Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lecture Tonight on Citizen Science!

February 10, 2010

Sometimes when I point out the owls or other animals in the park to a passerby I am asked if I am a biologist, ornithologist or other professional scientist in the life sciences. On a interesting psychological/sociological note, I tend to get asked this question more when I have a beard, as I do now, than when I am clean shaven! I answer that I am not but am an amateur or inspired amateur naturalist.

While this answer is correct, a better answer might be to say that I am a citizen scientist; a non-professional doing work in a scientific field. In my textual research on owls and birds in general, I have read numerous times in books and journals of the important contributions that citizen scientists have made and continue to make to ornithology.

Tonight as part of the Academy of Science-St. Louis' Science Seminar Series, there is a lecture at the St. Louis Zoo tonight on the subject of citizen science. I will be attending and hope to see some fellow owlficiandos/park fans there! Here's more information:

Feb 10th, 2010 (Wed)
Citizen Science: From the Cosmos to Coneflowers— The Story of How Ordinary People Are Enabling Large Scale Discovery

Time: 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM

Pamela Gay, Ph.D., Astronomer, Assistant Research Professor, Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville; Co-Host, Astronomy Cast; Team Member, Galaxy Zoo

We live in a new age of technology-driven science, with new instruments and new computers that allow us to collect more information – more images, more DNA profiles, more environmental sensor data, than ever before. With this flood of information, scientists are no longer able to explore all the images, all the data, on their own, so more and more – science is turning to the public and requesting help. From the discovery of rare “Green Pea” galaxies to the first sighting in fourteen years of a rare non-spotted ladybug in the Northeastern U.S., ordinary citizens are contributing to discoveries in science.

It is possible to get involved in meaningful science either by going online or by going outside. The Galaxy Zoo project invites people to help astronomers better understand our evolving universe by classifying online galaxy images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Rather be outside? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a variety of bird counting projects to help track the population of birds around the United States. Starting with the original citizen science projects begun by Benjamin Franklin, astronomer, writer, and podcaster, Pamela Gay, talks about citizens and science, the problem of data flood, and the ways ordinary citizens today can, and do, contribute to the pursuit of scientific discovery.

Photo © Pamela Gay

All Seminars are held in The Living World (north side of Zoo)
Parking FREE in Zoo North Lot.


For more information call 314-533-8586 or email mbauer@academyofsciencestl.org

Science Seminar Series Co-sponsored by:

I first heard the term citizen science in 2006. After watching the owls just shy of nine months I led my first my owl prowl on Labor Day weekend 2006,. The prowl was part of the 2006 St. Louis Bioblitz. The Bioblitz is a twenty-four hour snapshot survey/census of all the flora, fauna, soil, and water in Forest Park. I had gone on an owl prowl and reptile expedition on the 2004 St. Louis Bioblitz. I was excited and nervous to be leading an expedition. Excited because as it was the first owl prowl I had ever led it was a culmination of all the field work and research I had done up to that point. Nervous because on each of the three nights prior to the Bioblitz, I did not see Charles, Sarah or either of the two owlets they had that year!

Thankfully, all went well. I had a great group with me and they were understanding when I explained that I had not seen any of the owls over the preceding three nights. So when one of the owlets appeared just as we got to The Wooded Area, the group was especially happy to see this owlet. The owlet stayed around for about twenty minutes. It groomed, stretched and begged providing great examples of their behavior and inspiration for questions and comments.

After the owlet flew away I showed them where Sarah had nested and where Charles' hollow had been before it was damaged in a series of storms earlier that year. We walked back to the registration tent and I showed them some pictures I had taken over the months. Everyone in the group was enthusiastic and we all went on our way with smiles on our faces. I exhaled, happy that this prowl had gone well.

It turned out that the group was even happier with the prowl and me than I thought. I learned in January 2007 that the prowl had been so well received that I was the clear choice for the Bioblitz Citizen Award, one of two awards given to Bioblitz expedition leaders. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement and I gratefully accepted the award at a Bioblitz follow-up event and ceremony at the St. Louis Zoo. The award occupies a place of pride on my mantel next to a great owl statue from Ireland made from peat bog wood that my mom gave me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Indications of hatching?!?

February 3, 2010

Sometime yesterday morning or afternoon, I was thinking about the owls (big shock) and wondering how I might know when the owlets have hatched. I remembered that at least once in years past I had seen Charles, towards the end of the incubation period, fly to the nest and hoot at/into the nest at a gentle volume and with great solemnity. I interpreted this as him being aware that the owlets had hatched or were nearly ready to hatch (just prior to hatching the owlets can be heard from within the eggs) and that he was welcoming his new progeny. Well last night he did this very same behavior.

Charles had flown from The Wooded Area after starting off in his favorite conifer. He landed in The Hilly Wooded Area in one of the trees that Sarah has been using for grooming this season when she takes a break from incubating the eggs. A few minutes later, Sarah flew out from the nest and landed above Charles in the same tree. They duetted for a moment (Charles had been hooting prior to her emergence) before Charles flew off to The Nest Tree and landed on/in the snag/hollow. At first, I thought my eyes played tricks on me and that it was in fact Sarah who went to The Nest Tree, but no there was Sarah grooming and stretching.

Moments after landing Charles began to hoot within or at the snag/hollow and his volume was soft and his approach considered. Watch for yourself!

He stayed a couple of minutes before flying out to his favorite perch in the tree in front of the snag/hollow. Sarah joined him in this perch before he made a predatory attempt at a nearby tree which hosts a squirrel nest. I went for a better view of him and Sarah and while I took my eyes of off him for a few seconds, he disappeared on me without any indication as to the direction in which he went!

It was amazing to see Charles go to The Nest Tree and hoot within or at the snag/hollow. The last time I saw him go to the snag/hollow was weeks prior to Sarah nesting there. I think his actions are a decent indication that hatching has occurred or will be occurring shortly. If this is the case, it is an amazing and touching way for him to welcome his youngsters to the world.