Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
September, 2011
Regional Report

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Clare Kubik instructs in a hands-on experience with nonpoisonous reptiles. She holds a black rat snake while Carson Gery has a baby corn snake.

Nature In Hand, Native Plants, and Citizen Scientists

The Edge of the Woods Fall Festival announcement offered this unusual, hands-on experience. "If, for some reason, you have always wanted to handle a snake, you can do it under Lehigh Gap Nature Center's Clare Kubik's careful supervision."

The native plant nursery event also included opportunities to "Enroll in a Citizen Science Project for Climate Change, Learn How to Grow Blueberries, attract Butterflies and more..."

Ummm. What better reasons to escape my too-weedy-from-weeks-of-rain veggie garden? I thanked the sun gods for a clear sky, finally, and drove north to Oreland, PA in the Lehigh Valley.

Yes, Clare had reptiles and amphibians to show and touch -- carefully. The nonpoisonous black rat snake with white belly and the red-orange corn snake are encouraged as beneficial. They eat mice, rates, voles, starlings and other pest animals (as well as good-guy bats and birds). Clare's educational program is one of many at The Lehigh Gap Nature Center in Slatington, which is committed to preserving wildlife and habitat through conservation, education, and research.

Edge of the Woods owners Louise Schaefer and Susan Tantsits enjoy partnering with environmentally conscientious organizations. "We're all working for the same goal -- to make our planet healthy," says Louise. "We promote native plants, backyard habitat, and community conservation."

Citizen Scientists
We can each do our part as "citizen scientists" by contributing observations from our backyards, neighborhoods, and schools that help give a better understanding environmental changes. Citizen scientists like you and me report what we see. Researchers and trained scientists can then refine and interpret those huge amounts of data.

Citizen scientists of all ages gather information on the dates of various natural events ranging from bird migrations to plants' budding. Collecting dates and species and growth indicators helps in understanding what changes may be going on in the climate.

"In general, the concept of citizen scientist is really taking off," explained Dr. Diane Husic, biology professor and department chair at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. First, it's fun. Second, there's a large amount of information to gather locally, nationally, even internationally. "Minds are opening," she added. "The scientific community is accepting that the public is making a meaningful contribution."

Some U.S citizen science projects involve phrenology -- the observation of seasonal changes including the blooming of flowers, appearance of migratory birds, hatching of insects, and emergence of animals from winter hibernation.

"We have evidence that things are changing," Diane said. "Lilac bloom times are earlier. Birds are returning earlier." The Lilac Phenology Network has documented that, on average, lilacs are flowering eight days earlier than they did in the late 1950s in the United States and Canada.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a hub of fundamental citizen science projects, including NestWatch, FeederWatch, The Great Backyard Bird Count, eBird, and Celebrate Urban Birds.

Diane is at Edge of the Woods to talk about The Eastern Pennsylvania Phenology Project. Begun in 2010 through the Audubon TogetherGreen Fellows Program (funded by Toyota), this is a collaborative citizens science program administered by the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. Moravian College provides academic expertise through professors such as Diane and student researchers.

Feel free to participate. Every keen-eyed resident is encouraged to email information about the many key plant, insect, bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, and reptile species listed on the website There's also a blog at

Those interested in migrating raptors can contribute to the Bake Oven Knob Hawk Count by identifying and counting specific species in September, October, and November. Detailed techniques and procedures are also described at the website.

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