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- EssaysEric Dinerstein Bill Young
Citizen science is an important new trend in the collection and dissemination of scientific information. Ornithology has long been a field in which amateurs have made important contributions. With the advent of digital technology, amateur naturalists are now also making significant contributions in botany and other branches of natural history. While collecting information for citizen science programs, people typically learn about the organisms they see and hone their identification skills. They take photos, collect data, and send all of the information to databases where it can be disseminated to other naturalists. The uses for the information are varied — from casual accessing by other people, to educational efforts, to planning, and for scientific research.
Here are some citizen science initiatives in which you can participate.
eBird, which is operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a multifaceted online resource for birdwatchers. You can report all your bird sightings in your own eBird account, and the eBird mobile app allows you to keep your trip lists while out in the field, either at home or when you travel. You can keep your lifelist, year lists, and monthly lists on eBird, and you can record all of your sightings at a particular location, such as Monticello Park. You also can post photographs and audio files. Your data become part of a database that can be accessed by other birders, and all of the public data of other birders is available to you. eBird allows you to check where and when a particular species has been seen most recently, which can be especially useful if you want to know what birds have been seen at Monticello or other locations on a particular day. The eBird database has become an important source of information for researchers who study trends in bird movements and populations. Several mobile apps make use of eBird's data, including BirdsEye and Audubon Birds.
BugGuide is an excellent resource for sharing your arthropod sightings with a large and growing database which is available to other people with similar interests. Experts and other members can provide assistance in identifying the photos you upload. Once you get a feel for which family a creature may be in, you can use BugGuide's Browse feature to work through the taxonomic levels to identity the creature yourself.
iNaturalist uses features similar to BugGuide and eBird to catalog all living organisms in the world. It exists as both a mobile app and a website. Photos of wild organisms taken with a camera or mobile phone can be uploaded and entered into the database, preferably with a location, which is easy if your photographic device has a geolocation feature. If you cannot identify the subject of your photo, another iNaturalist user often can identify it for you, although some of the identifications are not as accurate as on BugGuide. Additionally, iNaturalist features projects to which you can contribute your sightings by location or organism type, such as the Monticello Park Project, Biodiversity in NOVA Parks, Virginia Biodiversity Project, Picturing Biodiversity: George Washington Memorial Parkway, Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, and others.
Project BudBurst encourages people to record information about the leafing, flowering, and fruiting phases of plants as seasons progress. Scientists and educators use the data to learn more about how plant species respond to changes in climate locally, regionally, and nationally. Project BudBurst was started in 2007 and is operated by the Chicago Botanic Garden.
The Maryland Biodiversity Project was started by two friends who wanted a framework that made all the different living things in Maryland more accessible. Over the next several years, it grew into a major citizen science project, involving many contributors from the Greater Washington area. Its goal is to document and catalog all living organisms in all the counties in Maryland, with photos for verification. Because many Maryland species are the same as those in Virginia, the Maryland Biodiversity database is a useful tool for people visiting Monticello Park.
The Maryland Plant Atlas is a sister project of the Maryland Biodiversity Project. Plants accepted into the Maryland Biodiversity database are automatically added to the Maryland Plant Atlas.
The Christmas Bird Count is an annual event to count birds during the Christmas season. The count provides data about trends in the populations of birds throughout the Western Hemisphere. It is administered by the National Audubon Society and has been held since 1900. Contact the Audubon Society in the your area to join one of the count teams. The Christmas Bird Count at Monticello Park takes place on one of the two Saturdays immediately before December 25.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual event held in mid-February in which people count birds in their backyard. People from around the world provide information on bird population trends. The event, started in 1998, is supported by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.
Project FeederWatch is a survey of birds who visit feeders in backyards, as well as those at nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. The survey takes place from November through early April. The information is used to help scientists to track winter bird populations and trends in bird distribution and abundance. People with any level of skill are welcome. The annual cost to participate is $18, with the fee being used to pay for staff, materials, and data analysis.
NestWatch is a nationwide program of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology which tracks the reproductive activity of birds, including when nesting occurs, the number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive. The data are used to study the condition of breeding bird populations and how they are changing over time because of climate change, habitat loss, expansion of urban areas, and the introduction of non-native plants and animals.
Project Noah allows people from around the world to document the wildlife and plants that they see. It is similar to iNaturalist and was created to provide people with a simple, easy-to-use way to share their wildlife experiences. It encourages citizen science by linking up with existing work, such as the International Spider Survey, and it places special emphasis on working with teachers to encourage their students to become involved with nature. Project Noah can be used as a phone app, and you can access information from its web community.
Celebrate Urban Birds was created in 2007 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to reach diverse urban audiences in the United States and Mexico. It encourages participants to pick an area near where they live and submit observations of the birds they see.