In the Garden:
This photo of a northern cardinal by Judy Howle of Missouri is from the 2007 Great Backyard Bird Count.
Upcoming Nature-Watching Events
There's the Super Bowl, the Derby, the World Series, the Final Four, Wimbledon, and the Masters for sports aficionados. For those of us who get excited about gardens, fields, and forests, there is the Great Backyard Bird Count, led by Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. February 15 to 18, 2008, is the 11th annual GBBC, and anyone can count birds from wherever they are and enter their tallies online. These reports create an exciting real-time picture of where the birds are across the continent, and they contribute valuable information for science and conservation.
The millions of novice and accomplished bird watchers are counting not only for fun but for the future, as each tally helps scientists learn more about how our North American birds are doing, and, in turn, our environment. In 2007 participants reported a record-breaking 11 million birds of 616 species. With this detailed annual snapshot of continental bird distribution, scientists can compare data from year to year.
Make it a Party
Just as there are Super Bowl parties, there can be GBBC events, too, with friends and family (including children) observing nature together. People of all ages and experience levels can take part in the GBBC wherever they are, whether at home, in schoolyards, at local parks or wildlife refuges, even counting birds on a balcony. Observers count the highest number of each species they see during at least 15 minutes on one or more count days. Then the tallies are entered on the GBBC Web site (http://www.birdcount.org). The site provides helpful hints for identifying birds.
As the count progresses, anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from their own towns or anywhere in the United States and Canada. They can also see how this year's number compares with those from previous years. Participants may also send in digital photographs of the birds they see for an online photo gallery and contest.
Become a Citizen Naturalist
The National Wildlife Federation has coined the term "citizen naturalist" for people who not only observe the beauty of nature but also try to find ways to help wildlife and the various ecosystems to thrive and grow. If you find it fun to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, there are other activities throughout the year where you and your family can help scientists with their studies. The National Wildlife Federation coordinates a Nature Quest program (http://www.nwf.org/naturequest/index.cfm) that includes Wildlife Watch, Frogwatch USA, Project Budburst, and Monarch Waystations.
For Wildlife Watch, participants get a list of basic flora, fauna, and natural history phenomena for their state, which they then go out and look for. Afterwards, they are asked to complete a checklist and submit the results.
Frogwatch USA is part of a long-term amphibian study managed by the National Wildlife Federation in partnership with the United States Geological Survey to increase awareness of amphibian decline and to gather information that, hopefully, will lead to practical and workable ways to help stop the decline.
Project Budburst is a new national citizen science field campaign that targets native flower and tree species across the United States. Participants are asked to observe when buds, leaves, and flowers first begin to appear on plants. This year Project Budburst will target 30 native trees and shrubs, 24 wildflower species, two common exotic ornamentals, and two common exotic weeds. By recording when native species first start to grow leaves and flowers each year, scientists can learn about the climatic characteristics of an area over time and compare these records to historical records to see the influence of climate change.
The Monarch Waystation program encourages the building and maintaining of habitats for monarch butterflies and other species of pollinators that are rapidly declining as a result of urban sprawl, road side management, and pesticides.
Whether you participate in one or more of these various projects, they're a great opportunity for not only learning more about our environment but also for helping to preserve it for future generations.
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