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Soil Your Undies Campaign

The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District is challenging residents all across Fairfax County to bury a pair of cotton underwear as part of a campaign to promote soil health awareness. How does it work? Just bury a pair of cotton underwear and dig it back up after at least 60 days. It’s the quick and dirty way to test the microbial activity in your soil. The more the underwear is deteriorated, the healthier your soil!

Although you can use the Soil Your Undies Challenge to check your soil health at any time, the 2020 NVSWCD Soil Your Undies Challenge runs from July to September 2020.

JOIN THE CHALLENGE!
Step 1: Look for a place where you want to study the health of the soil. Make sure you are only studying sites on your property or with the permission of the landowner.
Step 2: Bury a pair of white cotton undies (or any white cotton clothing item) 3 inches under the soil’s surface. Be sure to take a “before” photo.
Step 3: Don’t forget to mark your study site with a flag or other easily-identifiable marker!
Step 4: Wait at least 60 days (this is the hard part…)
Step 5: Locate your marked study site and dig up your cotton undies. Be sure to take an “after” photo.
Step 6: How healthy is your soil? Healthier soils have a lot of microbial activity, and the healthy fungi and bacteria in the soil will break down your cotton undies. The more degraded your undies are, the more microbial activity you have in your soil, and the healthier your soil is.
Step 7: Share the results of your citizen science project! Email your photos and any notes you may have to conservationdistrict@fairfaxcounty.gov, and share your results with us on Facebook @nvswcd and on Instagram @NorthernVirginiaSWCD. We’ll be sharing our results with you, too!

Learn more about the challenge and soil health here.

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.

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

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

City Nature Challenge! April 24 – 27th — Changes have been made!

In the past, the City Nature Challenge has been a friendly competition among 160+ cities worldwide to see who can observe the most species and involve the most citizen scientists. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, some modifications have been made to help keep the organizers and participants safe. Firstly, this year’s CNC is no longer a competition. Instead, the organizers want to embrace the healing power of nature and encourage the collaborative aspect of the CNC. This will allow people to safely document biodiversity in whatever way they can, even from the safety of their own homes if necessary. All participants are urged to carefully follow public health guidelines provided by their local governments, as they are changing in real-time. Individual safety and public health are the utmost priority. Please refer to the COVID-19 FAQ page for more information.

Join the project as a citizen scientist from April 24th to 27th using the iNaturalist app.

Participating in the City Nature Challenge is fun—and it’s a great reason to step outdoors for some time with nature. Your observations of plant and animal life will help scientists collect valuable data on the biodiversity of our planet. AND you’ll help the Washington DC area win!

How it works

Resources, and a video

2019 City Nature Challenge Leaderboard

Mass Audubon Firefly Watch–Citizen Science in action

Also known as “lightning bugs,” fireflies are neither bugs nor flies—they’re actually beetles that light up using a chemical reaction in their lower abdomen (the bottom part of their body). Some of them light up in a specific blinking pattern, like a secret code that they use to “talk” with other fireflies and to find mates. Flashes can be quick or long-lasting, and one kind is in a j-shape.

Are firefly populations growing or shrinking, and what could lead to changes in their populations? Mass Audubon has teamed up with researchers from Tufts University to track the fate of these amazing insects. With your help, they hope to learn about the geographic distribution of fireflies and what environmental factors impact their abundance.

Join a network of citizen scientists around the country by observing your own backyard, and help scientists map fireflies. Anyone in North America can participate in Firefly Watch. Just spend at least 10 minutes once a week during firefly season observing fireflies in a single location. All firefly sightings — or lack thereof — are valuable!

Learn more about fireflies and participate in the Firefly Watch this summer.

Become a Citizen Scientist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Are you ready for a chance to visit some of the most gorgeous wild places in Northern Virginia–places you’d never find on your own?

Would you like an opportunity to apply your naturalist skills to ground-breaking scientific research (and get credit for service hours)?

Does cost-free training in survey and preparation protocols for specific guilds (birds, plants, pollinators) appeal to you? And admission to citizen science workshops that are interesting, informative, and fun?

Are you looking for opportunities to network and make friends with others who have similar interests?

Consider working with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). Every spring, Virginia Working Landscapes (VWL), an SCBI partner, recruits citizen scientists to assist with plant, bird, mammal, and pollinator surveys across the Piedmont of northern Virginia.  These surveys are part of an ongoing study of working grasslands that examines species diversity under various management regimes and at different stages of warm season grass establishment.  Fairfax Master Naturalists receive service credit (C200).

Joe Guthrie, VWL Survey Coordinator, prepping specimens at 2019 pollinator workshop at Blandy Farm

You do not need to be an expert to participate in the surveys (although both the plant and bird surveys demand a working knowledge of local flora and birds). All you need is an interest in learning and sufficient time to dedicate to the project.  Each survey features a mandatory introductory meeting to cover important information such as survey protocols, identification skills, and site assignments.

Yup, there are a few low-stress requirements, given that SCBI is part of the federal government. All VWL volunteers are required to register as a volunteer with Friends of the National Zoo.  FONZ manages one of the largest single-unit volunteer forces in the Smithsonian Institution, which supports nearly every function of daily life at the Zoo and beyond.  FONZ requires participants to be be a minimum of 18 years old, submit a Registration Application on the FONZ website, and (when selected) pass a Smithsonian background check. 

If you are interested in volunteering as a citizen scientist for VWL surveys, please contact: SCBIVWL@si.edu. 

POLLINATOR SURVEYS

Washing bee specimens at 2019 VWL workshop at Blandy Farm

Training includes information on pollinator life history, survey collection protocols in the field, identification of the most common bees and butterflies and specimen preparation for taxonomic identification. Citizen scientists are expected to process and store specimens properly, fill in survey sheets, and deliver or coordinate delivery of samples to the pollinator survey coordinator. The final identification of specimens will be completed by para-taxonomists.

  • You’ll perform surveys in late May-June and August.
  • Each survey takes about 4 hours per site, plus the additional time it takes to sort and identify the bees.
  • Survey dates can be at your convenience within the specified sampling periods (Spring = June, Summer = August).
  • Must be able to commit to 30-40 hrs.
  • Survey training, supplies and equipment provided.

 BIRD SURVEYS

Introductory training includes a brief overview of project goals, survey protocols, data collection and site assignments. A practice survey session for new volunteers is then held one month later and focuses on counting techniques. Knowledge of local bird species is essential.

  • Survey season runs May 15-June 30.
  • Counts are carried out within 3 hours of sunrise and take approximately 45-60 minutes per site (three 10-minute counts).
  • Time commitment is a minimum of 6 survey sessions plus training (estimated 15 hrs not including travel).
  • You will need personal binoculars and a field guide; all other survey supplies provided

PLANT SURVEYS

Training includes protocols, identification skills, and specimen preparation. There is no need to be an expert in Virginia’s native flora, but VWL does ask that you have familiarity with Virginia flora, and the ability to key out unknown specimens with a dichotomous key and the VWL reference collection. It is possible to pair with a more experienced person.

  • Surveys are performed in June and again from the last week of July through August.
  • Each site takes approximately 6-8 hours to survey.
  • Must be able to commit at least 5 days (an estimated 30-40 hrs plus travel), but the scheduling of the survey days is flexible.
  • Supplies and equipment provided.

MAMMAL SURVEYS

This survey uses camera-traps and our custom eMammal software to determine the occurrence of a wide range of mammals. Volunteers will use a GPS device to navigate to predetermined locations and setup cameras. Cameras will be left to survey for 3 weeks at a time without scent or food lure. Every 3 weeks they will retrieve the camera, replace memory card and batteries, and place camera in new location (estimated 1 hour per camera). Volunteers will then upload photographs and metadata using eMammal software (approximately 1 hour per survey period), where it will be reviewed by project staff.

  • Surveys are performed May through November.
  • Each site takes approximately 2 hours per survey period.
  • Participants will need a personal GPS device, all other survey supplies provided.

WHAT VWL and SCBI WILL NEED FROM YOU

  • Fill out the form (click here) to join the volunteer applicant email list.
  • Participate in introductory training sessions and sampling days.
  • Join the FONZ network, and undergo fingerprinting and background check.
  • Complete assigned field surveys within the allotted time period.
  • Reply to emails concerning logistics and data management.

If you are interested in volunteering as a citizen scientist for VWL surveys, please contact: SCBIVWL@si.edu. 

Fairfax County Bug Bioblitz, Oct. 25-31st

Photo (c) by Barbara J. Saffir

Gear up for Halloween by looking for creepy crawlies in your neighborhood! Insects support whole ecosystems. Let’s celebrate them!

Insect populations are declining worldwide. Help us monitor our local insect and arachnid populations with this fun citizen science project.

Using iNaturalist, an app that can be downloaded to your Android or Apple phone, make and upload your observations between October 25th – October 31st, anywhere in Fairfax County. You can also join them for their public event on Saturday, October 26th from 10 am – noon at Lake Accotink Park.

More information on iNaturalist here.

 

Welcome to Project eTrout, citizen science from USGS

Welcome to Project eTrout [instructional video]!

Virtual reality (VR) provides exciting opportunities for environmental education and research. We invite your participation in a new program to engage students, anglers, and citizen scientists in fish ecology and climate change research using new VR methods. Participants will learn about fish ecology first-hand by exploring streams in VR and will be members of a research team lead by US Geological Survey (USGS) scientists. This program is free and designed for students, anglers, and citizen scientists of all ages.

Here’s how it works:

1. USGS collects 360-degree video samples from trout streams in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia (completed during summer 2018).
2. Participants access videos from a website and use standard computer monitors or VR headsets (e.g., Google cardboard) to watch them.
3. Participants then record data on fish abundance.
4. USGS then analyzes the combined data and reports key findings to participants.

 

Click here to begin.

Click here for a summary of results.

 

For more information and how to register contact:

Nathaniel (Than) Hitt, PhD
US Geological Survey, Leetown Science Center
304-724-4463

https://www.usgs.gov/staff-profiles/nathaniel-hitt