Tag Archives: citizen science

It is time again, for another round of the Great Backyard Bird Count!

The 2012 GBBC will take place Friday, February 17, through Monday, February 20. Please join us for the 15th annual count!

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.  

As it happens, unfortunately, for the second year in a row, I am going to be away from my favorite birding partner during the 2012 GBBC! Last year, she was in India while I was stuck in the US. This time its the other way around. Perhaps she will be able to get her class to participate. What about you? Will you spend a morning counting birds in your backyard next week?

Cities – some thoughts on a Radiolab exploration

If you are a public radio junkie, and a science+art junkie, you’re probably already addicted to WNYC’s wonderful Radiolab podcast featuring Jad Abumarad and the incomparable Robert Krulwich. If you aren’t already addicted to this podcast… what are you waiting for? Point your browser thither right now, and thence find the appropriate link to download the podcast on your device of choice. Got it? Good.

Now, for this science+radio junkie with a lot of urban ecology on the mind, the Radiolab guys offered up the perfect trifecta recently, when they did a whole hour-long exploration of Cities!! I’ve been mulling it over ever since I heard it several months ago, wanting to write a lengthier blog post about it, but what with teaching, travel, and actually studying urban ecology, never seem to find the time. This episode was brought to mind afresh last week during a trip to Tempe, Arizona, while attending a very stimulating workshop on urban ecology and resilience (hosted by the good folks at the Stockholm Resilience Center). The workshop was a precursor to the 2011 Resilience conference, where I also presented some of our ongoing work on urban water policy, water use, and biodiversity in Fresno-Clovis. As we drove back midway through the conference, while crossing over from the Sonoran to the Mojave deserts, I subjected my sociologist friend and colleague Andrew Jones to this show – and figured I might as well share it here with you. I think it is a rather (typically for Radiolab) rich and unusual exploration of cities from different perspectives, and contains ideas I want to pursue further, some in writing here in time to come. Meanwhile, you can listen to the show right here, right now:



The parts that resonate the most with me are in the first several segments, on the comparative metabolism of cities. Could be in part because I am a sucker for comparative ecology and metabolic scaling, more so because I also happen to know Bob Levine, psychologist colleaage here at Fresno State, who shared some of his work on the geography of time with us during an evening at the Central Valley Café Scientifique several years ago. Having lived in a number of cities of various shapes, sizes, and cultures, I have experienced some of this variation in the pace of city life, of how we experience the flow of time in different places. So I can begin to see how cities shape our perception of time in interesting ways. What really intrigues me now, after listening to the show again, is this: do other animals (especially the ones with the sharper brains and cleverer minds like us) also perceive the flow of time differently in different cities? Does the flow of time — or, to put it in behavioral ecology terms: do the rates of certain behaviors and/or the overall time-budget — for a macaque in Bangalore differ from that of its cousins in Mysore or Papanasam? Does a Scrub Jay in Fresno hop or call or cache food at a higher rate than one in Visalia? Are the White-crowned sparrows wintering in Fresno singing at a slower rate than those in Phoenix or San Francisco? I think this calls for another participatory global citizen science project, just like Bob Levine and the Radiolab guys did with humans. I’m developing a comparable simple-but-robust metric and protocol that could be used with urban birds and mammals, and will share it once I’ve got it worked out. If you have any ideas or suggestions on how best to measure the flow of time in non-human animals, please do write to me. This may not amount to a whole lot of science – but I wonder…

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend!


Its happening this weekend: the 2011 Great Backyard Bird Count. And you can join in this fun citizen science project as well. I will miss doing it in our new backyard in Fresno, unfortunately, because I will be attending the AAAS meeting in Washington, DC this weekend – although I may try to do a count there if possible. Besides, my partner in last year’s count is in India with her mum and sister, so how could I do it in our backyard by myself? Check out our report, with pictures, from last year’s GBBC. And do drop me a line here if you decide to do a count.

Here’s an excerpt from the GBBC press release:

February 8, 2011—Blackbirds made
the headlines when a flock of thousands fell from the skies in Arkansas
on New Year’s Eve. Now bird enthusiasts across the continent are
counting the birds—not just blackbirds, but birds of more than 600
species—in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. During February 18–21
the event will create an instantaneous snapshot of birdlife across the
U.S. and Canada for all to see.

Anyone can help by tallying birds for at least 15 minutes on any day of
the count. At www.birdcount.org, you can enter
the highest number of each species seen at any one time and watch as
the tallies grow across the continent. Coordinated by the Cornell Lab
of Ornithology, Audubon, and Bird Studies Canada, the four-day count
typically records more than 10 million observations.

Last year’s participants reported more than 1.8 million American
Robins, as well as rarities such as the first Red-billed Tropicbird in
the count’s 13-year history.

Scientia Pro Publica #44 (the silly walks edition?)


Welcome to the 44th edition of Scientia Pro Publica, the (now weekly) blog carnival of science! Since this bonus edition of the carnival is already late, what with yours truly being sideswiped by several unexpected deadlines, let me just throw you into the fray without too much further ado.

Well, some ado, because first, there is some fine print: This bonus edition comes to you about a week early (and a day late) because the previous host had, well, a host too many submissions! Therefore, we now need hosts for a weekly edition, to be published every monday, to cope with this healthy growth in submissions. A good problem for a carnival to have, I think. So if you’ve been participating (posting or merely reading) in this carnival but have balked at hosting it at your digs, now might be the time to take the plunge! Please volunteer to spend part of an upcoming weekend reading (as you already do, don’t you?) some good science posts and compiling them for other readers. Check the schedule, and let us know when you can host. If all you want to do is submit an article for consideration in a future edition, use the automatic submission form or send your link directly to the Scientia Pro Publica email address. Those of you on twitter, surely you’re following this carnival’s tweets already, right? And while on the subject of twitter, how about a list of twitter apps for scientists, courtesy the e-Health News Blog?

Right ho, then: what else have we here, in this iteration of the carnival?

I always like to start with history, something too often ignored by young scientists. Romeo Vitelli offers a very nice biographical account of the perhaps rather autistic / Asperger’s affected, but perhaps just merely very shy and awkward, but nevertheless quite brilliant chemist Henry Cavendish, arguably the greatest English scientist of all time after Isaac Newton (so says the author of this post). Ok, I’ll argue that last bit, for, what about one Mr. Darwin, eh?! As for Cavendish’s legacy, or at least that of the subject he is most known for, Chemistry, Akshat Rathi offers a top-ten list of how that science has changed the world, and will continue to do so.

Regular readers of my blog (and I mean all 7 of you who visit here often, I hope!) know my enthusiasm for citizen science. It shouldn’t surprise you then, that I share Zoologirl’s excitement over the serendipitous discovery of the long-distance record for whale travel by a tourist snapping a picture on a whale-watching trip! Think about that the next time you are irritated by some tourist paparazzi pointing cameras at wildlife that you want to enjoy unencumbered by technology.

Got kids? Worried they spend too much time with technology and not enough out in nature – but the computer’s all you have at hand right now that grabs their attention? Perhaps you could use a handy list of online resources on wildlife conservation upon which to let them loose while you take a nap? Here you go. How about 20 unbelievable TED talks about animals to keep them glued to the computer screen? OTOH (as the kids abbreviate) those video games that have you despairing for the youth may not be so bad after all, going by this list of recent studies compiled at the Psychology Degree website. On the other OTOH, Bjørn Østman wonders if intelligent people really watch more television, if our species’ intelligence supposedly evolved through novelty seeking – or rather, selection for solving novel problems. Well, I’m not sure merely watching TV, however novel the content on it, quite qualifies as any kind of problem solving. 


Whatever you do about them hyperactive kids, think hard before medicating them! The Addiction Inbox reviews why it may be time to say goodbye and goodnight to Codeine, perhaps the most prescribed opiate in the world. I wonder, though, what those ever drunk fruit bats think of that, given their extraordinary ability to hold their liquor. Emily Willingham writes about a fascinating study of drunk-echolocating which suggests that alcohol may even drive speciation in bats.

Lab Rat reviews the many fascinating ways by which Bacteria move. I daresay you might find some ideas there for a grant application to the ministry of silly walks, perchance. If that’s not odd enough for you, how about the Platypus, profiled nicely on the Schooner of Science? Staying with animal tales, we have GrrlScientist channeling her grrlish affection for horses into an excellent post at her new Guardian digs, on a new DNA study that sheds light on the origins of the modern Thoroughbred matrilines that have produced celebrities who may right be burning up the silver screen in your neighborhood multiplex.

On this election day here in the US, when subversive ideas seem to be brewing everywhere, you might enjoy this take at the Beaker blog on instigating subversion at the cellular level, to treat cancer! How about that, eh? Meanwhile, at Protein Spotlight, Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen shines a… well, spotlight… on a more harmful subversion, when an acquired modification of a protein causes a serious disease in humans.

Joerg Heber blogging at All That Matters is celebrating the Physics Nobel Prize going to work on graphene, but urges caution on the actual uses to which this amazing form of carbon may or may not end up being applied. Meanwhile, Akshat Rathi ponders the implications of something we lament all too often these days, the commercialization of the university, where academic productivity is increasingly measured by bean counters not necessarily in terms of quality of teaching and research, but by the amount of grant monies brought in by professors. In another post, young Akshat also joins the growing debate over peer review, and what’s to be done about it, raising some questions of his own in response to the Curious Wavefunction’s post about Nobel Laureate Harry Kroto’s recent rant against the peer-review system.

That rounds up our carnival for this week, folks! Come back next monday, and every monday thereafter for another edition. And, if you have a blog, please consider playing host too!

Want to rescue oil-soaked wildlife? There’s an app that can help!

peopleiPhone users who come upon oiled birds and other wildlife from the Gulf Spill can can send the location and a photo to animal rescue networks using a free new iPhone app developed by University of Amherst researchers.

Called MoGO, for Mobile Gulf Observatory, the app is free and was funded in part from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Researchers hope the MoGO app will draw on the large network of “citizen scientists” who are actively looking for ways to help save wildlife along the 14,000 miles of northern Gulf coastline that could be impacted from the ongoing BP wellhead disaster.

The new app allows anyone who finds an oiled animal to be linked automatically by the phone to the Wildlife Hotline, and also to contribute photos of the stranded animal and its GPS location coordinates to a database here on campus,” says UMass Amherst wildlife biologist Curt Griffin.

The idea for the new app came to Charlie Schweik, associate director of the National Center for Digital Government, as he listened to yet another depressing story about the Gulf oil spill. Already working on invasive species mapping with computer scientist Deepak Ganesan, an expert in mobile phone and sensor systems, Schweik thought that experience might prove useful for inventorying damage in the Gulf. Smartphones such as the iPhone have several sensors including camera, GPS, audio, video, and acceleration, which all provide valuable data for such an application.

For more information go to www.savegulfwildlife.org.

Hat-tip: MacInTouch Reader.

Even waterfowl like the green. Of the $$ kind, that is, it seems.

ResearchBlogging.orgI’ve noted the so-called “luxury effect” in the distribution of biodiversity in urban areas on this blog before, as seen in the pattern of higher bird diversity in the more affluent areas of Fresno-Clovis, and in cities as far removed as Phoenix, Arizona and Leipzig, Germany. Well, another piece of evidence supporting this pattern was published yesterday in the letters section of The Fresno Bee! Radley Reep, a local birder who rang me up just a week or so ago to talk about potential collaboration with the Fresno Bird Count, wrote the following letter based on his own independent survey of ponding basins in Fresno. Now this is real citizen science! Here’s the letter in its entirety:

I’m an avid birder. Recently I conducted an inventory of birdlife in Fresno’s 130 ponding basins. The result surprised me.

For example, I would not have guessed that some waterfowl prefer inundated ponding basins north of Shields three to one over those farther south. This called to mind many differences between north and south Fresno.

The north is far more prosperous. There you can find more facilities for higher education, a greater number of well-known chain stores and a plethora of fast food restaurants. There are gas stations everywhere and much newer cars traveling much better roads.

The north is cleaner and greener. The sidewalks at ponding basins have less graffiti, the basins themselves much less trash. There are more curbs and gutters, more manicured lawns, larger wooded areas and open spaces.

While birds vote with their wings, people can’t always vote with their feet. Some waterfowl have chosen north Fresno, but some south-Fresno residents may not have the resources needed to participate in that bounty.

Perhaps, one day, Fresno leaders will fashion an equally pleasant environment in south Fresno. Should that happen, then a simple inventory of birdlife may be the best measure of their success.

Radley Reep


What’s interesting about this result is that we are not talking about private ponds, but mostly public ones used for flood control. Which means that it is not only what people can afford to do on their own properties that can attract or repel more species of birds, as found in the previous studies. These waterfowl are preferentially selecting ponds in more affluent neighborhoods even though the ponds should be under the management of a single public agency – the county flood control district! So does the differential selection of ponds by neighborhood income indicate differences in how the ponds are managed? Reep already points out how graffiti-/trash-free ponds are in richer parts of town – although that explanation may not satisfy many birders whose first stop in a new city may well be the city dump or sewage treatment plant because that’s where many cool waterbirds are! Or is the surrounding matrix of residential areas influencing habitat selection by the waterfowl? Or is it a combination of these and other factors acting in concert? Something to look into there, eh?

And I’m with Reep entirely in urging city leaders to take note of these socioeconomic disparities in access to nature and biodiversity as another dimension of environmental injustice – but one they can do something about especially in their planning for urban green spaces and ponds!


Ann P. Kinzig, Paige Warren, Chris Martin, Diane Hope, & Madhusudan Katti (2005). The Effects of Human Socioeconomic Status and Cultural Characteristics on Urban Patterns of BiodiversityEcology and Society, 10 (1)

Michael W. Strohbach, Dagmar Haase, & Nadja Kabisch (2009). Birds and the City: Urban Biodiversity, Land Use, and Socioeconomics Ecology and Society, 14 (2)

Nilavi and Madhu’s Great Backyard Bird Count 2010

This Friday started for me with my 4-year-old daughter Nilavi jumping up on the bed and shaking me excitedly with: “Appa! Wake up – let’s do the bird count!” Lovely way to start the day, eh? So, after I had awakened fully, Nilavi and I grabbed our binoculars and headed out to the back porch, to conduct our very first count for the Great Backyard Bird Count 2010. Not a bad way to start off Darwin Day either!

As a strong enthusiast for citizen science, and founder of the Fresno Bird Count, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I haven’t volunteered to participate in too many such counts myself! Something about being a “professional” ornithologist, I guess… its not a hobby when I’m doing it regularly for my own projects! But when I have such a bright-eyed partner to get me out of bed and out the door, I just might find myself as a citizen scientist more often. Within the next few days, in fact, for Nilavi is keen to count birds on every one of the 4 days of this GBBC, which runs through this long weekend, from Feb 12-15, 2010.
So we did a basic 15 minute count for the first day, focusing on birds within and in the visible vicinity of our backyard. It was far from a dull quarter of an hour, what with a larger than usual flock of American Robins calling and fluttering about the tops of several bare trees, a couple of Northern Flickers tapping along the bigger branches, White-crowned Sparrows singing in the brush of a neighbor’s yard, and a flock of Cedar Waxwings bejeweling the tree crowns! We counted a total of a dozen species, and a short while ago, entered our data into the GBBC database. Here’s our complete checklist:

California Gull – 15
Mourning Dove – 8
Northern Flicker – 2
Western Scrub-Jay – 2
American Crow – 2
American Robin – 22
Northern Mockingbird – 1
European Starling – 3
Cedar Waxwing – 25
Yellow-rumped Warbler – 1
White-crowned Sparrow – 4
House Finch – 5

And later, I managed to capture the above images of some of the birds. How was your GBBC experience?