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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

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