Citizen Scientists in Action in the Hilltowns

Hilltown Families Participates in Smithsonian’s Neighborhood Nestwatch Citizen Scientists Program

Cick to hear their song.

Red-eyed Vireo’s were caught in our mist nests on Sunday morning in West Chesterfield, MA. (Photo credit: Sara Berk)

Every Autumn since 2010, Hilltown Families has participated in a yearly Citizen Scientist project with Biocitizen where families come together to conduct a Rapid Biotic Assessment of the Westfield River. This collection of data involves capturing and cataloging the bugs—benthic invertebrates —that live on the riverbed.  Certain bugs like stonefly-nymphs need lots of oxygen to survive, and when you find a bunch of them, it’s a sign that the river water is fresh and clean and that aquatic habitat is unimpaired.  If you find less, the data collected over a period of years will tell a different story.  In the end, contributions by citizen scientists help scientists in the collection of important data and in the preservation of our local watershed.

New this summer, Hilltown Families committed to another yearly Citizen Scientist project, Smithsonian’s Neighborhood Nestwatch.  Recently expanding from the Washington, D.C. area to the Pioneer Valley, participating youth and families learn about bird populations while helping scientists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center answer critical questions regarding the survival of backyard bird populations.

Early this past Sunday morning, Sara Berk from Neighborhood Nestwatch, a recent graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, joined us near the banks of the Westfield River in West Chesterfield to erect three mist nests to catch and record eight Nestwatch focal species.  Out of the eight Nestwatch focal species we were able to catch and band three different species, including a female Song Sparrow, a juvenile Carolina Chickadee and a beautiful (albeit, angry) male Northern Cardinal:

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[Photo credits: Sienna Wildfield]

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Neighborhood Nestwatch Citizen Scientist Opportunity for Families in the Pioneer Valley

Citizen Scientists Wanted to Monitor Backyard Birds:
Neighborhood Nestwatch Citizen Scientist Opportunity for Families in the Pioneer Valley

Ever wonder if the robins nesting in your backyard are the same birds that nested there last year? If they were color banded then you would know. Amazingly, many birds nest in the same place year after year. By joining the Smithsonian’s Neighborhood Nestwatch Citizen Science project, you can help scientists answer important questions about the birds in your own backyard.

The Smithsonian Institution partnered with the US Forest Service in 2012 to expand their Washington DC based Neighborhood Nestwatch project to the Springfield, MA area.

Susannah Lerman from the Dept. of Environmental Conservation at UMass writes, “We are recruiting participants for the 2013 season. Participation includes a mentored experience in which scientists visit your backyard once every summer to band birds and help you find nests. We will teach you how to keep track of “your” banded birds, collect nesting data and monitor year-to-year survival for scientific study.

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10 Featured Citizen Scientist Projects for Families

Citizen Scientists are Studying All Over the World

From ladybugs to sunflowers to birds to babies… there are a number of ways average families can participate as citizen scientists and time of year!

You’ve got to love technology! Never before in the history of time have people from all over the world been so easily able to learn about and participate in true science.

Citizen Scientist projects are research based investigations that involve regular people in actual research experiments. By engaging the general public, professional scientists are able to amass a huge amount of data. The observers and data collectors get to learn more about the scientific process and whatever the scientists are studying.

Often in this column I focus on events that are coming up in Western MA; however, the thought of having a list with all of my favorite citizen science projects in one place proved irresistible.

So, here is a sample list of family friendly, year round, citizen science projects that involve the natural world, and sound intriguing:

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The Ripple: The Magic of Spring Peepers. The Science of Vernal Pools

How do spring peepers know when to start singing?

Vernal pools contain creatures (amphibians and bugs) that can only breed where there are no hungry fish. Citizen scientists are needed to find and report vernal pools in the Hilltowns. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

How do spring peepers know when to start singing?

They don’t have weather reports, or the ability to see the buds forming on trees, the snow melting, or teens walking around in shorts and T’s when it’s 40 degrees and climbing.

Certainly, there are scientific reasons that explain how peepers know when to announce the return of the sun and the warmth; but there’s a simpler reason that is worth considering and appreciating. The peepers feel the right moment to sing.

Peepers are a special family of frogs, and frogs have a unique physiology—a evapotranspirative skin that makes them especially sensitive to the slightest changes in temperature, humidity, chemistry and other things we don’t have words for including that feeling that we also get when spring arrives. There is, for example, a new kind of sunlight that appears out of the grey, slush and slog of the late winter months that Emily Dickinson noticed, and maybe you and the peepers notice too.

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Citizen Scientists Wanted for Swarmageddon as Magicicada Emerge from the Warming Earth

After 17 Years, Cicadas Scheduled to Emerge from the Earth Along the Eastern Seaboard. Will They Be Emerging Here in Western MA?

This year, for the first time since 1996, a Magicicada brood will emerge from the ground all across the eastern United States.  This special species – unlike other cicadas – emerges every 17 years with the entire species growing and developing at the same time,  creating synchronized cycles of growth, reproduction, and death.  These insects go through a complicated and specialized series of stages of development as a group, taking 13-17 years to grow into adult cicadas and emerge from the ground.  They will lay eggs for the next generation simultaneously, continuing their synchronized cycle of regeneration.

Much like frogs and salamanders, the cicadas will emerge from the ground only when the temperature is right!  Magicicadas require a soil temperature of 64 degrees Fahrenheit, extending as deep as eight full inches into the ground – meaning that cicadas will show themselves much earlier further south, while southern New England soil continues to warm up.  Families can track and predict the burst of bugs by monitoring the temperature of the soil in their backyard – while western Massachusetts isn’t expected to have a huge number of cicadas (check out the web site: Massachusetts Cicadas), their existence is quite likely given that Connecticut and the Hudson River Valley in New York are both home to Magicidadas.

In order to predict the bugs’ appearance in your yard, track the soil temperature using a basic thermometer, which can be purchased online or at a gardening specialty store.  Families can also build their own cicada detectors, which will not only measure soil temperature, but will track the creatures’ movement!  Families with older students can learn valuable STEM skills by building a detector, and can use the data that they collect to contribute to cicada tracking and research.  RadioLab, an online resource for STEM-related projects and information, offers instructions for building and operating your own cicada detector, and also has information about submitting collected data.  Follow the instructions to become amateur entomology researchers, and help contribute to the recording of an unusual scientific phenomenon!

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.

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Mass Audubon Winter Bird Count

Focus on Feeders
Mass Audubon Winter Bird Count
February 2nd & 3rd, 2013

People can help their feathered friends in the coldest season by joining Mass Audubon’s annual Focus on Feeders winter bird count on the weekend of February 2-3. The volunteer survey invites participants to list individual bird species and the greatest number of each seen at one time at their feeders and in their yards during that Saturday and Sunday.   Anyone can participate—including families, first timers, and veteran bird enthusiasts. Participants will be able to learn and share information about the birds that visit their yards and feeders in winter. They will also be contributing knowledge to more than 40 years of winter bird feeder sighting information.

Does your family enjoy watching birds at your feeder during the winter?  Backyard feeders provide a consistent, easily accessible source of food for a wide variety of bird species during the winter, and feeder-watching is a great way for families to learn about the many different species who live in their neighborhood.

This weekend, Mass Audubon is offering a chance for families to put feeder-watching to good use!  Focus on Feeders – the great winter bird count – will take place on Saturday, February 2nd and Sunday, February 3rd, and is an annual event held to collect data on bird species and populations.  All that families need to do to participate is to keep a list of the types of birds seen at the feeder during the weekend, as well as the number of each type of bird seen at a time.  Then, families can submit their data for use in an actual scientific study by either entering it in online or completing a form and mailing it.  The data collected will be used to assess bird populations and habits across the state – information that can be analyzed in order to understand the effects of changes in climate and landscape.

In order to identify birds, families will need to use a good field guide.  Using a field guide to identify species allows kids to develop and practice reference skills while discovering bird characteristics of different species needed to properly identify them.  Learning about the species living in their backyard will help students nurture a sense of place while drawing closer to the natural world around them!

Deadline for submissions is Thursday, February 28, 2013.  More information at www.massaudubon.org/focus.

[Photo credit: (ccl) senoracak]

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Annual Christmas Bird Count

Christmas Bird Count: An Annual Citizen Scientist
24 Hour Hunt for Bird Species

This beautiful Cedar Waxwing is a year-round resident and a commonly seen during the Christmas Bird Count. (Photo credit: Leslie Reed-Evans)

Leslie Reed-Evans writes:

Imagine standing at the edge of a frosty field on a chill December morning.  Out of the corner of your eye you see an electric flash of blue- a male Eastern Bluebird flying to a wild rose bush to munch on its fruit1 – This is a scene played out all over New England, and indeed the country, as bird enthusiasts get out to find, identify and count as many individual birds and species as possible as members of the annual Christmas Bird Count.

According to the National Audubon, prior to the turn of the century people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt.” They would choose sides and go afield with their guns; whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won. Conservation was in its beginning stages around the turn of the 20th century, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, an early officer in the then budding Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition -a “Christmas Bird Census”-that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt them. One hundred and thirteen years later, hundreds of citizen scientists head for the woodlands, fields, ponds and rivers to compete with fellow participants and find the most number of birds, building on the tradition started so long ago.  Everyone is looking for the most exciting and unusual species, but every bird sighted is a special one.

Counts may take place anytime between December 14 and January 5, and each count area is a circle extending from a center point with a 15-mile diameter, taking in as many habitats as possible.  The count period is 24 hours.  The north Berkshire count averages  between 45 and 55 species, depending on the weather of the day, and the weather leading up to the count day.  This year there have been many reports of winter finches, such as Pine Grosbeaks and crossbills, which in some years come from the north when cones or other food is in short supply.

Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.  Everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for love of birds and the excitement of friendly competition — and with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference for science and bird conservation.

If you are interested in finding a Christmas Bird Count to take part in, visit birds.audubon.org (or contact the organizers below).

You will be participating in a tradition that you just might adopt as your own!

Western MA Area Christmas Bird Count Dates & Organizers:

  • Springfield Area Christmas Count: Saturday, December 15th, 2012. Contact: George Kingston. 413-525-6742. gcking@yahoo.com
  • North Berkshire Christmas Bird Count: Saturday, December 15th, 2012. Contact: Leslie Reed-Evans. 413-458-5150. lre@wrlf.org.
  • Central Berkshire Christmas Bird Count: Saturday, December 15th, 2012. Contact: Tom Collins. tcbirder@nycap.rr.com.
  • Westfield Area Christmas Count: Saturday, December 22nd, 2012. Contact: Seth Kellogg. 413-569-3335. skhawk@comcast.net.
  • South Berkshire Christmas Bird Count: Tuesday, January 1st, 2013. Contact: Rene Laubach. rlaubach@massaudubon.org.

The Ripple: Families Work as Citizen Scientists for the Westfield River

Families Learn about the Relationship Between
Benthic Invertebrates and River Ecology
with Hilltown Families & Biocitizen

Halloween’s upon us and the leaves are almost down—and for river lovers that means it’s time to do Rapid Biotic Assessments (RBA), which involves capturing and cataloging the bugs—benthic invertebrates —that live on the riverbed. Certain bugs like stonefly-nymphs need lots of oxygen to survive, and when you find a bunch of them, it’s a sign that the river water is fresh and clean and that aquatic habitat is unimpaired. Given that in the last two years we’ve endured the yin and yang of weather extremes—hurricane last year, drought this year—we’ve been especially concerned that our river bugs are reeling from the stress.

A few days ago, on a lucky afternoon when the clouds parted and the sun warmed our shoulders, Hilltown Families conducted its yearly RBA in West Chesterfield. We forged into the bracing current of the East Branch of the Westfield River and at 3 sites where the water churned white we reached down into the numbing cold and scrubbed bugs off rocks and the riverbed; dislodged, they floated into our EPA approved net. On shore, we emptied the nets into basins and “oohed” and “ahhed” at the first signs of buggy abundance. I could see after our 1st sampling that the river was healthy; the drought had not decimated the bugs.

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How to Plan a Bioblitz

Organize a Bioblitz in Your Community!

For Western MA teachers, educators, and parents who are interested in learning more about using the outdoors as a living classroom, check out the Berkshire Museums Living Landscapes curriculum. Living Landscapes focuses on natural science but also includes connections to math, language arts, and visual arts, and is a terrific local resource.

Are your kids curious about all of the many different plants and animals that they find while exploring outside?  Have you ever been curious about the amount of biodiversity in your community?  Would your students benefit from a hands-on species identification project?  Do a bioblitz!

A bioblitz is a community event designed to quickly compile information on biodiversity in a relatively small area.  Community members of all ages participate in the events alongside trained naturalists and scientists to find and identify as many species of plants and animals as possible in, generally, a period of 24 hours.  A shorter bioblitz (one the length of a school day or even just an afternoon) can be organized, though – if a smaller area of land is explored, a classroom of students or even just a few families together can work their way through the identification process.

Resources for blitz-planning are available on the National Geographic website – the organization has provided everything from instructions for early planning to a suggested materials list!  A bioblitz can offer students a unique hands-on learning experience that will make them more aware of the amount of biodiversity in their neighborhood and will teach them to identify new species. Communities will benefit from the events as well – neighbors can gain a greater awareness of what’s in their backyards, and perhaps even become better connected to the natural world that surrounds them!

[Photo credit: (ccl) Katja Schulz]

Citizen Scientists Track Owls in Massachusetts

Tracking Owls in Massachusetts
Families Can Help Mass Audubon

Great Horned OwlThere are eleven different species of owls found in Massachusetts, and chances are good that there are a few in your neighborhood.  Families can become owl spotters and useful citizen scientists by taking part in Mass Audubon’s efforts in tracking owl populations – there are lots of ways to participate, and any and all information collected in useful!

There are a variety of different owl-themed family programs offered by Mass Audubon, including moonlit trail explorations to search for birds, hands-on learning activities at sanctuary visitor centers, and owl-themed presentations for older students and adults.  After brushing up on owl-knowledge, families can venture out into their backyards or nearby woodland areas (parks, nature sanctuaries, etc.) to search for signs of owls – and maybe even a real-life owl itself!

Findings can be reported on Mass Audubon’s online Owl Reporter form, used to collect all sorts of information on owl sightings, including location, species of owl (or general characteristics of the bird), etc.  There are even instructions for constructing bird houses on the organization’s website – owl-loving families can build them to encourage owls to move into their neighborhood. ()  Taking part in the project is a great way to supplement studies of New England wildlife biology and can help kids develop confidence in animal identification and outdoor skills.  For more information, visit www.massaudubon.org/owls.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Eric Kilby]

Berkshire Bioblitz Invites Families to Participate as Citizen Scientists

Berkshire Bioblitz
Burbank Park in Pittsfield
Sept 22-23, 2012

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.

Citizen Scientist Wanted: Cloud Watch for NASA

Cloud Rover Observers Wanted
As Citizen Scientists

Tracking clouds is an excellent way for kids to learn about meteorology!  Watch the skies from home and anywhere else you adventure, and compare changes in conditions based on your location!  (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

What shapes do you see in the clouds?  There may be rabbits, eggs, vines, airplanes, and shoes… and no matter what you see in the sky, NASA wants to hear about it!  The organization’s S’COOL program uses data provided by Citizen Scientists, as well as official weather reports, to track cloud cover across the country.

By collecting data on the type of clouds, the height they are at, the thickness of the cover, and related weather conditions, NASA is able to work to create a more comprehensive understanding of the earth as a system.

Scientists use submitted data to track patterns in weather and atmospheric conditions, which then contributes to their understanding of the atmosphere as a whole.

Kids can contribute their observations on the project’s website,  scool.larc.nasa.gov/rover.html. Participants, called Rover Observers, can set up a schedule of times to submit comments or send information periodically as it is gathered – students can use the site as a tool to help them track weather patterns in their community over a long period of time, or just spend a few days monitoring clouds and share what they noticed.

Before heading out, show your kids/students this video from NASA to learn how clouds are formed.  In this video, watch an experiment to make a cloud using liquid nitrogen, and find out how scientists classify clouds according to their altitude and how clouds reflect and absorb light, giving them different colors:

 

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.

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Franklin County BioBlitz

Families as Citizen Scientists this Saturday
BioBlitz at Northfield Town Forest

Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust is joining with the Town of Northfield to host a BioBlitz on Saturday, June 9th, at the Northfield Town Forest. Volunteers are invited to come down and join the BioBlitz—an event in which people gather to survey a property and compile an extensive list of species, both plants and animals, present in the area.

Help to identify plant and animal species and to provide a foundation for future stewardship at the Northfield Town Forest.  The Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust and the town of Northfield are hosting a BioBlitz on this Saturday, June 9th at the forest.  A BioBlitz is an event where community members volunteer  as citizen scientists (alongside experts in wildlife biology, forestry, etc.) to survey an area and compile an extensive list of the plant and animal species present there. Not new to Western MA, Berkshire County and Hampden County have played host to a BioBlitz in year’s past, and now Franklin County will have one happening in Northfield.

Northfield’s BioBlitz will feature two “shifts,” one during the morning and one in the afternoon.  The first part of the event is a bird walk, which takes place from 7:30-9:30am, while the second takes place from 1-5pm and will focus on identification of plants, fungi, and small (and maybe large!) non-avian creatures.

Citizen scientists of all ages and levels of experience are welcome – there will be plenty of people and resources available to help out with proper identification of specimens.  There will also be a craft table for kids, where they can create illustrations of the species they found and help to design a logo for the forest.

Participating in the BioBlitz is a great supplement to studies of local ecology, habitats, and ecosystems, and can provide students of all ages with a new perspective on their local environment and help them to develop awareness of the many different organisms that live and grow nearby.  For more information, visit www.mountgrace.org.

Directions to the Northfield Town Forest: From the Northfield Town Hall, head south on 63, turn east (left) onto Maple St. Continue onto Gulf Rd for about 2.2 miles. The event headquarters will be at the parking area for the Brush Mountain Conservation Area.

3 Apps Aid Citizen Scientists & Nature Enthusiasts

3 Apps to Explore & Engage with Your Environment

While adventuring outdoors to enjoy local landscapes this summer, families can integrate their mobile devices into their trek to create environmental learning opportunities! Three applications – CreekWatch, Leafsnap, and the WildLab – are all designed to teach users about their environment and to help monitor and conserve natural resources.  All three applications provide ways for families to integrate technology into their outdoor adventures in a way that promotes learning and engagement with nature, rather than detracting from the experience. Try one (or all!) of them on your next outing.

WATERSHEDS

CreekWatch allows families to monitor the health of their local watershed by using pictures of streams and creeks (taken by users and submitted via the app) to determine water level and amount of pollution and debris present in the water.

ARBORICULTURE

Leafsnap, called an “electronic field guide,” compares pictures of tree leaves using photorecognition software, and helps users identify trees  – allowing them to learn about the biodiversity present around them while sharing information with a public database, helping to aid scientists.

ORNITHOLOGY

For bird identification, check out the WildLab – it uses GPS-tagged photos taken by users to monitor bird populations, and the user learns what bird(s) they’ve seen using information provided in the app.

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Vernal Pool Habitat

Western MA Youth  Can Help
Deerfield River Watershed Association Protect
Vernal Pools as Citizen Scientists

During springtime, our surroundings burst with new life!  One of the most interesting and least known about natural environments is the vernal pool- pools develop in the early spring while snow melts and the ground becomes softer, and pools of water gather becoming home to a laying ground for frogs and salamanders.

BECOME A CITIZEN SCIENTIST

Vernal pool habitats are often accidentally destroyed or disturbed due to lack of knowledge about their existence.  This spring, older students have the opportunity to be citizen scientists and help report data about vernal pools in their neighborhoods!  Kids ages 10 and up are invited to monitor populations of vernal pool-breeding amphibians.

The project is coordinated by the Deerfield River Watershed Association, and requires that kids take part in two training sessions prior to assessing the pools; and also that kids visit a vernal pool twice during the month of April to check on their frogs and salamanders!  The project allows kids to become involved in the preservation of their local resources, and to learn about a unique habitat.  Taking part in the project can supplement studies of biology, ecology, environmental science, and species evolution (take a look at how species evolved to depend on vernal pools).  For more information, contact Pat Serrentino at 413-772-0520.


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Citizen Scientists Wanted for the 15th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count

Great Backyard Bird Count Perfect for Families

(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Get out your bird books- this year’s 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) takes place from February 17th-20th!  

The GBBC helps researchers gather an accurate count of bird populations, as well as determine the location of bird species.  Sponsored by Audubon and Cornell University, the event requires citizen scientists to watch and count birds in their backyard for at least 15 minutes on at least one of the days during the bird count.

After you’ve collected your data, you can submit your information online.  Tallies on the data site will grow as the count continues- check back to see how populations in your area look and to see how many other people are participating!

Although it’s called the Great “Backyard” Bird Count, the count extends well beyond backyards. Lots of participants choose to head for national parks, nature centers, urban parks, nature trails, or nearby sanctuaries. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The GBBC is essential to ornithology research because without the help of volunteer citizen scientists, researchers wouldn’t be able to gather accurate data about populations and locations of birds.  The event is incredibly easy for families to take part in, and also offers ample learning opportunities!

While counting birds, families can practice identifying the different species they see, discussing with your kids why each bird looks (color, shape, and size) the way that it does, and talk about what the bird’s natural food sources are during winter.  Kids can also learn about habitat by thinking about where they saw each bird and what kinds of birds they didn’t see because they’ve migrated south.  For more information on the event, visit www.birdsource.org.  Happy counting!

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