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Posts Tagged ‘birds’

Express your inner scientist

Friday, July 8th, 2011
  • Get home from a day’s labor, crack a beer, sit on the porch and appreciate a butterfly nectaring on a nearby flower and the evening summer sun that makes a dragonfly glow while it hunts with incredible speed and precision, eating on the fly.
  • Is that bush blooming already?
  • You just won a tough case and you’re doing your best Leonardo DiCaprio against the forward fence of the ferry observation deck, a smile on your face, the wind rushing by. You look into the water… SMACK! (no, not sea gull poop to the side of the head or a disgruntled defendant… we’re talkin’ jellies!).

What do these scenarios have in common? Citizen scientists. Elements of science may remain in an ivory tower, but in ever-increasing numbers and in very accessible ways, scientists and managers are harnessing the interests and time of every Tom, Dick and Jane to explore difficult issues like climate change, water quality and habitat loss. We can also add to the understanding of the what, where and when for our favorite groups of critters in ways we were never able to in the past.

All fair game for easy reporting by citizen scientists. Clockwise from top left: lion's mane jelly, hermit thrush, small magpie moth (non-native) and common whitetail dragonfly. Photos: Jeff Adams

There are lots of opportunities out there, but I’ll highlight a few of my favorites. Under the unofficial category of “report what you see, where you see it, when you want to”…

Don’t have experience in identifying critters? No worries. Some programs simply require you to know/report on a single species or, in the case of Sound Citizen, to collect and return a sample. For butterflies, birds, dragonflies and jellies, there are excellent physical and online guides and identification resources available. On top of that, people like me love to get the email with a subject line “what’s this?”.

I recently posted a YouTube video that should help with common jellyfish ID’s. With all the ferry riders, dock and beach visitors, boaters, divers, harvesters, anglers and shoreline homeowners in the Puget Sound and Salish Sea… we should be able to help scientists at jellywatch.org better understand jellies and blooms in our region. It’s an area of increasing interest as our climate and ocean activities evolve.

The opportunistic reporting of the list above can give a scientist valuable information in part by sheer volume of data. Volunteers willing and able to put in more time can get involved in a project that typically includes some form of training and standardized protocols and reporting. Some excellent examples in our region include…

Bainbridge Beach Naturalists (part of the Kitsap Beach Naturalist program) conduct a profile assessment of the beach slope, substrate, plants and animals. Amazing what you see when you look close! Photo: Jeff Adams

Other programs like  Nature Mapping are geared toward schools, but also give individuals an opportunity to report findings. You can even explore lots of potential projects on your own at sites like scienceforcitizens.net and citizensciencecentral.org or like citsci.org for projects geared specifically toward invasive species.

Washington Sea Grant will go live with a Washington-specific citizen science clearinghouse some time in the next year. Or you can just contact local organizations to explore opportunities. In Kitsap you might start with me at Washington Sea Grant (contact info below), or with organizations such WSU Beach Watchers or the Stillwaters Environmental Education Center.

The best of the citizen science networks provide something in return for our efforts. No, not a key chain or a shopping tote (although some provide those as well). We get maps and checklists and image collections and newsletters and data analysis and publications… All of which reflect our contributions to scientific exploration and the greater body of scientific knowledge. None of which would have happened without our participation.

COASST is an excellent example of providing feedback to volunteers. In return for their dead bird surveys, COASST volunteers receive a newsletter explaining some of the trends in the data and featuring natural history information about sea and shoreline birds. … Plus, volunteers get cool bird postcards (pictures tend to be of the live birds and a bit more attractive then the dead ones). A free COASST training will be hosted by Washington Sea Grant and WSU Kitsap Extension in Bremerton on July 28th (RSVP to info@coasst.org). Other dates and opportunities are available on the COASST calendar.

Thanks for your interest in contributing to the body of scientific knowledge that we need to make informed decisions and to effectively care for the Puget Sound, Salish Sea and beyond. … Oh, gotta go… I need to chase down a dragonfly!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


Wonderful winter wigeon

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Pelagic cormorant with its touches of mating season bling (red face, white haunches, wispy white neck feathers). Photo: Jeff Adams

I love spring! However, some of my favorite winter commute companions will soon be departing. Our Salish Sea feathered friends are turning their focus from sitting out the winter in our  relatively calm and rich inland waters to getting busy on this summer’s crop of young’uns. For many birds, that means leaving central Puget Sound for points north or inland. Many are changing dramatically into their winter plumage (the flashy reds, blues and whites of grebes and cormorants are some of my favorites). The winter birds of which I am most fond, however, are the wigeon.

The large overwintering flocks can be appreciated day and night from September through April. Many grassy shoreline parks host their own band of wigeon that offer you a good look during the day. During the long dark hours of winter, the large flocks rest on quiet waters. Waiting for a foot ferry to shuttle across Sinclair Inlet to Bremerton on a dark, wet morning may treat you to a  chorus of peeping and whistling. (YouTube video of whistling wigeon.)

Many nearshore homeowners may disagree with my attraction to wigeon. Wigeon love short green grass and can poop, stomp and nibble a manicured lawn all winter long. I’ve seen flashy objects in some shoreline lawns that I imagine are intended to keep wigeon off (if you have experience with this, I’m curious how well it works).

Eurasian and American wigeon at Evergreen Park, Bremerton. Photo: Jeff Adams

A large flock of wigeon typically affords an ornithological treat. Actually, it’s more like a treasure hunt. When you find the treasure, you get the treat.

Like a needle in a duck down pillow, a male Eurasian wigeon (rust colored head) can often be found among the hundreds of American wigeon (speckled head with a green stripe) in a large flock. This winter guest to our shores typically breeds in northern Europe and Asia. Then flies far to the south to enjoy more temperate winters. Those that we see just happen to migrate down through Alaska instead of Siberia.

In mid-March, the flock of wigeon at Evergreen Park in Bremerton made it a little easier to find the needle. At least 4 handsome, brown headed lads were pulling up grass with gusto. If you wish to see them, you might head down to Evergreen Park to scan the flock and wish them well on their long flight to the breeding grounds. However, it’s possible that some Eurasian wigeon temporarily defect to North America.

American, Eurasian and hybrid? wigeon at Evergreen Park, Bremerton. Photo: Jeff Adams

There’s some debate among birders that a few wigeon ladies might find themselves swooning for the fancy feathers of a male from the other species, resulting in hybrids that share some characteristics of each. There also appears to be some variability in each species that may lead to the speculation of hybridization.

Wherever they go, these large flocks will soon depart, and I’ll just have to look forward to September when the wonderful wigeon return. In the meantime, my arguably less charismatic commuting companions of summer are just around the corner… Go big jellies!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife Twitter, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


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