At this time of the year, once I reset my mind after celebrating the wonderful season of Christmas, with its remembrance of Christ, the amazing family interactions and the general great feeling it gives all of us, I think ahead to the promises I’ve made to various people and organizations. I write this column with its inherent deadlines; I craft two newsletters for local nature clubs, write book reviews, and am slowly working on my third book while I also prepare various lectures I’ve committed to for 2020. Sigh, and who said retirement would be boring?!
However, the most time-consuming efforts I make, with the renewal of my general interest in nature as spring looms (albeit on the very distant horizon), are the various Citizen Science projects I am involved in.
The first of these citizens driven projects are the Christmas Bird Counts (CBC), which are held annually across North America. Their purpose is to monitor the winter populations of birds to see how they’re doing – both at home and where they migrate for the winter. In January, I volunteer for a similar annual count – this one occurs along the shores of the Great Lakes–and counts waterfowl to monitor and study their health. Are the numbers stable? Climbing or declining? Does the presence of Quagga and Zebra Mussels impact them? Positively or negatively? Is climate change impacting them?
Starting last November and running for 21 weeks, they have initiated Project Feeder Watch to monitor wintering avian populations over a longer period of time to see how they’re faring. This is a more beneficial project than single day events in some aspects because it spreads the variabilities of weather on a single day and volunteer participation over time and likely the enthusiasm remains higher. That said, this does not diminish the value of intense single day surveys such as the CBCs. I will be reporting on the results of our two local CBCs in my next column.
So who does all this work? Well, we do! We are the amateur and novice scientists that make all this happen. We go out day after day and week after week to monitor what’s out there and report on it so the professional scientists can use this data and draw valid and important conclusions about the health of our environment. Continued on page 7.