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Citizen Science

Vol­un­teers can par­tic­i­pate in ongo­ing sci­ence projects while hav­ing fun and learn­ing at the same time. Howard County sup­ports some of the pro­grams directly and oth­ers are led by other agen­cies, non-profits and universities.

Stream and Water Monitoring

Pat­ap­sco Her­itage Green­way Stream Watch Pro­gram col­lects spe­cific infor­ma­tion on any dam­age, pol­lu­tion, and poten­tial restora­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties observed within the Pat­ap­sco watershed’s streams and stream banks. Vol­un­teers can choose their level of par­tic­i­pa­tion as watch­ers, clean­ers or lead­ers. The data helps this non-profit group to plan and imple­ment their stream cleanups. Even more advanced vol­un­teers can sign up to do more inten­sive water qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing. Visit the PHG web­site or email patapscofriend@gmail.com.

Stream Waders is run by the Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­ural Resources. Vol­un­teers are trained in stream sam­pling and macroin­ver­te­brate iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. They apply their knowl­edge at assigned stream sites and share the results with the DNR.

World Water Mon­i­tor­ing Day is an inter­na­tional edu­ca­tion and out­reach pro­gram that builds pub­lic aware­ness and involve­ment in pro­tect­ing water resources around the world. Vol­un­teers con­duct basic mon­i­tor­ing of their local water bod­ies and then add the results to the inter­na­tional web­site. Test kits are inex­pen­sive and can be pur­chased through the web­site.

Wildlife and Habitat

Frog­Watch: Each spring, vol­un­teers learn the calls of local frogs and toads, lis­ten for them out­side, and then report which frogs and toads they have heard. Frogs and toads are con­sid­ered indi­ca­tors of envi­ron­men­tal health and many pre­vi­ously abun­dant frog and toad pop­u­la­tions have expe­ri­enced dra­matic pop­u­la­tion declines. This project helps sci­en­tists to under­stand the scope, geo­graphic scale, and cause of these declines. To learn more about par­tic­i­pat­ing in Howard County, con­tact Sue Muller, smuller@howardcountymd.gov.

But­ter­fly and Drag­on­fly Counts: But­ter­flies, drag­on­flies and dam­selflies are also impor­tant indi­ca­tors of envi­ron­men­tal health. Each sum­mer, Howard County vol­un­teers gather at sev­eral loca­tions to iden­tify and count these fas­ci­nat­ing insects. Con­tact Sue Muller, smuller@howardcountymd.gov for more infor­ma­tion or visit the web­site for recent years’ results.

The Wavyleaf Map­ping Project uses smart­phones to help researchers at Tow­son Uni­ver­sity map the pres­ence and spread of wavyleaf bas­ket­grass, an inva­sive species. This exotic grass, native to Europe and Asia, was first found in Mary­land in 1996 along the Pat­ap­sco River. When exotic plants become inva­sive and take over areas, they exclude native plants and dis­rupt local ecosys­tems. Go to www.towson.edu/wavyleaf to learn more, down­load the app, and start report­ing wavyleaf basketgrass.

iNaturalist.org is a web­site and app for record­ing local plants and ani­mals. Vol­un­teers take pho­tos and upload them for ver­i­fi­ca­tion by sci­en­tists. Check out the Howard County sec­tion. The web­site also has teacher advice and les­son plans.

Nest­Watch is a nation­wide pro­gram where vol­un­teers mon­i­tor bird activ­ity includ­ing: when nest­ing occurs, num­ber of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatch­lings sur­vive. Sci­en­tists at Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity use the data to study bird pop­u­la­tions and how they may be chang­ing over time as a result of cli­mate change, habi­tat degra­da­tion and loss, expan­sion of urban areas, and the intro­duc­tion of non-native plants and ani­mals. Blue­birds are one species of inter­est and there are sev­eral blue­bird boxes mon­i­tored in Howard County. Please con­tact Sue Muller, smuller@howardcountymd.gov or visit the web­site for more information.

Mary­land Amphib­ian and Rep­tile Atlas was a 5-year ini­tia­tive to doc­u­ment the pres­ence of rep­tiles and amphib­ians in each part of Mary­land. Vol­un­teers searched for rep­tiles and amphib­ians and emailed pic­tures and/or record­ings of what they find. Project lead­ers ver­i­fied the species and com­piled results in a data­base. The offi­cial project ended, but you can visit the web­site to see the results and learn more about our local herps.

Other Bird-Related Opportunities:

The Great Back­yard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watch­ers of all ages in count­ing birds to cre­ate a real-time snap­shot of where the birds are across the con­ti­nent. Any­one can par­tic­i­pate, from begin­ning bird watch­ers to experts. It can be as quick— 15 minutes—or as long as you like. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.

Project Feed­er­Watch: Feed­er­Watch­ers count the kinds and num­bers of birds that visit their feed­ers in the win­ter. The data are used to doc­u­ment and under­stand the dis­tri­b­u­tion and abun­dance of birds that visit feed­ers in North America.

Christ­mas Bird Count: Over Christ­mas break, fam­i­lies and stu­dents, bird­ers and sci­en­tists, armed with binoc­u­lars, bird guides and check­lists go out on an annual mis­sion to count birds. For over one hun­dred years, the desire to make a dif­fer­ence while expe­ri­enc­ing the beauty of nature has dri­ven ded­i­cated peo­ple to leave the com­fort of a warm house dur­ing the hol­i­day season.

Class­room Projects

The Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­ural Resources has a whole list of projects and resources appro­pri­ate for the class­room. Check out http://dnr.maryland.gov/education/ for details. Two local favorites are:

Trout in the Class­room is an envi­ron­men­tal edu­ca­tion pro­gram in which stu­dents in grades k-12 raise and release trout. Stu­dents learn the life cycle of fish, mon­i­tor tank water qual­ity, engage in stream habi­tat study, learn to appre­ci­ate water resources, begin to fos­ter a con­ser­va­tion ethic, and study ecosys­tems. DNR also offers a class­room pro­gram for horse­shoe crabs and another for sun­fish and bluegills.

Bay Grasses in the Classes is a hands-on edu­ca­tion project that gives stu­dents a direct role in Chesa­peake Bay restora­tion. Teach­ers are given the equip­ment and mate­ri­als required to grow bay grasses in their class­rooms, as well as Maryland-DNR-designed bay grass class­room activ­i­ties. Dur­ing the semes­ter, stu­dents per­form exper­i­ments to study bay grass growth. Exper­i­ment data are posted on the Bay Grasses in Classes web­site. At the end of the semes­ter, stu­dents give back to the Chesa­peake by plant­ing their grasses in pre-determined areas. Stu­dents gain a sense of stew­ard­ship of the Bay by study­ing the bio­log­i­cal impor­tance of bay grasses and actively par­tic­i­pat­ing in restoration.

Other Projects

There are many other Cit­i­zen Sci­ence projects avail­able. Here is a list of some oth­ers that we’ve come across.

Green Tip

Hi, I’m Howard and I’m here to provide you with green tips. Look for me throughout the site and check out my cool interactive games at the Kids Zone.