A Bright Outlook for Citizen Science in Arlington

by Louis Harrell

“The joy of looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.” – Albert Einstein

Citizen Science is defined as “the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.” Why is it important? It offers many benefits both to residents of a community and local natural resource programs. While there are many citizen science opportunities in the region at large, this piece focuses on how citizens may participate in research projects in Arlington County, improve their knowledge of the local environment, and identify species resident in the County. The County gets to use the expertise of citizens to accomplish needed projects that might otherwise be delayed due to resource constraints.

What can we look forward to in the near future?  A bright outlook for citizen science!

Arlington’s First Bioblitz

 Arlington Bioblitz logo

On May 20, ARMN will be supporting the first Arlington’s Bioblitz as a key focus project for 2017. This 24-hour survey is the first of a series of annual surveys designed to document the plants and animals present in a number of parks in the county. Data collected will be used as part of the Arlington Natural Resource Management plan. Experts will provide support and advice to volunteers who will document local species.

The mammal survey component of the bioblitz will look for proof of locally rare species. Game cameras will be used to monitor species and volunteers will be needed to review photos. An entomologist will support volunteers who will collect, preserve, and send bee samples to other entomologists for additional study. Other insects will also be surveyed. Ornithologists and expert birders will conduct bird walks. Any unusual nesting activity may be included in the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas.

Surveys of bats, fish, salamanders, and other amphibians and reptiles are also planned.  Among the locations where you can sign up to participate in the bioblitz are: Barcroft Park, Gulf Branch Park and Nature Center, Long Branch Nature Center at Glencarlyn Park, and Potomac Overlook Regional Park.  The full list of projects and more information is provided here.  Alonso Abugattas has also published an article about the BioBlitz on his Capital Naturalist blog: http://capitalnaturalist.blogspot.com/2017/04/arlington-bioblitz.html.

There are many other projects that are longer-term and often part of a national scope. All offer participants the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the environment and do significant field work. Below are some projects that focus on deer, birds, insects, and plants.

Deer Browse Surveys

Deer browse surveys are underway within Glencarlyn Park and Barcroft Park. Additional studies are being planned that will use existing trees and fences to create temporary deer exclosures. The exclosures will allow collection of data using different methodologies than currently used.

Game camera surveys can also be conducted over a long period to capture photos of locally rare species and monitor trends in more common mammals.

Ornithology Projects Including the Annual Christmas Bird Count

Photo of Yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronate)

Yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronate)

There are many wonderful citizen science bird programs, too. These include the very popular Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society in which volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the annual census of birds during the winter. Another opportunity is the eBird Project, co-sponsored by the Cornell Ornithology Lab and Audubon. It is an online database of bird observations in which anyone can enter bird lists to monitor bird species in their area or map overall abundance of a species in an area over time. There is also the Breeding Bird Atlas of Virginia program.  The second Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (VABBA2) is a follow-up survey to the first Atlas that was published over 25 years ago and surveys all bird species breeding in the state. Data collected will help map the distribution and status of Virginia’s breeding bird community in order to provide better information for natural resource and conservation decisions.

Insect Citizen Science Projects

Photo of Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

The North American Butterfly Association conducts a butterfly count in July.  The Pollinator Partnership sponsors National Pollinator Week in June to collect data on pollinators including bees and monarch butterflies and generally to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what can be done to protect them. National Moth Week takes place in the last week in July and celebrates the beauty, life cycles, and habitats of moths. People of all ages and abilities are encouraged to learn about, observe, and document moths in their backyards, parks, and neighborhoods. There are between 60 and 70 moth species in Arlington already recorded but even more species could be identified!

Plant Citizen Science Opportunities

Photo of Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

 

Botanists and plant lovers of all levels will also have opportunities. Arlington County is developing some exciting projects:  The Arlington Herbarium needs to be digitized in order to improve the usefulness of the collection for analysis and voucher specimens need to be collected for the State Atlas.

Whatever your interest in nature, there is probably a local or national citizen science project in which you can participate.  Go outside, look, learn, and share!

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