Citizen Scientists Needed to Digitize Scientific Collections!

Citizen Scientists Needed to Digitize Scientific Collections!

Generally reserved for experiential projects centered around data collection or observation, citizen science offers to public a means of becoming part of the world of scientific discovery. Two unique projects offer citizen scientists a language-based means of engaging with the world of science: by transcribing field notes, journals, and specimen labels, volunteers can help make over a century’s worth of scientific information accessible to the world!

Citizen science projects offer powerful opportunities for amateur scientists of all ages to participate in meaningful scientific research. Whether for anecdotal observation-based evidence or collection of specific data, citizen science opens up the world of scientific discovery to people of all backgrounds. Generally, citizen science projects involve experiential scientific work, such as tracking bird sightings, identifying constellations, or measuring snowfall – making them ideal for science-minded folks who love to learn in a hands-on fashion.

Amongst the myriad opportunities available through citizen science projects lie two unique language-based ways of engaging with scientific topics, Notes From Nature and  Smithsonian Transcription Center – both soliciting digital volunteers to transcribe field notes, journal entries, and other hand-written works so as to create digital archives of over a century’s worth of scientific information. Such projects are ideal for both science-lovers and those whose skills lie in language-based activities, and blend scientific thinking with language arts skills. Additionally, transcription-based citizen science seeks to accomplish an incredibly important goal: making decades of data and specimens to become easily accessible to researchers all over the world. Easy access to many years’ worth of data can help scientists to look at a bigger picture of changes in habitat and species populations – making transcription projects essential to gaining a deeper understanding of the changes that take place in nature over time.  Read the rest of this entry »

Longest-Running Bird Census Turns 116 Years Old

Help Count Birds for Science during Audubon’s Annual Christmas Bird Count

For more than 100 years, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, the longest-running wildlife census, has fueled science and conservation action. Each winter, citizen scientists gather in 15-mile-wide circles, organized by a count compiler, and count every bird they see or hear. Their hard work provides valuable insights into population trends for many species that would otherwise go unnoticed and undocumented.

Wondering what the origins are of this century old tradition? Read how the count started, and how the data is used today in this post, History of the Christmas Bird Count.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 when Dr. Frank Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore – which evolved into Audubon magazine – suggested an alternative to the holiday “side hunt,” in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds. 116 years of counting birds is a long time, but the program somehow brings out the best in people, and they stay involved for the long run. Remarkably the entire existence of the program can still be measured with the involvement of two ornithologists—Chapman, who retired in 1934, and Chan Robbins, who started compiling in 1934 and still compiles and participates to this day. The old guard may someday move on, but up-and-coming young birders will fill the ranks. And so the tradition continues. Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen Scientists Opportunity: School of Ants

Western MA Families Can Help Scientists Learn About Diversity of Ants Across the United States While Discovering Local Ecology

Adventurous, bug-loving families can help to contribute to ongoing ant research and identification of species by participating in a project called School of Ants. Families are asked to collect ant samples from at least two locations near their home and mail their specimens to an entomology research center.

Ants are amazing…. and sometimes a nuisance – they’re attracted to food when you snack outside, they crawl on your feet when you sit in the grass, and sometimes they’re so brazen as to venture into our homes, snagging sweet treats from our floors, counters, and cupboards. Nuisance though they can be, ants are also fascinating: they can lift enormous amounts of weight, they create a very intricate social structure, and they can live in the most unlikely of places, like cracks in busy city sidewalks.

Ants are one of the least understood crawly critters found around us. There are numerous species of ants found all over North America (and the world!), yet the habits of many of these species have not been extensively researched. Of particular interest to researchers are invasive species of ants – types that have been brought in from other parts of the world and are adversely affecting other populations that they now share an environment with…

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Become A Math Citizen Scientist & Reveal Whether It’s Heads or Tails

Investigating the Flip of a Coin Opens the Door to Math Education

Exactly how reliable and fair is the coin toss? For a coin toss to be completely fair, a coin needs to be perfectly constructed. Be a math citizen scientist, and join the project in figuring out the coin toss!

Flipping a coin is perhaps the most bias-free means of problem solving known to man. The simple choose-a-side-and-flip procedure leaves decision making entirely up to fate, providing quick solutions without debate. And it’s perfectly fair. Or is it?

According to statistics, coins should fall equally on their head or their tail. Scientifically speaking, a coin could technically also land on its grooved edge, but this is exponentially less likely to occur. Mathematically speaking, the occurrences of heads landings are essentially equal to the occurrences of tails landings that take place when a coin is flipped many times in a row. In order for this to be true, a flip must truly provide circumstances under which a coin is equally as likely to land on one side as it is to land on the other. In short: a coin’s weight distribution must be such that it isn’t slightly more likely to lean towards one side over the other.  Read the rest of this entry »

Become A Citizen Scientist Through Project BudBurst

Mapping Nature Observation Connects the Seasons of a Plant’s Lifecycle

Nothing captures the passing of time quite like the impact of the seasons on plant-life. A great opportunity for Citizen Scientists to claim some seasonally-based nature education opportunities.

Generally when we study trees and their leafing habits, it takes place during the springtime when buds are just beginning to bust out into leaves. At that time of year, trees’ leaves are still intact and are easy to observe. However, fall is also a great time to participate in leaf-based citizen science, and Project BudBurst offers families the opportunity to participate in a large-scale phenology-based science project.

A project sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Project BudBurst’s fall opportunities for citizen science involve making observations of not only deciduous trees and their leaves, but conifers, evergreens, wildflowers, herbs, and grasses, too! Families’ role in Project BudBurst is to help scientists understand the seasonal changes that take place in plants by making observations about their fall state. Information reported by families is used to help scientists understand not only the way that plants look during the fall, but the full cycle of growth and change that they undergo throughout the year. And in supporting scientists in their quest to learn about plants’ changes, families will learn about them too! Read the rest of this entry »

Monarch Butterflies: The Life & Science

Monarch Butterflies: Migratory Patterns & Citizen Scientists Opportunities

Tagged Monarch Butterfly

What to organize a Monarch Butterfly tagging effort? Monarch Watch has instructions and kits with tags for tracking.

Monarch butterflies make perhaps the most epic of all migratory journeys. Though their long trek can sometimes take up to four generations to complete, it spans an almost unbelievably large portion of North America. The butterflies begin high in the mountains of southwestern Mexico, and, come springtime, gradually work their way as far north as Saskatchewan, Canada and as far east as Maine and the southernmost parts of New Brunswick. The distinctive black-and-orange butterflies lay their eggs along the way, and depend on the availability of milkweed-filled habitat throughout their journey. While no one butterfly makes the round trip from Mexico to Maine and back again, the pattern of monarch movement across the continent is incredibly sophisticated and, at times, beautiful.

Because the monarch needs such specific habitat – young monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed – the opportunity to stop and lay eggs has become much more limited than it once was. Due to human development of land and genetically engineered farming techniques, meadows with milkweed can be rare, and the butterflies must try much harder in order to complete the full cycle of their journey. In order to track the changes in population and the preferred landing grounds of monarchs, a number of Citizen Scientist initiatives have been developed. All around the United States (with the exception of states west of the Rockies), butterflies are being tracked and studied – and your family can help as a citizen scientist…

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Become a Citizen Scientist to Track & Document Bee Movements & Learn Lots Along the Way

You’re Invited! Help halt the demise of these important pollinators!

While our surroundings continue to bloom, take advantage of the late spring blossoms and the creatures that they attract by participating in some citizen science projects! Pollinator species of all kinds are declining in numbers as a result of environmentally unfriendly practices (like habitat destruction and herbicide use, among others), and by helping to collect data about pollinators, environmentally conscious folks of all ages can contribute to current efforts to support populations and ensure that they continue to exist for years to come.

In particular, families can use their citizen science efforts to help study populations of bees. Loved and celebrated for their role in pollinating some food crops that we enjoy, bees play a crucial role in ecosystems all around the world. This summer, instead of fleeing at the sight of a bee, families can practice photography skills, learn to identify insect species, and contribute data to studies of bee population distribution and the causes of population decline.

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Capture & Record Your Wildlife Encounters for Fun & for Science

WildObs: WILDlife OBServations

With camera in hand, families can be empowered as citizen scientists, capturing images of critters in their local environment and sharing them through WildObs. WildObs is an online wildlife sightings community that helps scientists with data and families in discovery of wildlife in various habitats, including their own! [Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield]

Does your family snap photos of the wildlife you see in your yard? Have you accumulated images amass, all featuring a feathered friend, shy mammal, crawly bug, or slippery amphibians? Share your wildlife sightings with WildObs, an online wildlife-finding community that both supports nature-loving folks in learning to spot hard-to-find creatures, but also contributes data and other useful information to organizations that solicit input from citizen scientists.

WildObs allows users to upload their own photos, paired with a location tag and a caption describing the species pictured, the action in the photograph, or any other important details that help others to understand what they’re looking at. Not only do users add their own photos to the database, but they can browse through others’ photographs to see what it really looks like to be up close and personal with everything from a grasshopper to a bear! Of course, it’s likely that you’ve already had lots of close ups with grasshoppers on your own, but thanks to the fact that WildObs users hail from all corners of the map, you might find photos of a variety of species that you’ve never seen in real life. And, while a real-life encounter is always better than a photograph, the images on WildObs are mostly taken by amateur wildlife enthusiasts, whose encounters with creatures are possible to replicate and don’t require any fancy gear, exorbitant fees, or jobs at National Geographic.  Read the rest of this entry »

Engage in Your Community as a Citizen Scientists During the Great Backyard Bird Count

Great Backyard Bird Count
February 14th-17th, 2014

During the winter, birds are perhaps the most easily spotted of all the wildlife roaming the snowy landscape. Our fine feathered friends flock to feeders, leave tracks in fresh snow, and flit around in the trees and bushes of backyards everywhere. Interested in learning more about the birds that share your surroundings? Participate in this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count!

An annual event since 1998, the Great Backyard Bird Count brings together over 100,000 citizen scientists (and real scientists) from all over the globe to collect data on over a third of the world’s bird species. Held this year from February 14th-17th, 2014, the bird count requires participants to watch for birds and track the species and number of each species that they see.

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Call for Citizen Scientists: Mass Audubon Invites Public to “Focus on Feeders”

Annual Midwinter Backyard Bird Survey a Fun Way to Support Species

Focus on Feeders is perfect for everyone who appreciates birdlife—first timers, veteran birders, and especially families. Participants not only learn and share information about species that visit their yards and feeders at this time of year, they contribute knowledge to more than 40 years of winter bird-feeder sighting records.

Turn a backyard bird feeder into a Citizen Science project for your family by participating in Mass Audubon’s annual event Focus on Feeders. Held over the weekend of February 1st and 2nd, the event mobilizes armies of Citizen Scientists to observe and record the species of birds that they see at their feeders, on the ground, and in the trees at their home. The information collected this year will add to forty years of data – information that is essential to scientists’ analysis of bird populations and the effect that environmental changes may have on their annual numbers.

In order to participate , families should first learn how to identify some of the bird species commonly seen at feeders and in yards all over Massachusetts. Mass Audubon offers information for inexperienced birders on identifying common winter birds as well as strategies for distinguishing similar species.

 

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Citizen Scientist Opportunity: Snowtweets

The Snowtweets Project

The simplicity of the collection process for Snowtweets’ data makes the project appropriate for use with kids of all ages!

This winter, turn your family’s snow days into opportunities for citizen science by doing some research for the Snowtweets project! Families can participate easily – and often! – simply by taking measurements of the snow cover wherever they are, and sharing their data via Twitter. A project of researchers at Canada’s University of Waterloo, Snowtweets gathers information from around to globe to aid the work of snow and ice researchers. Paired with satellite-generated data on the snowcover (amount of land with snow on it), Snowtweets information is helping to support researchers in their creation of tools for real-time snowmapping – technology that could someday provide to-the-minute accuracy… Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen Scientist Opportunity: IceWatch

IceWatch: Citizen Scientist Project Exams Ecosystems via Ice

In addition to the sophisticated data that climatologists collect, some of the most valuable information helping to inform studies of climate change can be collected by citizen scientists! By helping scientists to identify changes in the beginning and ending of the coldest part of the winter, citizen scientists can become a part of studies of the climate changes taking place in regions all over the country.

This winter, families can contribute to climate studies by participating in IceWatch, a citizen science initiative that works to collect information about the ice-in and ice-out times of various bodies of water across the continent. By regularly observing a lake, pond, river, or bay, families can help to inform scientists about the length of the cold season which, when compared to data from past years, can help to determine the amount by which climate change has progressed regionally.

In order to participate, families of citizen scientists must first identify a local body of water to observe. The best places to observe are areas that are largely unaffected by human interference, such as dams, industrial outlets, or agricultural operations (such as large-scale livestock watering or fish farming). Here in western Massachusetts, many rivers and streams are dammed, but not all are actively being used for hydropower – meaning that they may still be suitable for observation. A little bit of research into the role of a dam up or downstream from your desired observation point can help to determine whether or not the body of water is affected by human interference while gaining a better sense of your local surroundings… Read the rest of this entry »

YardMap: Make Your Yard a Personal Refuge

Get a Bird’s Eye View of Your Habitat

YardMap is a citizen science project offered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The goal of YardMap is to support the lab scientists’ work in understanding bird populations. Families participate by creating maps of the habitat provided within their yard (whether it’s native or not) using Google maps, which are then submitted to the lab…

The average American lawn is filled with lush green grass and some landscaped trees and shrubs. Here in western Massachusetts, we’re lucky enough to be able to live amongst natural and beautiful surroundings like forests, fields, mountains, and water of all types. Even if we have grassy yards, many homes are surrounded by natural habitat that has existed since long before our homes were built. Of course, we do have an impact on the environment around us, but our small communities leave us with the opportunity to work to blend in with nature, rather than set ourselves apart from it.

Natural habitat is incredibly important for supporting the many different kinds of creatures who share your surroundings. Plant and animal populations exist within a delicately balanced system that can easily be influenced by eliminating or drastically changing habitats. One way to ensure that your effect on your surroundings isn’t negative is by planting native species of trees, shrubs, and even flowers in your yard, but with the growing season rapidly coming to an end, what should families do in order to support natural critter habitat? Participate in YardMap!

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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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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]

Volunteer as a Citizen Scientist on the Westfield River with Hilltown Families

Hilltown Families Event
Volunteer Opportunity: Citizen Scientist
Wednesday, October 17th @ 3:30pm
West Branch of the Westfield River

“Giving families a hands-on opportunity to be engaged in the study of their local ecosystem, can stimulate an interest in science in children and an investment in their local environment,”  says Sienna Wildfield, Executive Director of Hilltown Families. “By offering field experiences that supplement the education of our children, we can help foster a connection and investment in local community.” (Collecting samples from the Westfield River last year. Photo Credit: Sienna Wildfield.)

For the third year in a row, Hilltown Families will be partnering with Biocitizen in collaboration with the MA DEP in our long-term commitment to their stream monitoring project.  Families with kids interested in science, including biology and ecology, are invited to join us on the banks of the Westfield River on Wednesday, October 17th at 3:30pm (rain date: 10/21).  We will be collecting and inventorying benthic invertebrates (water bugs) using the rapid biotic assessment (RBA) technique. The type of bugs found in our collection will give us a gauge of the river’s health.

“How many times have you looked at a river thinking, how beautiful—and pulled out your camera to capture the swells of whitewater, a striking blue heron, or blazing maple tree in the autumn overhanging its banks?” says Kurt Heidinger, Executive Director of Biocitizen School of Westhampton, MA.  “A river is not just beautiful, though; it’s alive, and those who witness this life, this bios, never look at or appreciate a river the same way again,”

Stonefly nymphs are a bug we want to catch,” shares Heidinger. “They are a primary food source for brook trout and, like trout, require clear, clean, cold oxygen-rich water. If there is too much nitrogen or potassium (from fertilizer run off) in the water, algae will bloom and suck the oxygen out of the river. You won’t find many stonefly nymphs—and therefore trout.”

Sorting though collected samples. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

By doing a Rapid Bioassessment, we will continue to monitor a section of the West Branch of the Westfield River by netting benthic macro invertebrates (underwater bugs) and inventorying them. The percentage of certain insects we collect will quickly allow us to assess the quality of the river.

Last year in the wake of Hurricane Irene, samples collected were missing the large stoneflies and teeming samples of writhing, boisterous bugs found the year before. This year we’re looking forward to samples that speak of how the river is a superorganism whose health changes in respond to climatic influences.

“Giving families a hands-on opportunity to be engaged in the study of their local ecosystem, can stimulate an interest in science in children and an investment in their local environment,”  says Sienna Wildfield, Executive Director of Hilltown Families. “By offering field experiences that supplement the education of our children, we can help foster a connection and investment in local community.”

This is a free volunteer opportunity, however, space is limited. Appropriate for kids 7yo and older. Directions will be given following sign up. Families interested in participating in this citizen scientist opportunity, or similar opportunities in the area, can contact us here:

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]

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.

Kids Can Count Jellyfish as Seaside Citizen Scientists this Summer

JellyWatch!

Heading to the ocean this summer?  While you’re there, exploring the sand, rocks, and waves, spend some time being a Citizen Scientist!  Check the beach for jellyfish, squid, and other unusual marine life, and report your findings to JellyWatch!

Found at jellywatch.org, the program uses data submitted by Citizen Scientists to create a dataset about beach conditions and populations.  Even if you don’t see any jellies or squid, it is important to report beach conditions to JellyWatch.  Scientists need to know as much as they can in order to have good data.  There are resources on the JellyWatch site to help families identify what they’ve found, and photos from sightings can be e-mailed to sightings@jellywatch.org.  The project is a great summer supplement for studies of marine biology, and possibly even the taxonomy of Cnidaria, the phylum in which jellyfish are classified.

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!

Tracking Sunlight: Global Citizen Scientist Activity for Kids

Mystery Class: Tracking Sunlight to Solve a Mystery
Begins January 30th, 2012

Mystery Class, a free global game of hide-and-seek where children study seasonal changes in sunlight, begins January 30th, 2012. Follow photoperiod clues to search for ten secret sites around the world. Track sunlight to solve a mystery! Discover the reasons for seasons along the way.

Seasonal changes take place around the globe alongside changes in the amount of sunlight that a location receives during the day.  Locally, we experience an influx of light as summer approaches, then experience dark in greater quantities as winter begins.

Every place in the world has its own unique times for sunrise and sunset, and thus has its own unique seasonal patterns.  By paying attention to the changes in light around us, we can begin to better understand seasonal changes.

Journey North’s Mystery Class, a free online citizen scientist activity for students, asks kids to do exactly that!  Starting January 30th, students  can record the times of sunrise and sunset at their location and report them to other students around the globe, and then receive the same information from ten groups of students in other locations around the world.  Students then use the information reported to them to determine where on the globe the groups reporting to them must be!

By participating, kids will learn about the seasonal changes in the locations where their mystery groups are, and they’ll also learn about their own location by comparing and contrasting the amounts of daylight, climate, and season of the two places.  Students can share information about their location with the other groups, too!  Mystery Class is an opportunity to learn about the seasons on both a local and global scale!  For more information, visit www.learner.org.

Citizen Scientist Opportunity in the Berkshires with Mass Audubon

Bird Count at Canoe Meadows in Pittsfield

(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

There have been lots of opportunities lately to become a Citizen Scientist and assist with bird population counts!  Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and Bald Eagle Count both took place recently, but there’s another bird count that you can do any time of year!  Mass Audubon offers a checklist of birds that visitors to Canoe Meadows (located in Pittsfield) can print and take along on their excursion.

After visiting, you can submit your bird observations to Audubon’s website to assist with the Oriole Project, Whip-poor-will Survey, Breeding Bird Atlas, and other projects.  In participating, you’ll not only get to have a great outdoor adventure (go for an afternoon hike or strap on some show shoes once the flakes come down!), but you’ll learn more about their behaviors and habitat while contributing to an important study!  Citizen scientists’ contributions to Audubon’s studies are very important, as the organization’s observation capabilities are limited.  Along with this ongoing opportunity at Canoe Meadows, Audubon is hosting numerous birding events over the course of the next few months:

Arcadia in Easthmapton, MA:

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Bald Eagle Count

Bald Eagle Count

This winter families can participate in conservation and species preservation while helping out as citizen scientists!

Along with Audubon’s December Christmas Bird Count comes a second opportunity to participate as a citizen scientist while observing bird populations in your area.  The Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) conducts an annual survey of Bald Eagle sightings during January- this year’s dates are the 4th through 18th.

Citizen participation in the survey is important because Bald Eagle populations have been increasing, making it more difficult for DFW workers to ensure that all Bald Eagles have been accounted for.  The department’s website offers a fact sheet on Bald Eagles to help prepare citizen scientists for sightings.

If you see a Bald Eagle, report the sighting by e-mailing with the date, time, location, and time of the sighting along with the number and age (juvenile or adult) of the birds to mass.wildlife@state.ma.us.  Sighting submissions can also be mailed to: Eagle Survey, MassWildlife, Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, 1 Rabbit Hill Road, Westborough, MA, 01581.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Eric Bégin]

Volunteer as a Citizen Scientist this Holiday Season

National Audubon’s 112th Annual Christmas Bird Count

112 years ago, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count began when Frank Chapman, founder of the Audubon magazine, suggested an alternative to hunting birds and proposed that people “hunt” them only to count them. Now armed with binoculars, pad and pen, tens of thousands of volunteers head outside to count and record the winter resident population of birds in their region. This data helps with conservation efforts. (Courtesy photo)

National Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) takes place from December 14th through January 5th.  Add some outdoor adventure and wildlife observations to your family’s holiday traditions this year by participating in your local CBC Circle by counting and collecting data about the birds in your neighborhood to gauge the wellness of the nation’s bird populations.

The CBC offers families an annual opportunity to participate together as Citizen Scientists and beginning birders who can’t identify many bird species are warmly welcomed to join in too. Kids can learn about local avian wildlife habitats and bird populations by counting and collecting data with their parents. The data collected during the count is used by Audubon and other organizations to assess the health of bird populations.  The yearly count is the longest running ornithology census!

There are bird counts all over the country, including 33 organized count circles in the state of Massachusetts alone. According to Audubon, counts are often family or community traditions that make for fascinating stories. Accuracy is assured by having new participants join an established group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher. CBC Circles ensure that even the most inexperienced birders can properly count and record data, as each circle is lead by an Audubon Count Compiler.  Count volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile diameter circle or can arrange in advance to count the birds at home feeders inside the circle and submit the results to a designated compiler.

To follow are Western MA events local compilers are leading, and/or their contact info to get involved. This list will be updated as event information filters in, so check back for updates: Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen Scientists Discover Effects of Hurricane Irene on Local River Ecology

As You’d Expect, Hurricane Irene Drastically Altered Local River Ecology

Kurt Heidinger, Executive Director of Biocitizen School of Westhampton, MA writes:

The past Wednesday afternoon, Biocitizen teamed up with Hilltown Families to do our annual rapid biotic assessment of the Westfield River downstream of the Route 143 bridge in West Chesterfield, MA. Thank you volunteer citizen scientists!

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Before we began, our hosts Sienna, Jim and Persephone described how scarily high the river rose during Hurricane Irene. Not only did beautiful farmland across the river crumble—old barn and antique garbage dump included—into the torrent; but they also heard giant boulders rolling, bumping, crashing below the surface. In fact, they could feel the vibrations of the boulders in the foundation of their house (Face it amigos; we’re all on jello.).

A first view revealed just how drastic the re-ordering of the river, and riparian corridor, was. Tree branches high on the bank held fist-sized clumps of leaves and debris, proof the flood crested around 15 feet above its present level, which is itself abnormally high. Down at the river, Persephone (9yo)—and Rowan (9yo), Owen (8yo) and Cyril (8y0)—showed me where her fort used to be (on a sedimentary sand bank). Then we saw all the flotsam she’s collecting to build a new one, on higher ground. I was relieved to see our sampling area was basically intact, and marveled with grim fascination at the look of the whole river course, which appears to have been bulldozed.

We did 6 invertebrate collections, 2 each at 3 sites that are within 20-30 feet of each other. Our first sampling shocked us, because we couldn’t find a single invertebrate; last year, each sample teemed with writhing, boisterous bugs. Below are RBA data sheets for 2011 and 2010 for your comparison. Look at the top row of each to get the basic idea: we didn’t find any large stoneflies this year, only tiny ones. (“The meek shall inherit the earth”…?) As we might expect, we found plenty of worms that build cases and glue themselves to large stones.

So: it was a “bad’ year, if we consider “good” to be finding lots of big juicy stoneflies. But for the purposes of cold-hearted science, the drastic alteration of the riverbed and reduction of the number of bugs is “great” because the bug population will definitely rebound (“no empty places in nature”). The biotic resurgence will be cyclical, though, and might take a year or more. The benthic invertebrates we collect live their short adult life next spring and summer (some live under water for more than one year); the reproductive cycle takes at least a year. There will probably be a lot of hungry trout next summer and perhaps less osprey 2 years from now, as a result.

We look forward to next year’s RBA with anticipation—it will show us how the river is a superorganism whose health changes in response to climatic influences.

And we are pleased to report that, notwithstanding the trauma it has endured, the Westfield @ Rt 143 is a river of “excellent quality” water!

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