Citizen Science

All posts tagged Citizen Science

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

On Thursday, March 27, 9am to 3pm, I will be conducting a citizen science field trip to seek Rusty Blackbirds in New Castle County, participating in an effort called the Rusty Blackbird Blitz.  This field trip is free for members of the Delaware Nature Society, and $15 for non-members.  Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) is a scarce, declining, and poorly known blackbird species that prefers to live and feed in swamps, bogs, beaver ponds, and other wooded wetlands.  Unfortunately, over the last 40 years, this species is thought to have declined 85-95% across its range probably due to wetland habitat loss and disturbance.  However, the causes of this steep decline are largely unknown, and the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group is leading the effort to learn more.  Delaware Nature Society, with the help of University of Delaware PhD student Desiree Narango, is coordinating the Rusty Blackbird Blitz effort locally.  Our field trip is part of this project to identify spring migration stopover sites that might be important to their survival.

Female Rusty Blackbirds are fairly distinctive, with a broad eyestripe, pale eye, and rusty feather edges.

Female Rusty Blackbirds are fairly distinctive, with a broad eyestripe, pale eye, and rusty feather edges.

Why go out and look for Rusty Blackbirds now?  In Delaware, Rusty Blackbirds are migrating through the state from their wintering grounds further south.  Rusty Blackbirds are on their way to the wild boreal forests of Canada and Alaska to nest in boggy wetland areas.  The migration period in Delaware is roughly early March through mid-April.  Rusty Blackbirds stop and feed along their migration route and can be found in wooded wetlands flipping over wet leaves, and poking along water edges for food.  On our field trip, we will visit a variety of such wetlands looking for these birds, which travel in small groups of less than 100.  We will also be listening for their spring song, which sounds like a creaky, rusty door hinge.

Here, a male Rusty Blackbird forages along a wet woodland, their favorite habitat on their wintering and breeding grounds.

Here, a male Rusty Blackbird forages along a wet woodland, their favorite habitat on their wintering and breeding grounds.

Since March 1, Delaware birders have been looking for Rusty Blackbirds, and contributing their sightings to the Blitz project by entering them into eBird.  Anyone can participate, and all you need is a free eBird account.  When entering your sightings, choose Rusty Blackbird Blitz when indicating the type of birding you were doing.  Thirty reports of Rusty Blackbirds have been entered into the system through today, and the biggest flock reported so far was 70 at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge on March 22.  70 is a large number to see these days.  In the past, their migratory flocks were referred to as “spectacular, noisy, and ubiquitous”*.  This is certainly not the case today.

By the time breeding season rolls around for Rusty Blackbirds, they lose the rusty edges to their feathers and appear black with a pale eye.  Rusty Blackbirds are very easily confused with the much more common Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, and Brown-headed Cowbird.

By the time breeding season rolls around for Rusty Blackbirds, they lose the rusty edges to their feathers and appear black with a pale eye. Rusty Blackbirds are very easily confused with the much more common Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, and Brown-headed Cowbird.

Large-scale, international citizen science data collection projects like the Rusty Blackbird Blitz are helping scientists collect the data they need to learn more about declining species.  The Delaware Nature Society is proud be a part of such an effort which could lead to more effective conservation of this species and the habitats it requires.  What will we learn about their spring migration stopover sites in Delaware?  Join our field trip on Thursday to help find out, and if you would like a chance to see Rusty Blackbirds.  Register by visiting www.delawarenaturesociety.org or by calling (302) 239-2334.  If you can’t g0 on the trip, keep you eyes out for these interesting blackbirds, and listen for their creaky, rusty-door-hinge sound.  If you find some, get photos and note your location and the date.  If you do not use eBird, but find these birds, you can report them to me by emailing joe AT delawarenaturesociety.org.

*(Avery, Michael L. 2013. Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.)

Photos courtesy of the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group.

Story and Photos by Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Programs Team Leader

February can be boring as an outdoor enthusiast.  This year, it is especially true, with winter tightly gripping our region, and at least once a week we get slapped with another winter storm.  After a while, I start to lose enthusiasm for hiking on ice-crusted snow with face-numbing wind chills and frozen fingers and toes.  I can give you something to look forward to this week, however….the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).  Starting this Friday, February 14th, and running through Monday, February 17th, the Great Backyard Bird Count wants your bird observations.

Search for wintering ducks like the fish-eating Common Merganser during the GBBC this weekend.  Look for these birds on any body of open water, even small creeks like the Red Clay Creek.

Search for wintering ducks like the fish-eating Common Merganser during the GBBC this weekend. Look for these birds on any body of open water, even small creeks like the Red Clay Creek.

The GBBC is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada.  The purpose of the count is to take a snapshot of bird populations around the world during mid-winter when birds are not migrating, during the leanest of times.  You can enter your sightings from anywhere during the 4-day period, whether it is your backyard, a park, wildlife refuge, the middle of a city, or while you are on vacation in Africa.  Anywhere in the world counts.

If you are birding in your yard during the GBBC, you probably will have lots of White-throated Sparrows coming to the feeders.

If you are birding in your yard during the GBBC, you probably will have lots of White-throated Sparrows coming to the feeders.

Participating is fun!  At the minimum, take a look at the birds in your yard, local park, neighborhood, or wherever you are for 15 minutes, and report what you see to the Great Backyard Bird Count website or eBird.  Either way, the data is going to the same place.  Each year, the data is used to track trends in bird populations on a global scale and is one of the biggest citizen science efforts anywhere where YOU provide the data.

Join the Delaware Nature Society on one of our field trips, this Friday February 14 through Monday February 17.  We will search the state of Delaware for as many species as we can find for the GBBC.

Join the Delaware Nature Society on one of our field trips, this Friday February 14 through Monday February 17. We will search the state of Delaware for as many species as we can find for the GBBC.

The GBBC has been running since 1998 and is always held in February for 4 consecutive days.  Last year in Delaware, 134 species were found during the Count.  The year with the highest species count was 2009, with 147 species tallied.  I would like to challenge you to get out at least once this coming Monday through Friday to get out somewhere, or at least look at your feeders from the warmth of your home, identify the birds you see, and report them to the GBBC.  I think we can beat 147 species in Delaware and make a real contribution to science together, resulting in a better understanding of the winter patterns of birds around us, benefiting their conservation.

Beautiful species such as this Swamp Sparrow await your discovery during the GBBC.  Get outside, make some observations, and report them for science, and the conservation of birds.

Beautiful species such as this Swamp Sparrow await your discovery during the GBBC. Get outside, make some observations, and report them for science, and the conservation of birds.

If you would like to join the Delaware Nature Society on guided field trips during the GBBC, we have them every day this Friday through Monday.  Visit the Delaware Nature Society website or call (302) 239-2334 ext. 134 to register.

Friday, February 14:

Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, 8am – noon.  Enjoy a pancake breakfast and exploring around the center, Blair’s Pond, and the Issacs-Greene Preserve.  Leader: Jason Beale.  Member/Non-member: $7/$10

Coverdale Farm Preserve, 8am – 11am.  Enjoy a big, hot breakfast and a walk around Coverdale Farm Preserve.  Leaders: Sheila Vincent, Joe Sebastiani, Derek Stoner, and Jim White.  Member/Non-member: $15/$22.

Saturday, February 15:

Sussex County Tour.  Meet at Ashland Nature Center (7am) or Abbott’s Mill Nature Center (8:30am) and travel by van to birding hotspots in Sussex County.  We will look for Snowy Owls, and visit places such as Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Henlopen State Park, and Indian River Inlet in search of sea ducks, marsh birds, gulls, and other winter specialties.  Leaders: Jason Beale and Joe Sebastiani.  If you meet at Ashland – Member/Non-member: $25/$35.  If you meet at Abbott’s – Member/Non-member: $15/$25.

Sunday, February 16:

Kent County Tour.  Meet at Ashland Nature Center at 8am and travel by van to bayshore locations including Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Little Creek and Ted Harvey Wildlife Areas.  Leader: Bill Stewart.  Member/Non-member: $20/$30.

Monday, February 17:

New Castle County Tour.  Meet at Ashland Nature Center and travel by van to visit areas along the Delaware River from Fox Point State Park to Delaware City to find raptors, rare gulls, ducks, and marsh birds.  Leader: Derek Stoner.  Member/Non-member: $15/$22.