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 email@example.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, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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, email@example.com 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, firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
There are many other Citizen Science projects available. Here is a list of some others that we’ve come across.