People in northern climes have long gazed at the wonder that is the aurora borealis: the northern lights.
Those celestial streaks of light and color are often seen on clear nights in Finland, where they’re so admired that a Finnish-language Facebook group dedicated to finding and photographing them has more than 11,000 members.
There aurora aficionados gather to discuss subjects like space weather forecasts and the best equipment to capture the northern lights. Continue reading
A great example of how data crowd-sourced from Citizen Scientists is helping to improve understanding of shark populations and behavior.
Site fidelity – the tendency to return to a particular area – isn’t exactly new in a species of shark (e.g. reef sharks, lemon sharks, even great white sharks). But that place is usually some sort of habitat… not a over 100-feet (34 meter) deep shipwreck. However, that is exactly the case for female sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus) off the coast of North Carolina!
Sand tiger sharks, also known as grey nurse sharks or spotted ragged-tooth sharks, are found globally in subtropical and temperate waters. Despite looking quite scary due to their tooth grins that never quite close, they are a slow-moving shark that are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A grey colored shark with reddish-brown spots throughout its body, they feast on a variety of animals such as a fish, crustaceans, squid, skates and even other sharks!
In September 2016, a citizen scientist wasn’t surprised to see an individual female sand tiger shark while scuba diving on the Aeolus shipwreck. Continue reading
Our most recent post about marine ecosystem citizen science connects the dots between the amazing community of people involved in gathering much needed information about the health of biodiversity in the deep.
Women’s photography of greater sea snake, once believed to be an anomaly in the Baie des Citrons, help scientists understand the ecosystem
A group of snorkelling grandmothers who swim up to 3km five days a week have uncovered a large population of venomous sea snakes in a bay in Noumea where scientists once believed they were rare.
Dr Claire Goiran from the University of New Caledonia and Professor Rick Shine from Australia’s Macquarie University were studying a small harmless species known as the turtle‐headed sea snake located in the Baie des Citrons, but would occasionally encounter the 1.5 metre-long venomous greater sea snake, also known as the olive-headed sea snake.
Goiran and Shine believed the greater sea snake was an anomaly in the popular swimming bay as it had only been spotted about six times over 15 years. From 2013, they decided to take a closer look at the greater sea snake to better understand its importance to the bay’s ecosystem.
“The study zone is in the most touristic bay in Noumea, so I often meet people when I am doing field work on sea snakes,” Goiran said. “When I was snorkelling on my own studying sea snakes, I used to meet a friend of mine called Aline that was snorkelling and taking photos on the same reef. In order to help me, she started taking photos of sea snakes and would send them to me by mail.
“I was very happy, so she asked her neighbour and friend Monique to help me too. Monique asked another friend, and soon there were seven grandmothers helping me.” The group named themselves “the fantastic grandmothers” and range in age from 60 to 75. Continue reading
Citizen Science has been a common thread for us on this site, linking creatures of land, sea and air as subjects of study. Marine Ecosystem citizen science has especially fascinated us in terms of the creative thinking applied to problems of invasive species.
The collaborative goal of documenting such a vast ecosystem as the Great Barrier Reef, and using creative solutions to combat threats to this wonder of the natural world is inspiring, to say the least.
Only about 1,000 of 3,000 individual reefs have been documented, but the Great Reef Census hopes to fill in the gaps
In August, marine biologists Johnny Gaskell and Peter Mumby and a team of researchers boarded a boat headed into unknown waters off the coasts of Australia. For 14 long hours, they ploughed over 200 nautical miles, a Google Maps cache as their only guide. Just before dawn, they arrived at their destination of a previously uncharted blue hole—a cavernous opening descending through the seafloor.
After the rough night, Mumby was rewarded with something he hadn’t seen in his 30-year career. The reef surrounding the blue hole had nearly 100 percent healthy coral cover. Such a find is rare in the Great Barrier Reef, where coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 led to headlines proclaiming the reef “dead.”
“It made me think, ‘this is the story that people need to hear,’” Mumby says.
The expedition from Daydream Island off the coast of Queensland was a pilot program to test the methodology for the Great Reef Census, a citizen science project headed by Andy Ridley, founder of the annual conservation event Earth Hour. His latest organization, Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, has set the ambitious goal of surveying the entire 1,400-mile-long reef system in 2020.
“We’re trying to gain a broader understanding on the status of the reef—what’s been damaged, where the high value corals are, what’s recovering and what’s not,” Ridley says. Continue reading
In early May Amie and I accompanied a group of conservation-minded investors to the southeastern tip of the Osa Peninsula, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Over a long weekend we visited lodges in that area, but the highlight of those days was our visit to Osa Conservation. We determined to return, to understand better what this organization has accomplished and what its future plans are.
Finally we had the chance to do that this past weekend. The tree above is a good representative for why the Osa Peninsula is so important. With one of the longest life spans of any tree in this tropical forest, the abundance of diverse plants and animals that depend on the tree for life make it symbolically important as much as it is biologically important. The insect to the right, feeding on the top of a rice stalk, shifted my attention from the charismatic megaflora that made Saturday an immersive biophilia exemplar of a day–and helped me focus on acts taken by Osa Conservation to make their operation more sustainable. A one-time farm in their land holding has been rewilded. A few hectares were retained for experimental organic farming.
The rice strain is an example of that, but I will save that story for another day. After being fully immersed in terrestrial wonders in the forest and the farm, the beach is where I had one of life’s more profound experiences. It started at dawn on Sunday when Amie and I joined a small team from Osa Conservation who focus on turtle habitat. Our family has had multiple experiences with sea turtle nesting and egg-laying, but we have never been witness to the hatchlings returning to the sea. Yesterday was our lucky day to round out our first hand knowledge of turtle birthing life cycle. It started with a couple of spot checks on nesting sites that had been predated–in the case of the nest in the photo to the left you can see the bird tracks all around were the eggs had been ravaged.
We may have been a mere 15 minutes too late in that case, but soon enough another nesting site was found and the surgical strike–to remove the eggs and transfer them to a hatchery where they are better protected–was under way. The protocols allow for digging carefully so that not a single egg is in danger of rupture, or even addled. They are removed one by one, counted, and placed in exactly the same formation as they were in the nest, so they can be re-nested in the hatchery as the mother turtle had laid them. Marine biologists believe that the order in the nest matters to their viability.
It was almost 6am at this point and by 8am this nest moved to safety and hatchlings from two previously moved nests were ready for release. Of all the photos I took yesterday it is difficult to choose one that is most evocative of the power of this experience. But somehow a bucket full of eggs is a candidate. We keep chickens in our yard at home, and on any given day we collect anywhere from zero to a dozen eggs from a group of 15 hens. Here one turtle had laid a hundred or so eggs (they were counted but I cannot recall the exact number now) that looked exactly like ping pong balls. Several kilometers of beach here are regularly patrolled by Osa Conservation staff, and the team of volunteers make their daily rounds to do this work.
This bucketfull was taken to the hatchery further down the beach.
The signage is rustic but the message is clear.
Inside the hatchery the re-nesting begins.
The eggs removed from the nest on the beach are replaced in the hatchery nest and meanwhile Amie is taught how to extract hatchlings.
Counting again, one by one.
This time it is baby turtles coming out of the nest and into the box, and as always, seeing babies is a joy.
Seeing them walked out to the beach has its own impact.
And then the release.
133 in total, marching to the water. A race of sorts.
Amie, a bird-lover, wields a stick to keep them away in case that is needed.
And finally #133 of these Olive Ridley babies makes it to the edge of the waves.
If you are fortunate enough to have a yard of your own, consider this suggestion by Charles Fergus:
By itself, a plain grass lawn is stark and visually unappealing—which is why most homeowners add shrubs, flower beds, and specimen trees. Today, there’s a new movement afoot known as natural landscaping: using native trees, shrubs, and low plants to add textural diversity to a yard while attracting and benefiting wildlife.
Research has shown that seeing wildlife around your home—hearing birds sing, glimpsing brightly colored butterflies and dragonflies, seeing a garter snake slither into a stone wall— makes life more enjoyable.
Many of us have a visceral need to be in touch with wild creatures and to acknowledge that we ourselves are part of nature, even if we live in suburbs and other settings where housing is dense. Continue reading
Merlin Bird and Audubon Bird Guide are both amazing resources and are well maintained and updated. They are both free and have a lot of the same features. At first, these apps might seem very similar. However, there are some big differences. I’ll start off with Merlin Bird. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s birding app has a couple of standout features. The app has a much cleaner interface with a simpler bird ID feature. You’ll answer five basic questions and it gives you a list of possible birds. It is very easy to use and is perfect for novices that do not have a lot prior knowledge about birds.
Another point for Merlin Bird is the variety of regions covered from all over the globe. They also let you download these regions individually, so you don’t have to fill up your device with information you don’t need. Merlin bird has a unique feature that allows you to take a photo of a bird and it will attempt to identify it. While it isn’t always accurate (or easy to get a good photo of a bird!) I am impressed by how often it gets it right. Even with photos I’ve taken at a distance the app has managed to identity the bird correctly.
Another nice feature is that the app integrates with Cornell’s other app, eBird. If you have a bird in eBird that you’ve identified it will display that in the Merlin app. It also has a nice ability that shows you a list of birds based on how likely it is that you’ll see them in your area.
Thanks to the judges who chose the Grand Prize Winner (above) in this year’s contest, among an impossibly great selection. (Not to mention an extra applause to Audubon for adding the Citizen Science centric Plants for Birds category.
Birds make fascinating subjects, as the winners and honorable mentions of this year’s contest, our 10th, make clear. They’re at once beautiful and resilient, complex and comical. It’s no wonder why we love them so.
The images that won the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards, presented in association with Nature’s Best Photography, are as impressive as ever, but attentive readers might notice a few more images than usual. That’s because we’ve added two awards. The Plants for Birds category is inspired by Audubon’s Plants for Birds program, supported by Coleman and Susan Burke, which provides resources for choosing and finding plants native to zip codes in the United States. This category poses a new challenge to photographers: Don’t just capture an incredible moment—make sure it also features a bird and plant native to the location in which the photo was taken in order to highlight the critical role native habitat plays in supporting bird life. And in the spirit of Kevin Fisher, Audubon’s longtime creative director who recently retired, the Fisher Prize recognizes a creative approach to photographing birds that blends originality with technical expertise. The winning image, which Kevin himself selected from among the finalists, pushes the bounds of traditional bird photography.
We want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all 2,253 entrants, hailing from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and 10 Canadian provinces and territories. Your dedication to appreciating, celebrating, and sharing the wonder of birds and the landscapes they inhabit inspires us now and throughout the year.
The 2019 APA Judges
Steve Freligh, publisher, Nature’s Best Photography
Melissa Groo, wildlife photographer and winner of the 2015 contest’s Grand Prize
Kenn Kaufman, bird expert and Audubon magazine field editor
Sabine Meyer, photography director, National Audubon Society
Allen Murabayashi, chairman and co-founder, PhotoShelter
John Rowden, director of community conservation, National Audubon Society
Judging criteria: technical quality, originality, artistic merit
It’s an unfortunate truth that plastic is a serious problem in the world’s oceans, so every bit of progress addressing it is good news. Kudos to Mary Crowley and the volunteers at Ocean Voyages Institute for using simple technology to have such profound results.
Sausalito, CA – Ocean Voyages Institute, a nonprofit organization, announced today that it has successfully removed more than 40 tons of fishing nets and consumer plastics from the area known as the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, or more commonly known as the Pacific Gyre.
The sailing cargo ship, S/V KWAI, arrived in Honolulu today, having completed a 25-day clean up mission. In the Pacific, between California and Hawaii, four ocean currents converge to create a vortex that collects huge amounts of plastics. One sees detergent bottles, beer and soft drink crates, bleach and cleaning bottles, plastic furniture, packaging straps, buckets, children’s toys, and myriad types of plastic floating mid-ocean. This debris field covers vast expanses of ocean.
A prime target for OV Institute’s 2019 voyage was the fishing gear called “ghost nets.” Often weighing tons, these massive nets of nylon or polypropylene drift for decades, amassing plastic debris, ensnaring wildlife, and even entangling ships. An estimated 600,000 tons of this abandoned gear ends up in the oceans every year. According to the United Nations, some 380,000 marine mammals are killed every year by either ingesting or being caught in it.
“Satellite technology played a key role in our recovery effort, offering an innovative solution to finding areas of dense plastic pollution,” said Mary Crowley, Founder and Executive Director of OV Institute. “The nets and other debris are signs of the proliferating plastic pollution that poses threats to marine life, coastal environments, shipping, fisheries, wildlife and our health.” Continue reading
Thanks to Victoria Bekiempis for this inside look at the other North American world series:
As the clock struck 12, the Meadowlands Marsh Hawks set out into the New Jersey night. But could they tally enough birds to beat their rivals?
A white SUV ground to a stop near a sliver of New Jersey marshland, tires snarling against the gravel and sand access road. Three men – Christopher Takacs, David Bernstein, and Michael Wolfe – bounded out. Brine lingered in the moist air as they rushed forward on foot, traveling below an overpass. Reeds lined the lane, which was somewhere along the Hackensack River. Midges and ticks lurked in the dark as the trio waited for midnight. Takacs’ phone alarm chirped. It was finally midnight. As if on cue, something trilled in the near distance.
“There’s a shorebird calling!” one of the men said.
“And there’s his friend calling!” another said. Continue reading
When we first became aware of Global Big Day it was just a week in advance of the first such event, and we scrambled to have the properties we managed in India do their part. A total of 253 countries participated that first year and at first glance it would seem dispiriting to realize that many fewer countries have participated since then: in 2016 the count dropped to 159; then in 2017 there were 163; last year there were 171; and this year 168 (recorded so far).
However, by other metrics spirits are easily lifted. I have focused only on one such metric, which is how many checklists were completed. This year’s totals are not in yet, but if you tally each prior year, the number of participants in this event has increased dramatically year on year. Last year there were nearly 30,000 more checklists than there were in 2015. Of course having more countries participate would be better. But having more people participating in all those other countries is a very good sign indeed.
It would never have occurred to me to think about this, but I am fine with the surprise:
Birding for Solidarity: The Phoebes
Eight women decided they had enough of the sport’s competitiveness, so they created a community to lift their sisters up. Continue reading
Thanks to Anna Russell for this short wonder:
A chance sighting of a hungry peregrine falcon gave a homeless teen a lifelong passion; now Jason Ward and his brother Jeffrey star in “Birds of North America,” on topic.com.
When Jason Ward was fourteen, he spotted a peregrine falcon devouring a pigeon on the windowsill of the South Bronx homeless shelter where his family was living. “I was literally witnessing a nature documentary unfold,” he recalled, adding, “That was definitely my spark bird.” Ward, now thirty-two, has five siblings, but only he and his younger brother Jeffrey are birders. (Jeffrey’s spark bird was a barn owl, which he saw in Central Park.) “These peregrines are really powerful fliers,” Jason said. “They have the ability to just change their immediate surroundings. Growing up in the Bronx, that was something that I admired, and wanted to be able to do myself.” Continue reading
We have been on watch for citizen science stories since the early days of this platform. Seth had just accepted an offer to work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and typical of him, did his homework on what he had committed to. Since then, dozens of first person and linked-to citizen science stories from other members of our community have appeared in these pages. Thanks to Yale e360 and Jessica Leber for this story about how far and wide the practice has spread, and a few of its more amazing discoveries:
The first time we took part in this annual event, we had already had several years of advance prepping. For example, we had this young man as an intern who was something of a birding wunderkind. Ben helped us determine whether our region of the Western Ghats was likely to appeal to birdwatchers. Short answer, yes. That same summer, 2012, Seth was in his second year working for the Lab of Ornithology and we could see that not only our company’s work but our own family was becoming more birdy, if not yet bird-nerdy.
This year will be the best year yet for birding, and to prove it I am starting today to get ready for the next Global Big Day. I do not know where we will be that day, yet, but I am working on plan. May I suggest you do the same?
By Team eBird
Last May, more than 30,000 people took to fields and forests around the world, noting more than 7,000 species in a single day—Global Big Day. In less than 3 months, birding’s biggest day is coming back. Wherever you are in the world, you can be a part of birding’s next world record!
On 4 May, will you join more than 20,000 others and become a part of Global Big Day? You don’t have to commit to birding for 24 hours—an hour or even 10 minutes of watching birds makes you part of the team. Visit your favorite spot or search out someplace new; enjoy a solo walk or get some friends to join in the Global Big Day fun.
How to participate
- Get an eBird account: eBird is a worldwide bird checklist program used by millions of birders. It’s what allows us to compile everyone’s sightings into a single massive Global Big Day list—while at the same time collecting the data for scientists to use to better understand birds. Sign up here. It’s 100% free. Continue reading
It’s been 5 years since we first began highlighting the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science collaboration between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada. Since then, we’ve participated in 3 countries, on 2 continents, primarily in birding hotspots such as the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, India, a special corridor of avian biodiversity in the foothills of Poas Volcano in Costa Rica, and Baja California Sur, Mexico.
The data that is collected by thousands of individual birders for eBird has long range benefits for monitoring both the health and range of particular species, as well as the state of the planet as species have to adapt to changing climate.
The map above indicates the locations from which checklists have been submitted (each gray dot represents a list, and the larger yellow dots are a moment frozen in time when a list has just been submitted. I highly recommend clicking on the image to view the site and watch the “lists” pop through the map!) Initially the GBBC only took place in North America, and birders worldwide rejoiced when it was expanded into a global event. (We were in India at the time, so I kid you not.) Continue reading
Thanks to Oliver Milman, writing for the Guardian from Santa Cruz, California with someone whose concerns about the intersection of books and technology, combined with his interest in birds and the art of watching, have led to us featuring him more frequently in these pages than most other people:
‘The two things I love most are novels and birds, and they’re both in trouble,’ says The Corrections author, one of the world’s most famous birdwatchers
Birdwatching was once an activity that elicited a sense of mild shame in Jonathan Franzen. The author stalked New York parks with binoculars in hand, rather than on a strap, carefully hiding from view the word “birds” on his field guide. Debonair friends in London recoiled in horror when told of his pastime. Franzen was furtive, almost embarrassed. Now, he is one of the most famous birdwatchers in the world.
“I totally let my freak flag fly now,” Franzen says as he scans for birds at a community garden near his home in Santa Cruz, California. His phone has an app that deciphers bird sounds. He travels the world to see recondite species. He has written about birds in essays, op-eds and novels.
“I was so socially unsuccessful in my youth and such a pariah in junior high that I really didn’t want to look like a dork,” says Franzen, the 59-year-old author whose best known works include The Corrections and Freedom. “I got over that. The success started to make me think: ‘Hey, it’s not me who’s got the problem.’” Continue reading
Thanks to the Guardian for bringing this to our attention:
Veteran broadcaster encourages people to take part in Big Butterfly Count and highlights mental health benefits of wildlife
Watching nature provides “precious breathing space” from the stress of modern life, Sir David Attenborough has said, as he urges people to take part in the world’s biggest butterfly count.
While the UK’s butterflies are basking in the best summer conditions in more than a decade, if the hot weather becomes a drought it could be catastrophic for the insects as plants wither and caterpillars starve.
The public are being encouraged to take part in the Big Butterfly Count over the next three weeks to help experts see how butterflies are faring and to enjoy the mental health benefits of watching wildlife. Continue reading
We have wow posts about birds all the time, but this one will have to take the cake, for now:
At an observatory in Quebec, they were hoping for a 50,000-bird day. They saw more than half a million.
By James Gorman
Ian Davies got hooked on birds when he was 12. He went to a site near Plymouth, Mass., where volunteers were putting bands on migrating birds.
“They let me release a Canada warbler,” he said, “and that was just game over.”