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Nature

‘Citizen scientists’ add to store of knowledge about bird populations

National Geographic, Audubon highlight need for people to provide observations

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A snowy owl spotted recently at Standley Lake in Westminster has brought joy to the hearts of local birders, since the species is rarely seen this far south. There are reports that these owls have been seen beyond their usual territories elsewhere in the country. Sightings like this are often reported by what we might call “citizen scientists,” who are out looking at the world around them for the pure joy of sharing what they find (usually!).

It’s 2018, “The Year of the Bird” per an alliance between the Audubon Society and National Geographic, according to Audubon’s winter magazine — and the local organization is getting on board. The January-February edition of “The Warbler,” Audubon Society of Greater Denver’s newsletter, reminds readers that Audubon’s more-than-100-year-old Annual Christmas Bird Count may be the oldest citizen science effort. Diane Hornick writes that in 1880, lighthouse keepers were asked to identify birds that struck their lighthouses, while another project at that time studied bird migration, according to the Audubon Naturalist graduate and volunteer.

“Because people of all ages can be, and want to be, citizen scientists, this knowledge-based commitment will continue on into the next, and then the next, and even the next generation,” she said.

Suzy Hisky, nature educator at ASGD, describes citizen science as “crowdsourcing for science … Passionate individuals record their observations … and report them to a cloud-based (internet) database that can be utilized by experts doing research in those subjects.” Around the world, people contribute observations to ebird.org, which are then used by scientists. It is organized by Cornell University’s outstanding Department of Ornithonogy.

On Feb. 10, from 9 a.m. to noon, there will be an adult workshop, “Tricky Backyard Birds and the Great Backyard Bird Count,” at the Audubon Center at Chatfield, 11280 S. Waterton Road, Littleton . Registration required: $20 members, $25 non-members.

Visitors to the Nature Center can learn about projects such as the Great Backyard Bird Count, NestWatch, FeederWatch, ebird, Colorado Bluebird Project and more. Or learn about pollinators, plants, reptiles, frogs, fireflies, ladybugs and more …

Hisky also said: “Basically citizen science is when people like us, who care about the environment and nature, take to the field or computers and help our scientist friends because they are restricted by time and money issues. We work for free, we help further vital research, we learn about our world and we love it.

“Our goal here at Audubon is connecting people with nature through conservation, education and research … Connecting with nature is step one. Next, we need to have strong intentions in wanting to forge a positive impact. Step two is choosing how that intention becomes an action … learning … teaching others … collecting data to further research.” She mentions Colorado’s The Bees Needs project, where about 2,000 volunteers monitored 1,200 bee blocks, then identified and collected data on more than 11,000 nests throughout the northern Front Range. Nearly 100 different types of bees and wasps reproduced and thousands of images established a behavior pattern …

She also says Audubon supports Rocky Mountain Wild, which has a citizen project called Bioblitz, where scientists and citizen scientists connect in a specific location at one specific time “to discover and identify as many species as possible” together.

At Audubon Nature Center, various research projects are ongoing and she invites “anybody with a hankering to learn more about our local plants, animals and landscapes to join us at the Nature Center, just south of Chatfield State Park, where teaching and learning opportunities are offered for anyone of any generation…”

There are trails suitable for strollers and young children, as well as hikes and explorations of all sorts, offering a lifelong gift to children who learn to look and listen — and enjoy the world around them at any given moment.

Another backyard project can engage the entire family in developing a habitat for birds and wildlife at home, per instructions by the National Wildlife Federation, which offers information online. Shelter, water, a place to raise young and food are the essentials … Then watch and share information with others …

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