate has changed over time – keeping track of flowering times allows us to see how they change each year, or decade, or century!

The famous writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, who is known for his nature journals, recorded the flowering times of many different plant species.  Thoreau’s observations have since been used in studies on the impact of climate change on plants in New England.

Families can help with studies of phenology in a similar way to Thoreau! The National Phenology Network has developed Nature’s Notebook, a citizen science program that aims to get people outdoors and observing nature. Nature’s Notebook has an app and a website where citizen scientists can record observations to help scientists better understand the ways in which climate change is affecting plants in New England.  The National Phenology Network needs volunteers to take part in many of the Nature’s Notebook projects, of which there are several throughout the country. Read the rest of this entry »

18 Story Books on Weather for Kids

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Reading the Wild Weather
Story Books for Kids

There’s a riotous energy this time of year: the mad leafing out of plants and trees, crazy bird song at dawn, unruly swarms of biting insects, the palpable freedom of school letting out for summer, and wild weather that can change from snow squalls to thunderstorms within hours. Those first spring storms are greeted with a mixture of excitement and nervousness in our home. Thunder and lightning, rain and wind, are full of edgy juxtapositions, scary and beautiful, exciting and terrifying, exquisite and destructive.

Nature’s power is clearly evident in weather phenomena, and often seems mysterious. But many weather events can be explained in scientific terms, and when packaged with pictures into the safe covers of a book, help kids understand the wild weather that impacts our lives.  Here’s a collection of kids’ books, mostly about riotous forms of stormy weather. I’ve included a short selection of nonfiction titles and a few picture books, starting with brand new work by award wining children’s book creator, Arthur Geisert…

Read the rest of this entry »

Volunteer as Citizen Scientists Stocking the Connecticut River Watershed with Salmon Fry

Volunteers Wanted to Help Stock Connecticut River Watershed

Volunteers from high schools, sporting clubs, civic groups, colleges, and other people with a passion for rivers, fish, or fishing are needed to assist the MassWildlife personnel in stocking over 800,000 salmon fry (juvenile fish).

Every year, the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife releases millions of fish fry into the Connecticut River watershed.  These tiny fish will live within the watershed for two years, growing and preparing for their journey to the Atlantic.  Eventually, they will make their way back to their river home, attempting to make the difficult journey upstream from the salty ocean waters to the calm, rocky riverbeds of New England’s rivers.  This journey is filled with obstacles – fish face predators and the even more worrisome obstacle presented by man-made dams, polluted urban river channels, and shallow waters created by human-related changes to the river landscape.

Beginning the week of April 8th the fry releases take place through the spring all over Western Massachusetts, and are essential to the efforts being made to restore salmon populations in the Connecticut River.  Volunteers are invited to help out the DFW at fry stocking events, lending a hand in the effort.  Participants will become useful citizen scientists, and can learn about the life cycle of a salmon in the process!  Studies of the lives of fish can also tie into studies of watersheds, a look at local biodiversity, and considerations of the interrelatedness of natural phenomena and the effect that humans have on the environment when we aren’t careful.

Citizen scientists should be prepared to climb up and down slippery river banks while wearing hip or chest waders, and should prepare to get wet or muddy!  Always bring a lunch to fill up on after hard work hiking, carrying equipment, and walking in the river.  Participants will meet at carpool sites before each release at 8am.  Carpool point varies depending on the release location, and schedules can be confirmed by calling the DFW the night before a scheduled release.  For a full schedule and more information on preparedness, visit www.mass.gov.

Helping to stock salmon fry can be an educational and powerful experience for children, and can help inspire them to care for their own environment!

[Photo credit: (ccl) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region]

Citizen Scientists Wanted to Monitor Plants as the Seasons Change

Project BudBurst
Citizen Scientist Opportunity for Families & Students

For younger children, BudBurst Buddies is a companion to Project BudBurst that encourages young learners to follow the seasons by making simple botanical observations. Check it out at www.budburstbuddies.org – (Photo credit: Dennis Ward)

Students can learn so much by following the seasonal patterns of plants found here in New England. Each plant’s cycle is different, and varies depending on factors like location and weather patterns.  Tracking a plant through its seasonal changes can help us to better understand the subtle changes that take place in our environment, and says a lot about where we live.

This spring, families can track these plant cycles by volunteering as Citizen Scientists for Project BudBurst, a national project that tracks buds, blooms, and leaves as the seasons change.  The project is used to generate useful ecological data that can be used in studies of the environment and to track annual changes of seasons and climate.  The project is open to families and educators living in any of the 50 states, and participation can be a one time project or a year-long educational expedition.

Working together to gather information to submit to Project BudBurst is a great way for youth to develop useful nature-related skills and to gain knowledge and experience in plant identification, while volunteering as citizen scientists.  Students will need to learn the anatomy of plants in order to check for specific growth patterns, and they will gain practice using field guides while working to identify the plants that they find.  They will also begin to understand the biodiversity present in the area, and will examine the relationship that changes in the sky bring to their environment.  Recording data will help with development of basic data analysis, and presenting data in a useful format is excellent practice for nonfiction writing.  Students of all ages can learn by participating in Project BudBurst, and it could be used by homeschoolers, K-12 classrooms, and higher education.

For more information on the project or to sign up to contribute, visit http://budburst.org/getstarted.php.

Federal Fish and Wildlife Services’ Junior Duck Stamp Program

Supplement Habitat Studies with the Junior Duck Stamp Program

The Junior Duck Stamp Program offers an educational arts and science curriculum which educators can use for incorporating science, art, math and technology into habitat conservation studies. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Western Massachusetts is home to a wide variety of duck species.  These beautiful birds make their homes in wetland areas, a habitat in need of conservation.  Students can learn about duck species and help to promote wetland conservation by participating in the Federal Fish and Wildlife Services’ Junior Duck Stamp Program!  This contest calls for students to create their own stamps, featuring a specific duck species portrayed in its habitat.  Students should learn about their species of choice, so as to make the best and most accurate depiction possible!  Their design should reflect the group’s goal in creating the stamp – to share the beauty and importance of the species of the duck depicted.

Students should learn to understand the relationship between the duck and its specific environment, and should understand why the duck has such specific habitat requirements.  Students can also study other stamp designs to learn what makes a good stamp!

Entries in the contest will be judged in four different age groups, and the winning entry will be made into a stamp and released in June.  The contest is an opportunity for students to learn about local biodiversity, and to work on their understanding of the interrelatedness of species and their habitat.  Students can also work on their art skills, working carefully to clearly portray their duck.  The contest deadline is March 15th. For more information visit www.fws.gov/juniorduck.

Online resources for educators:

Learn About Bats: Interactive Exhibit, Facts & Habitat

Berkshire Museum presents
Bats: Creatures of the Night
Learn the true story of the only flying mammal
from January 19 to May 12, 2013

Discover bat habitats and where the different species live around the globe at the Berkshire Museum exhibit, Bats: Creatures of the Night. Match different kinds of bats with their preferred foods. Explore life-size models of a variety of bats, from the Fisher Bat and the Honduran White Bat to the Gray-headed Flying Fox Bat. View exciting photographs of bats in action, featuring the Gambian Epauleted Fruit Bat and the Mexican Free-tailed Bat, among many others. Exhibit opens January 19th and run through March 12th, 2013.

Forget the myths and learn the truth about bats: they are gentle, beneficial animals that play an important role in our planet’s ecology. With larger-than-life models and interactive stations, visitors to Bats: Creatures of the Night at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield can experience the sensitivity of bat hearing, discover how bats find their way in the dark, and understand how mother bats locate their young. The exhibition opens January 19 and runs through March 12, 2013.

Bats use echolocation to navigate the dark, and at the Berkshire Museum, you and your family can try it out! Echolocation is just one of the many bat-related concepts highlighted in Bats: Creatures of the Night. The exhibit features a rich array of video, photography, life-like models, and interactive stations to inform museum guests about how interesting–and vital–bats are. The interactive stations sound particularly interesting, including opportunities to simulate echolocation, learn how mama bats keep tabs on their young, and trying on bat “ears.”

The exhibit runs from January 19th through May 12, 2013. The Exhibition Opening Day happens on Saturday, January 19th from 1-3pm, with a number of activities appropriate for all ages. Kids can experiment with echolocation, go on a scavenger hunt through the museum, or get crafty and make a pair of batwings. There will be an introductory slide show at 4pm, and a preview reception from 5-7pm (museum admission is free after 5pm). There is also a gallery walk about bats with an expert on February 9 at 11am. You can read more about it at: berkshiremuseum.org

BAT FACTS & BOOKS

Bats are fascinating. The largest bats have a wingspan of 6 feet and the smallest weigh as much as a dime. They can eat 2,000-6,000 mosquitoes per night and digest fruit in 20 minutes. Of the more than 1000 species of bats around the world, only three are “vampire” bats, who drink the blood of live animals. While vampire bats have sullied the reputation of this useful and gentle mammal, they are intriguing. Vampire bats have an anti-coagulant in their saliva that keeps the blood flowing as long as they are feeding, but allows the animal to heal quickly upon their departure. Vampire bats are also particularly social and have been known to bring food to elderly or sick bats. Bats play an essential role in the ecosystem, as pollinators, seed dispersers and pest managers.

Books to consider for exploring bats at home:

MAKE YOUR OWN BAT HOUSE

Want to attract bats around your home? Put up a bat house! Families can make their own bat house at an Audubon workshop to be held on Saturday April 13, 2013 at 1:30 at the Audubon Society in Lenox . The program begins with a slide show about bats in our area, as well as their natural history. While there is a registration fee, it includes the materials to construct one bat house. Be sure to bring a hammer. The workshop is suitable for children over 5, as long as they are with an adult. You can read more about it at www.massaudubon.org. – If you can’t make the workshop but still want to make a bat house with your kids, check out these DIY Bat House Kits..


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Theresa Heary-Selah — Theresa is a teacher and a freelance writer, making her home in Greenfield, MA and Wright, NY with her family.  She teaches at S.H.I.N.E. (Students at Home in New England), a social and academic support program for middle school students in the Pioneer Valley, and writes about home-schooling and technology.  Theresa’s interests include home-schooling, gardening, cooking, hiking, and dancing.

[Photo credit: Evergreen Exhibitions]

Berkshire Bioblitz Invites Families to Participate as Citizen Scientists

Berkshire Bioblitz
Burbank Park in Pittsfield
Sept 22nd & 23rd

Families are invited to be citizen scientists in the Berkshires, Sept 22nd & 23rd at the Berkshire Bioblitz! From their participation in the bioblitz, kids will learn to identify plant and animal species that they see often, and learn about the role that each species plays within the local ecosystem. Great for budding naturalists! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

When learning about biodiversity, students are often shown far away landscapes – such as jungles and deserts – as examples of places with unique sets of plants, animals, and interesting terrain.  The fields, forests, lakes, and streams of Western Massachusetts, however, are bursting with a wide variety of trees, grasses, flowers, insects, birds, fish, and mammals of all sizes!

The annual Berkshire Bioblitz, a community event centered around discovering and identifying the numerous species present locally, will take place in Pittsfield’s Burbank Park on September 22nd and 23rd.  The event includes workshops and nature walks, along with a group effort to scour the park to find and identify as many different species as possible.  At last year’s blitz, over 450 different species of lichens, fungi, mammals, mosses, plants, insects and more were found (including two species of bees never before formally identified in Massachusetts!).

Participating in the bioblitz is a way for families to engage with their surroundings as citizen scientists, and to learn to identify the many different species found locally (perhaps even in your backyard!).  There will be trained biologists and naturalists on hand at the event to help participants identify what they have found, and families can also utilize field guides to pair their findings with photos, drawings, and descriptions (great practice for kids learning to use research materials).  For more information, visit www.berkshirebioblitz.org.

5 Hikes for Families in Western MA State Forests and Parks

Take a Hike!
Explore the State Forests and Parks of Western MA

Outdoor explorations can also supplement students’ studies of local ecology – bring a field guide and learn to identify the many different trees, flowers, etc. that you discover.  (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Explore the hills of Western Massachusetts – spend an afternoon hiking at one of the many local state forests and parks!  The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) offers families an outline of hikes at numerous locations all over the Hilltowns and Berkshires, including the DAR State Forest (Goshen, MA), Western Gateway Heritage State Park (North Adams, MA), Pittsfield State Forest (Pittsfield, MA), Mohawk Trail State Forest (Charlemont, MA), and the Tolland State Forest (Otis, MA).

Their guide, Take a Hike! Explore the State Forests and Parks of Western MA,  shares information on finding and following trails, as well as length of hike, difficulty, and interesting highlights that families can see, explore, and learn about on each trail.  Hikes make a great summer adventure for families, but are also great through the fall (until it snows, then break out the snowshoes!) and in spring, as leaves begin to appear.  Explore the many different hikes suggested, and find a family favorite!

Outdoor explorations can also supplement students’ studies of local ecology – bring a field guide and learn to identify the many different trees, flowers, etc. that you discover.  To check out the hikes, download their guide,  Take a Hike! Explore the State Forests and Parks of Western MA.

RECOMMENDED GUIDES FOR BEGINNERS:

Golden Guides from St. Martin’s Press are beginner field guides that offer an introduction to different outdoor classifications that are easy to used for any family just starting their outdoor explorations together. Pick up a guide on a particular topic your kids are interested in exploring while hiking our local state forests and parks, and go on a quest together to find and identify parts of our natural habitats:

I Spy Nature Science: Citizen Scientists Wanted

SciSpy

Wildlife at the Chesterfield Gorge in Chesterfield, MA. (Photo credit: Tony(a) Lemos)

How many different types of creatures has your family seen crawling, flying, and climbing around a local park, the beach, or your own back yard lately?  Identifying critters is a fun way for kids to learn about their environment, and beginning to document them can help scientists with wildlife research initiatives!

Using SciSpy, families can capture photos of all of the birds, insects, and four-legged fuzzies found in their neighborhood and submit them for use in scientific studies!  By adding your documentations to the SciSpy database, you help to provide information on species populations, locations, and more to studies of many different types of species, environmental changes, etc.  Photos can be submitted via an account, set up using an e-mail address or Facebook account, or, alternately, a SciSpy app can be downloaded to an iPhone for quick and easy submissions.  Using the app can help families learn to identify animal species, learn about local habitats and species populations, and learn about what it means to be an environmental scientist!

Find out more at  scispy.discovery.com.

“Frogs: A Chorus of Colors” Exhibit Comes to Springfield

Frogs: A Chorus of Colors
Springfield Museums
January 21st – May 13th, 2012

Borneo Eared Frog featured in "Frogs: A Chorus of Colors." (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The Springfield Museums will be hosting the exhibit, “Frogs: A Chorus of Colors,” January 21st through May 13th, 2012.  This is a new exhibit of live frogs that teaches visitors about the many different types of frogs found around the world and the habitats in which they can be found.  The exhibit holds fifteen different habitats filled with plants, waterfalls, rocks, ledges, etc., each of which is filled with frogs and toads.  Museum visitors can learn to identify frogs by reading about specimens, watching videos of frogs, and listening to recordings of frog calls.  Kids can even learn why each frog looks the way that it does by comparing the frog’s size and coloring to the habitat in which it can be found.

Opening Day: Saturday, January 21st from 10am-5pm. The exhibit’s opening day features exciting events including live animal demonstrations from 11am-12:45pm and a puppet performance of “The Frog Prince” at 1pm.

A visit to the new exhibit is a great opportunity to learn about amphibians that live outside of your backyard!  To learn more, call the Springfield Museums at 800-625-7738 or visit www.springfieldmuseums.org.

To find out more about this exhibit, read our review from the summer of 2009 when it came to the Berkshire Museum: Frogs Educate and Fascinate Museum Goers in Pittsfield, MA.

Western MA Bird Club Turns 100!

The Allen Bird Club of Springfield – 100 Years Young
By Hilltown Families Guest Writer, George C. Kingston

100 years ago, two women, Grace Johnson and Fannie Stebbins, brought together a group of bird enthusiast and formed what is now known as the Allen Bird Club.-These two photos show the evolution of the Allen Bird Club over the past decade, from outings in formal attire with simple binoculars in 1912, to modern day bird trips with high tech gear and high power lenses. (Courtesy photos)

On the afternoon of Monday, January 8, 1912, Mrs. Grace Johnson, the director of the Springfield Museum of Natural History and Miss Fannie Stebbins, the supervisor of natural science for the Springfield School Department, assembled a group of amateur bird watchers and organized the Springfield Bird Club. The purpose of the club was “to attract, conserve and study birds.” A century later, the Allen Bird Club, as it soon came to be known, is still carrying out this original purpose.

The club was named for Dr. Joel A. Allen, a Springfield native who became a Harvard professor and curator of birds at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In the early days of the club, men and women boarded streetcars to go birding in  suits and ties and long skirts. Today, the attire is less formal and more practical, and the usual mode of transportation is the car, but the comradeship and willingness to help and encourage beginners is the same as always.

COUNTING & KEEPING RECORDS

Originally formed to bring together people who had been independently keeping records of the comings and goings of birds, the club now has 100 years of these records, including 57 consecutive Christmas Bird Counts. The records reveal changes in both the bird populations and their habitats. Birds which are common today, such as the cardinal, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, and red-bellied woodpecker were rare visitors in the early twentieth century, while birds that were common then, such as the evening grosbeak and the purple martin are now rare. Good birding places, such as Sixteen Acres in Springfield are now fully developed into housing, but the Quabbin Reservoir has created a huge wildlife sanctuary in the middle of the state.

FANNIE STEBBINS WILDLIFE REFUGE

Perhaps the largest undertaking by the Allen Bird Club was the establishment of the Fannie Stebbins Wildlife Refuge in Longmeadow, MA. In 1951, the club selected 175 acres in Longmeadow along the Connecticut River in the area known as “the flats” and voted to name the sanctuary after one of its founders, Fannie Adele Stebbins, who had died in 1949. The refuge is an area of swamps and forests along the Connecticut River that contains important breeding habitat for many different birds including wood ducks and bald eagles. Today, the Sanctuary, at the corner of Bark Haul and Pondside Roads in Longmeadow, contains many more acres and is one of the last remaining floodplain forests along the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. It has been designated a National Natural Landmark and an Important Bird Area.

RICE NATURE PRESERVE

The club continues to work to preserve land for birds and other wildlife. In mid-2000’s the club received a substantial bequest from the estate of charter member Rachel Phelps. It donated a portion of that gift to the Town of Wilbraham to acquire land from the Rice Farm to help establish the Rice Nature Preserve on Wilbraham Mountain and another portion to Southwick to help it acquire and preserve land along the Connecticut border.

MEMBERSHIP & FIELD TRIPS

Believing that in order to conserve birds and their habitat, it is necessary to make the public aware of them, so the Allen Bird Club has always run both public meetings featuring distinguished and entertaining speakers and field trips on which birds can be appreciated in the wild. Today the club has 237 members and holds more than eighty field trips a year. More information can be found at the club’s website, www.massbird.org/allen. – The members of the Allen Bird club invite you to join them for its next hundred years!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
George Kingston has been a member of the Allen Bird Club for over 30 years, is a past president of the club, and serves on its executive committee. He is a retired engineer and is currently chair of the East Longmeadow Conservation Commission as well as a member of that town’s planning board and community preservation committee and a Master Gardener. He has birded on all 7 continents.

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