August Citizen Science Round-up

pool_filter_photo– The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is asking people to report any dead sage grouse they find immediately so they can be tested for West Nile virus. Read more in the Billings Gazette.

– The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission wants to document observations of nine-banded armadillos as they expand their range in the state. Read more in the Burlington Times-News.

– The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) second annual Asian long-horned beetle (ALB) Swimming Pool Survey. Pool owners are asked to check their filters for the destructive, invasive beetles. Read the NYS DEC press release here. Vermont is in on the survey too. Read its program release here. The release implies that New Hampshire is also doing a pool survey.

Photo: Beetles in a pool filter. Photo courtesy N.H. Division of Forests and Lands.




Citizen Science Round-up

wolf_track_ruler_411021_7On Friday, the Great Backyard Bird Count, a massive citizen science project run by Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, begins.

Read about the count in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, here.
Or visit the count’s website, here.

Perhaps in the spirit of the Great Backyard Bird Count, there is a lot of citizen science news this week. In Wisconsin, citizen volunteers are doing acoustical bat surveys with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Read about it in the Kenosha News.

No cases of raccoon rabies have been identified in the Canadian province of Quebec for the third straight year, and citizen surveillance helped, the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre reports. Citizen reports of potential raccoon rabies cases increased by 18 percent, while visits to the provincial rabies control website increased by 25 percent, the blog says. The blog includes a link to the province’s press release, but the press release is in French.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Society for Conservation of Bighorn Sheep (SCBS) are looking for volunteers to help biologists with a bighorn sheep survey in March. The survey has been conducted since 1979. They are asking volunteers to attend an orientation session the evening before the survey. Read the CDFW press release here.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has both been asking for and getting valuable help from citizen volunteers. One recent request is for volunteers on Michigan’s lower peninsula to report any sightings or tracks of wolves from February 11 through March 8. Read the press release here.

The department is also asking for more volunteers to join its annual frog and toad survey, conducted in spring. This year will be the 18th annual survey. Read the frog and toad survey press release here.

Michigan DNR may be confident asking for all this help, because it has already gotten help from citizens. Earlier this month it gave a Partners in Conservation award to a 32-year-old dairy farmer who gathered and distributed information about an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease in deer in two counties. Read the press release here.

Photo: Wolf track, courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Stickers Help Fund 2015 Heron Survey

According to the Heron Observation Network of Maine (HERON) blog:

The great blue heron was designated as a Species of Special Concern in Maine in 2007 due to a decline in breeding pairs along the coast. Little was known about the inland breeding population before 2009 when the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife ramped up its monitoring efforts by creating the Heron Observation Network.

Through HERON, volunteers across the state monitor known great blue heron colonies during the breeding season, collecting information that helps state biologists understand the species’ population trend and prioritize future conservation efforts.

In addition to the data collected by volunteers, it is important to periodically do a statewide aerial survey to find new heron colonies that may have recently popped up.

To help fund the next aerial survey, scheduled for 2015, HERON is partnering with Burly Bird (a Maine-based conservation sticker company) to create a UV-coated vinyl sticker that shows a black and white silhouette of a great blue heron.

The stickers can be purchased from the Burly Bird website or through the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s online store.

The Maine Sun-Journal covered the story, here.

When the Weather is for the Birds

Black vulture range lags behind climate change

The Black Vulture has expanded its range northward and now occurs in parts of Massachusetts where the minimum winter temperature is similar to that in Baltimore, Maryland in 1975. Photo by Liz Malyszek

Citizen scientists noticed the impact of a mild winter in the United States and Canada this year, reflected in the species composition of the birds tallied during the Great Backyard Bird Count, reports an article in ScienceNow, the online news service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). You can also read the press release from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

However, birds are not responding quite so quickly to overall climate trends, says a paper in the Journal of Animal Ecology (fee or subscription required to view entire article). It’s more work from the Cornell Lab of O, but this time the press release is from Cornell University.

March Roundup of New Research

Spring is here and a bunch of wildlife surveys are underway around the country.

In Delaware:
-It’s the fifth and final year of the Delaware Breeding Bird Atlas.
-A special effort is being made in 2012 to tally owls as part of the atlas.
Horseshoe crabs are being tallied again, and volunteers are being trained.
-The annual osprey count is offering a volunteer training for the first time since 2007.

Maryland is two years in to four years of surveys for an amphibian and reptile atlas and is looking for volunteers.

In Kansas, they are searching for lesser prairie chicken breeding areas, or leks, from the air with helicopters. Field crews will train on March 29-31 and conduct official survey work across all of western Kansas until the middle of May. The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is also asking people to report leks. The survey is part of a five-state effort, and the survey technique will be evaluated.

In North Dakota, the Game and Fish Department has launched a two-year study of white-tailed deer in intensely farmed agricultural areas.

In Maine, biologists at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife have visited up to 100 dens each winter for 37 years, making the survey in the nation’s oldest radio-collar monitoring program for bears. This year the Maine Sunday Telegram wrote a story about it, with lots of pics. Read it here.

And in Washington, commuters have been reporting wildlife sightings for over a year on the I-90 corridor in anticipation of road improvements. The project’s first annual report was released recently, generating articles in the Everett Herald  and The Seattle Times, and coverage other media.

Photo of I-90 Wildlife Watch billboard by Paula MacKay/Western Transportation Institute, used by permission.

SeaBC: Counting Sea Birds

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count has been going on for over 100 years. During the CBC, participants drive, hike, climb and even wade to get to the best birding sites to add to their totals. But they never leave land.

This year, the “SeaBC” Sea Bird Count (not affiliated with Audubon) plans to fix that. Avid birders and boaters will take to their watercraft during the month of December, tally the species they see, and enter their data on eBird, the citizen science bird database run by Audubon and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. If it catches on, it could add a valuable new source of citizen science data on sea-faring birds.

The program is organized by Diana Doyle, author of Managing the Waterway, a cruising guide and electronic charting series. She already rallies the troops at Birding Aboard, a Facebook page dedicated to bird watching during long-distance voyages.

Learn more about the SeaBC at Birding Aboard, or jump straight to the SeaBC resources page where you can download a tally sheet.

Read more about the project on the Vermont Center for Ecostudies blog. (Keep scrolling down. It’s in the middle of a bunch of birding news.)

Photos: Wilson’s Storm-petrel. Photo by Diana Doyle. 
Some cruisers taking the dinghy for some birding in Venezuela. Photo by Devi Sharp
Both photos courtesy of SeaBC and Birding Aboard.

Google Maps for Cit Sci Apps

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is using a Google Maps application to gather basic information about the locations of fox squirrels in that state. Fox squirrel distribution is patchy, and there hasn’t been a distribution survey since 1997.

See the form here.

University of Florida wildlife ecology graduate student Courtney Hooker, who is overseeing the survey, was inspired by another Google Maps application that she had used herself: The South Carolina-based Center for Birds of Prey’s swallow-tailed kite project.

See that form here.

Hooker says the fox squirrel application has worked well since going on line in August 2011. “Most people are familiar with Google Maps, since they use it to get directions,” she says. The project has received over 600 reports so far, and has received a lot of media coverage.

Although the directions for logging a fox squirrel sighting on the site is only three short steps, Hooker says that she may make them even shorter and simpler. Many people aren’t reading them. Also, she prefers the way the swallow-tailed kite map allows users to right-click on the location they saw the bird. The fox squirrel map asks users to drag a red balloon to the site, which is a little confusing. 

Hooker says that part of the success of the project is due to the fact that the fox squirrel, which is twice the size of the familiar gray squirrel, is such a striking species. “It’s an identifiable species and it’s a beautiful species. People tend to remember it.”

One of the few questions on the sighting form ask if the observer is a wildlife professional or not. Hooker was curious to see if a particular group was more responsive to the survey. So far, she says, about 95 percent of the respondents have been citizen scientists.

Many of the reports have been acommpanied by photos, she says, so Hooker has been able to confirm that they are indeed fox squirrels and not another species.

Hooker says that while the project is expected to help state biologists better understand the distribution of the fox squirrel throughout Florida, it’s also helped educate the public. “Some people have said that they had never seen one before.”

The Florida Wildlife Commission press release.

An article from
And another article from Florida Today.

Photo: Fox squirrel, courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road?

bog turtle

Actually, “Where are the turtles crossing the road and getting hit by cars?” is the focus of a Massaschusetts citizen science research project, and it is one of several turtle research projects going on in this year of the turtle. For more info, read this article on the Massachusetts turtle road-crossing project in the Springfield Republican.

Here are seven other sources of information on turtles and turtle research:

Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas (MARA), a five year project that began in 2010 and will end in December 2014.

The USA Turtle Mapping Project is being run by the US Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station. It is focusing on seven species of freshwater turtles and tortoises to find out their current ranges.

Not surprisingly, PARC, the creator of Year of the Turtle has a list on its Web site of turtle citizen science projects. It’s a PDF. Here are some of the US-based land- or freshwater turtle projects on the list that aren’t already mentioned:
Blanding’s Turtle Research – Great Meadows, Massachusetts
Gopher Tortoise Tracker – Volusia County, Florida
Lake George Turtle Monitoring Program – Lake George, New York
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Neighborhood Box Turtle Watch
Western Pond Turtle Presence, Absence Monitoring Project -Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, California
Texas Turtle Watch 

Another resource on the PARC Year of the Turtle site is an Excel spreadsheet of 87 relocation, reintroduction, translocation, and headstarting projects. Turtles make up more than half of these projects, the rest are for other reptiles and amphibians. The idea, the site says, is to allow scientists running similar projects to get inside information on what worked and what didn’t so future projects can build on the past.

When it comes to turtles, the news is pretty bad, but it’s not all bad news. In June so many diamondback terrapins headed upland from Jamaica Bay in New York City that a runway at Kennedy Airport was closed. Here’s a news story, and background information from the journal Science.

We don’t normally cover research outside the US, but since we gave wildfires in the West so much coverage earlier this year, and because it is the year of the turtle here’s an exception. A paper in the journal Biological Conservation says that a species of tortoise in Spain can withstand wildfires every 30 years or so and still maintain its population levels. Read an article about the study in Science Daily, or the whole paper in Biological Conservation (or rather, read a free abstract and pay for the whole paper).

Finally, don’t forget our mini round-up of box turtle data earlier this year. You can find that post here.

Photo: Box turtle Credit: Laura Perlick, courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife

The State of the Turtle

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At the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, outreach coordinator Marion Larson was tipped off to Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s (PARC) Year of the Turtle by state turtle biologist Lori Erb, who is an active PARC member.

Larson thought the timing was excellent for a Year of the Turtle. The previous year, the state had teamed with the University of Massachusetts in a program to identify and monitor highway crossing sites that were difficult for turtles. The biologists wanted to provide more training, and to round up more volunteers.
In fact, says Larson, the state turtle biologists had plenty of fantastic information on the state’s turtles, and lots of already-scheduled events featuring turtles. The Year of the Turtle was a vehicle, Larson says, “for taking all the disparate pieces and putting them together into something bigger and more over-arching.”
In Connecticut, the Year of the Turtle also provided inspiration and a deadline for outreach biologist Kathy Herz. “I think it has been a really great effort for us. It’s nice to focus on a small animal that is often overlooked in favor of bigger animals like turkey and deer,” Herz says.
In Connecticut, the Year of the Turtle has meant a monthly press release on a different aspect of turtle conservation, a Year of the Turtle Web site, fact sheets on 12 Connecticut turtle species (including sea turtles), an children’s art contest, and an events calendar.
Both Herz and Larson say that the Year of the Turtle has been a success, with plenty of media interest, and other benefits as well. In Massachusetts, for example, 100 additional volunteers signed up for the turtle road-crossing monitoring project.
Herz is sold on the idea of turning the spotlight on an under-appreciated species or group of species. It focuses the public’s and the media’s attention on overlooked conservation issues, and inspires her to check projects off her to-do list that might otherwise be overwhelmed by more urgent issues or more popular creatures. She says, “I’m hoping we will do another species next year.”
Arizona was one of the first states to support the Year of the Turtle program. Find its turtle page here.
Finally, back at the mothership, PARC featured state efforts in its August newsletter. Find that article in a PDF here.
Tomorrow, in honor of the year of the turtle, we’ll take a look at several turtle research projects.
Photo: Red-bellied cooter and painted turtle. The red-bellied cooter (the larger turtle in the picture) is the focus of an annual event in Massachusetts that was included in the state’s Year of the Turtle festivities. Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.

2011: Year of the Turtle

You may think that 2011 is the year of the rabbit. And in the Chinese zodiac, it is. But 2011 is also the year of the turtle, as designated by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC). The goal is to spread the word about the worldwide risk to turtle species. According to PARC information, 40 percent of turtle species worldwide are threatened with extinction.

The Year of the Turtle program provides participants with a cool logo; a monthly newsletter with education materials, a calendar, photos, and interviews with turtle experts; a national site for turtle-related events; links to a wealth of information; and, most recently, a t-shirt available for purchase.
Fifty partners have joined with PARC to support the Year of the Turtle. Many of these partner organizations are reptile societies and conservation organizations of various stripes, but four states have also joined in: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Georgia, and Arizona.
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at how two of those states, Connecticut and Massachusetts, have woven the Year of the Turtle into their education and citizen science programs.

Illustration: PARC’s Year of the Turtle logo