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 »

6 Western MA Naturalists and Educators

Naturalists and Educators to Know About in Western MA

Award-winning musician and author Sarah Pirtle founded Journey Camp twenty years ago. As a peacebuilding camp Journey Camp has impacted the lives of many young people by providing a vision of social change while connecting with the the natural world through the expressive arts.

Support your live, local, free-lance, free-range, grass-fed naturalist!

Some naturalists and educators are funded by a school or a camp. Others hang up their shingle and take the kids into the woods. This post offers a smattering of freelance naturalists in Western MA. They are people who are highly qualified and experienced educators and naturalists who teach children about their local environment, wilderness survival skills, nature science and social skills. I interviewed many of these people in preparing this post, and I regret not being able to capture the joy in their voices when they talked about how much they love what they do!

Sarah Pirtle

Twenty years ago, Sarah Pirtle created Journey Camp, a peace-building camp that helps children develop earth awareness while fostering their creativity. Her goal is for children to have a “deep experience of feeling close to nature.” As a prolific creator, Sarah also writes books, curriculum, and songs that support a world in which humans respect each other and the natural world.  She loves to combine ecological awareness and the arts, and recently created an 18 feet humpbacked whale puppet that a dozen kids can get inside and move!

At Journey Camp, the students create characters and stories which help them to understand the connection that people have to the earth. Sarah has two summer programs.  One is based out of Woolman Hill in Deerfield, MA.  A newer one was launched in the Hilltowns at Taproot Commons Farm in Cummington, MA a few years ago with the help of Hilltown Families founder, Sienna Wildfield.

Read the rest of this entry »

Who Dwells in the Pittsfield State Forest?

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Bioblitz in the Berkshires
Friday & Saturday, June 4th-5th in Pittsfield, MA

Specialist will be on-hand to explore and educate, including reptile and amphibian specialist, BCC Professor Tom Tyning. Link to schedule is below. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Celebrating the United Nation’s “Year of Biodiversity,” the Berkshire Museum is holding Berkshire County’s first BioBlitz in Pittsfield State Forest from noon on Friday, June 4th to noon on Saturday, June 5th, 2010. The weekend event will allow scientists and local residents to document the extensive variety of life in their immediate area and see first-hand the diversity and importance of the clean and active ecosystems in their own backyard.

The BioBlitz is an opportunity for biologists, naturalists, and environmentalists to gather in a given area and in a 24-hour period complete a formal survey of all living species. Specialists such as BCC Professor Tom Tyning (reptiles and amphibians), Harvard botanist Walter Kittredge (flowering plants), Berkshire Wild Mushrooms’ John Wheeler (fungi) and Sage College Professor Emeritus Nancy Slack (mosses) will be on-hand to explore and educate. The public is welcome to attend to watch the scientists work, and even participate in sorting specimens.

The biological survey is the “core” of the Berkshire BioBlitz, and anchors a number of interactive, nature-oriented programs which have been scheduled around it. For example, on Friday night, a lively “BioBlitz Drum and Campfire Jam” will take place, followed by a “Moth-Light” demonstration and an “Owl Prowl” hike. A bird walk and a “fitness hike” will be held the following morning, as well as a presentation on Asian Longhorned Beetles—an invasive insect species recently discovered in Worcester, MA.

“It’s a great opportunity for people from all walks of life to come together and learn about their own backyard,” said Berkshire Museum Natural Science Coordinator, Scott LaGreca. “It’s a powerful tool we can use to get people away from their television sets and computer monitors, and spend time outside—providing an antidote to what some educators have dubbed ‘nature-deficit disorder’. It provides valuable information about Pittsfield State Forest’s flora and fauna that can be used by Pittsfield State Forest staff to better manage the local resources.”

The Pittsfield State Forest is located just five miles from downtown Pittsfield. From Park Square, go west on West Street for 2.7 miles. Turn right on Churchill Street and continue for .7 miles. Turn left onto Cascade Street and continue for .3 miles. The entrance to the forest in just over a mile on your left-hand side.

All events are free and held at the Pittsfield State Forest. Friday evening programs and Saturday morning naturalist hikes are weather-permitting. For a full schedule, click here. Call Scott LaGreca at 413.443.7171, ext. 17 to sign up

What’s Living in Forest Park?

Bioblitz in the Pioneer Valley
Saturday, June 5th in Springfield, MA

What’s Living in Forest Park? Forty seventh-grade students and a dozen local experts/scientists will try to answer that question on Saturday, June 5th, 2010 in a first-ever attempt at a bioblitz in Springfield’s beautiful Forest Park.

What is a Bioblitz? A bioblitz is a 24 hour event to find, identify, and record as many species as possible, from microbe to mammal, at a given location. Bioblitzes provide valuable information to park managers and get kids excited about science and the natural world.

During the weekend students will head out on various themed nature walks to explore, investigate, and record what is found. About a dozen local area experts have been recruited to lead these walks. For example, John Foster, of the New England Naturalist Training Center will lead an ecology exploration walk, and Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney, authors of Tracks & Signs of Insects and Other Invertebrates, will help students identify insects and more in the park.

According to Ms. Cesan, science teacher at Duggan Middle School, the United Nations Program for the Environment has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity to draw attention to the rapid loss of biodiversity the planet is experiencing. The Forest Park Bioblitz is a small, local action that we can undertake to increase awareness and appreciation for the biodiversity in our own backyard. In addition, the event applies and reinforces several state science standards that students have been working on this school year. Students are creating a booklet about the ecosystems in Forest Park and the data collected during the event will be included.

The event will not be all work and no play as kayaking lessons, a zoo tour, and campfire s’mores are also scheduled. Joining students around the campfire will be their entire team of teachers. Students and teachers are excited about this event. Consider coming to the park on Saturday and visiting our “base camp” near the grandstands to view student work and check in on our data as students collect and report it. The event runs 8am-3pm on Saturday June 5th.

For more information contact Duggan Middle School Science Teacher, Kerry Cesan at cesank@sps.springfield.ma.us.

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