At-Home Citizen Science Projects

Photo (c) by Barbara J. Saffir

Virginia may be in Phase 3 of re-opening but many volunteers will continue to stay home, especially those in high risk groups. For those who are looking for home-based opportunities, Virginia Master Naturalists has compiled a list of ideas for citizen science projects.

• CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, & Snow Network) https://www.cocorahs.org
• Nature’s Notebook https://www.usanpn.org/natures_notebook
• Project Budburst http://budburst.org
• Digitizing Virginia’s Herbaria project within Notes from Nature –  https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/md68135/notes-from-nature-southeastern-us-biodiversity  
• Project FeederWatch (season is mid-November through early April) https://feederwatch.org
• Great Backyard Bird Count (mid-February only) https://gbbc.birdcount.org
• NestWatch https://nestwatch.org 
• Hummingbirds at Home (Audubon) – https://www.audubon.org/content/hummingbirds-home
• Monarch Larva Monitoring Project https://monarchjointventure.org/mlmp 
• Firefly Watch https://www.massaudubon.org/get-involved/citizen-science/firefly-watch 
• Bumblebee Watch – https://www.bumblebeewatch.org
• Migratory Dragonfly Partnership http://www.migratorydragonflypartnership.org/index/welcome 
• Lost Ladybug http://www.lostladybug.org 
• FrogWatch http://www.frogwatch.org/ 
• Virginia WildlifeMapping https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/virginia-wildlife-mapping
• City Nature Challenge (limited to participating locations and specific dates) https://citynaturechallenge.org
• World Bee Count – https://beescount.org

Master naturalists, please check with the FMN service catalog or our service chair if you have any questions.

Gardening Opportunities in Fairfax County Parks

Both Hidden Oaks Nature Center and Riverbend Park seek volunteers to “adopt a spot” or “adopt a native plant” gardens in the parks. These independent, outdoor service projects offer plenty of safe physical distancing. Additional gardens will be available later in the summer. See descriptions below for details and contact.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center projects

Riverbend Park projects

Observe Locally – Help Globally :  Participate in the next international Socially Distant BioBlitzes, June 14th, July 5th

Article and photos by Bill Hafker

It’s tough on those of us who thrive on getting with a group of friends to hike, bike, kayak or otherwise just get outside and observe nature, to feel locked out of doing that. However, it is still possible to find ways to stay safe and enjoy the outdoors.  Whether you just go into your backyard, or find a trail or park that’s open, you can still take part in doing the citizen science/monitoring work you love.  If you enjoyed participating in the City Nature Challenge during April, or if you missed it and wished that you could have been part of advancing a group goal in support of the environment while doing socially distanced nature observations, it’s not too late to do so! 

American Carrion Beetle

The first-ever International Socially Distant BioBlitz was held on April 5th.  It connected 346 participants who together made over 12,500 observations documenting more than 3,000 species.  It was such a success that the organizers at Antioch University New England did it again on May 3rd.  I participated on that day by spending hours documenting everything I could find on a trail near my home.  I had a great time being one of 417 participants from 52 countries, contributing 241 observations and 134 species to their new record numbers of over 22,000 observations and 6,137 species.  I’m planning to try to participate in the upcoming BioBlitzes by walking the same trail each time to see how the species present change, and hoping to find things that I didn’t see the times before.  What was especially cool this time was that I received a comment from someone in the iNat community who thinks I may have posted an invasive beetle not previously documented in the east.  My pictures weren’t good enough for him to be sure of the species, so I’m hoping to find it again on a subsequent date so that I can send him the specimen that he requested.

Trombidium

Based on their success, the organizers will be holding these Socially Distant BioBlitzes on a tri-weekly basis until stay-at-home orders are lifted across the globe.  Hopefully you can join the next ones, and encourage others to participate as well.  Info can be found at https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/socially-distant-bioblitz-5-24-2020.   Everyone is encouraged to also check out the Socially Distant BioBlitz series, an umbrella project that keeps track of cumulative totals and compares individual bioblitzes at    https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/socially-distant-bioblitz-series.

Per current VMN policy guidelines, participation in these bioblitzs can not be counted as service hours because they are not considered to be sufficiently focused on work with local partners or state sponsored agencies supporting beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within our own community.

Nightjar Surveys

By Laura Duval, Research Biologist & Program Coordinator, The Nightjar Survey Network ​

The U.S. Nightjar Survey Network (NSN) is a citizen science-driven research group that has worked to collect long-term occupancy data for this unusual group of birds over the past 12 years.

North American nightjars, or goatsuckers, include nine nocturnal (most active at night) and crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk) species. Nightjars arrive in North America during late March after migrating from their wintering grounds, which can be as distant as South America. They typically breed and forage in deciduous and pine forests near shrubby or agriculture fields and bodies of water.  Depending on the species, nightjars typically lay 1-3 eggs in leaf litter found on the forest floor or in open pebbled and sandy tracts. The downy-feathered, semi-precocial nestlings (see photo) are mostly dependent on the adults for food, but are mobile near the nest within days of hatching. Nightjar young become independent after their parents feed them for up to a month in their natal territory. Nightjars begin their movements back to their wintering grounds as early as July, though some populations remain in southern states such as Texas, Florida and Arizona throughout the winter. 

Nightjars are included in a group of birds labeled “aerial insectivores” due to their foraging habits. Recent research has indicated that aerial insectivores are in the most drastic decline of all bird taxa. Factors affecting these birds include habitat degradation, human disturbance, agriculture practices (i.e., exposure to pesticides), and climate change. We know little about the specifics of their ecology because their nocturnal tendencies have made them challenging to study and simply hard to detect by millions of citizen scientists that submit observations in volunteer data portals such as eBird. Long-running programs such as the Breeding Bird Survey adhere to a diurnal survey period reducing the overall number of nightjars detected for that program. 

The Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary in Virginia established the network in 2007 in an attempt to fill gaps in knowledge for these species. Since its initiation over 3,000 surveys have been conducted nationwide. The project is designed to be effective over many years of surveying and over broad landscapes. With the support of the Virginia Master Naturalists we are hopeful that we can tap into a core group of local participants that would be willing to donate a few hours of their time once a year to this cause. A passion for scientific contribution, a willingness to work on a gorgeous moonlit night, and a vehicle is all it takes to become a surveyor. The structure of the survey network also encourages participants to conduct routes (even those without birds) for several years to lend insight into trends over time. 

2020 Survey Dates
Window 1: FL, TX, and low elevation AZ and NM: 1 April to 14 April
Window 2: Any location in the country: 30 April to 14 May
Window 3: Areas north of AZ, FL, NM, and TX, and for high elevation areas in the Northern U.S.: 29 May to 13 June
Window 4: North and western states (WA, OR, ID, MT, WY, Dakotas, MN): 27 July to 11 August

The 2020 season has already began, however, for Virginians there is still time to sign up and conduct surveys by visiting http://www.nightjars.org/. Survey windows 2 and 3 (see figure below) are the best times to detect nightjars in our state. Environmental parameters such as moon phase and face illumination, cloud cover, precipitation and wind affect the activity and subsequent detection of nightjars. Therefore, please adhere to the survey window dates and try to pick an evening where you have favorable weather. 

Instructions for how to create an account, select or create a route, conduct a survey and enter data can be found here: http://www.nightjars.org/participate/survey-instructions/. This year we developed instructional videos for accomplishing these tasks as well that can be viewed at http://www.nightjars.org/learn/

We have created a draft project proposal form for this project that you can use to get the project approved in your VMN chapter.

Feel free to contact us anytime with questions you may have at nightjars@nightjars.org

Sustainable Landscaping Solutions for Faith Communities, June 14

When: June 14, 2:00-4:30 pm

Where: Either via videoconference or St. Peter’s in the Woods, Fairfax Station, VA

Join Plant NoVa Natives as they discuss how and why faith communities are using their places of worship to demonstrate stewardship of the Earth. Learn more.

City Nature Challenge: Fairfax Master Naturalists educate and organize

By Ana Ka’ahanui, FMN and Director Experiential Programs at Capital Nature

Join us for the #citynaturechallenge, a friendly global effort to safely explore biodiversity April 24-27, 2020! Even with our movement limited to minimize the spread of COVID-19, there is plenty of nature to observe at our windows, gardens, and in our neighborhoods. Join the DC metro area’s fellow citizen scientists to discover and share the amazing life near you!

Join these projects to have your observations counted. City Nature Challenge (April 24-27)
City Nature Month (April 1-30)

Visit www.iNaturalist.org and join the project City Nature Challenge 2020: Washington DC Metro Area: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/city-nature-challenge-2020-washington-dc-metro-area

Photo and article by Barbara J. Saffir

To encourage people to participate in iNaturalist’s global “City Nature Challenge” bioblitz in April, I’m hosting two virtual Meetups: One through my own Nature  Photography DC/MD/VA Meetup and one through the  Sierra Club’s Meetup.  My fellow Virginia Master Naturalists and the public are invited to join these two free Meetups: https://www.meetup.com/Nature-Photography-DC-MD-VA/events/267877831/ https://www.meetup.com/sierrapotomac/events/270131226/

From Atlas Obscura: How to Help Scientists Without Leaving Home

Gaze out the window or at your computer, in the name of data

BY JESSICA LEIGH HESTER

Atlas Obscura readers are spending time at home to stay safe and healthy, so the organization is sharing ways you can be awestruck anytime, no matter where you are. 

“THE NATURAL WORLD DOESN’T SLOW down just because humans have to. Outside, buds burst from branches; high, high above them, distant objects traverse the solar system. And while the world keeps going, science does, too. If you have a computer, a phone, and a window, you can help with these citizen science projects.”

Check the article for scores of links to citizen science projects you can do from home. Then, if you are a master naturalist, check the service or continuing education calendars to see which are approved for credit. If you don’t see them, please be kind and add them to help your fellow naturalists get credit for making the world a better place.

Get Started With Budburst!

Budburst brings together researchers, horticulturists, and citizen scientists on a shared journey to uncover the stories of plants affected by human impacts on the environment. Budburst tells these stories through data collection, data sharing, education, and personal connections.

Budburst citizen scientists work together with research scientists, educators, and horticulturists to answer specific, timely, and critical ecological research questions by making careful observations of the timing of plant life cycle events, also called phenophases. These life events differ depending upon the type of plant, but usually include leafing, flowering, and fruiting phases of plants as well as leaf color and senescence.

Learn more and get started

Service opportunity to do from home: Edit captions for VMN continuing education webinars

VMN HQ is looking for volunteers willing to do a very tedious, at-home computer task of editing the captions for VMN Continuing Education webinar videos. If this fits your skills and interest, see below for details. Volunteers chosen to assist with this project will be able to report their hours to the VMN Statewide Administration project. Cheers,  Michelle

Are you looking for a VMN volunteer opportunity you can do from home? This is a project that I’ve been trying to figure out how to do for a long time, and I think I finally have a way, with your help.

As you know, we have many years’ worth of recorded videos from our Continuing Education Webinar Series. Accessibility best practices for videos include having captions available for people who are deaf or otherwise unable to hear the audio well. The video software we use from Virginia Tech does do automatic captions, but they are done from computer speech recognition and are full of errors. Sometimes the errors are so bad that the text is nonsensical!  

What You’ll Do:

We are seeking volunteers to edit the captions for our recorded Continuing Education webinar videos. For each video, I have an unedited captions file that I will send as a starting point. I will also send you a link for streaming the recorded video. You will be asked to:

  1. Open the captions file in a text editing program such as TextEdit (on the Mac) or Notepad (on a PC). 
  2. Start playing the video using the link I provide to you.
  3. Listen to the video and follow along with the captions. When you see an error in the caption text, pause the video, edit the text, and then start the video again. Be sure to hit save on your captions file periodically.
  4. Follow some basic guidelines and conventions for captioning. I will send those out to the people who volunteer for this project.
  5. Work on the project whenever you want. You do not have to do the whole video in one sitting. The videos are generally about 1 hour, and you’ll find that it takes at least 2 to 4 hours to complete the caption editing because of all the stopping and starting. 
  6. When you’ve completed all the caption editing, save the file in a particular format (I’ll provide more directions on that) and then email the file to me.
  7. Complete the captioning for your video by approximately April 30. If you need longer, that’s OK, too. That is a somewhat arbitrary deadline.
  8. Report your volunteer time to the “VMN Statewide Administration” project on the VMS.

What You’ll Need:

  1. Access to a computer with a plain text editing program such as TextEdit or Notepad. Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and other word processing software are not what you want for this purpose.
  2. Access to an internet connection that allows you to stream video. I don’t have a practical way to download the videos and send the files to you, so you will need to be able to watch them online.
  3. Lots of attention to detail and an incredibly high tolerance for very tedious jobs!

To Volunteer:

Please contact Michelle Prysby by March 31. I will send out the assignments shortly after that date. I’ll just assign a video to you based on what is available. If we have more volunteers than videos, I will prioritize volunteers who have physical disabilities or injuries that prevent them from doing more physical volunteer work and after that I’ll just do first-come, first-chosen. Please only volunteer if you feel comfortable finding and using the text editor on your computer and feel like you have the necessary attention to detail that this project requires.

This is a great opportunity for volunteers who may need an at-home project, who really like our Continuing Education webinars, who don’t mind tedious tasks, and who have a good eye for details!

5th Annual Watershed Cleanup in April

April 4, 5, 11 and 18th
9am – 12pm
Over 20 local parks—find one near you!

The Nature Conservancy is partnering with the Fairfax County Park Authority to host their Fifth Annual Watershed Cleanup at parks throughout Fairfax County. This spring cleaning will remove tires, plastic bottles, can and other debris from local waterways, preventing trash from reaching the nation’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. One thousand volunteers are needed!

Online registration is available starting March 16th.

Questions? Contact Holly Lafferty, AmeriCorps Volunteer Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy.