Displaying items by tag: community science

Just after sundown on a recent July evening, I squinted into the blue silhouettes of maple and ash trees at the Urban Ecology Center’s Washington Park branch, where our Research and Community Science Department’s monitoring equipment told us hoary bats (Lasiurus cinereus) and eastern red bats (Lasiurus borealis) were swooping for insects. Officially, I was there to help conduct one of our bat monitoring surveys, but soon I found myself gazing not into the inscrutable night sky but at the lampposts that lined our path below the canopy.

Friday, 26 March 2021 16:46

Backyard Birding Blitz 2021

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Gather your flock (virtually) and join the Backyard Birding Blitz!

Spring is finally here, bringing warmth, energy and birds to our lives! Join us for a virtual birding adventure from your backyard or neighborhood as we collectively try to document as many birds as we can without using fossil fuels.

This is the perfect FREE event for families, those who have never birded in their lives, or for those who have been doing it their whole lives. UEC staff will be on Youtube live answering all your questions on birds throughout the duration of the event including a live banding demonstration from Al Sherkow, Master Bird Bander as he explains bird banding using mists nest which will all be live-streamed. And finally, raffle prizes will be awarded to successful checklist submissions.

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The goal of this event remains to connect people to the wonders of our local birds, but rather than gathering in the same place, we are going to explore our own backyards and neighborhoods. An exciting twist to this virtual format is that anyone can compete in this fun and relaxed birding challenge, whether it is from your backyard, your window, your neighborhood, or your park – as long as you abide by physical distancing guidelines.

You are able to join whether you live in downtown Milwaukee, the north woods of Wisconsin or somewhere in Florida; whether you have never birded before or you are a seasoned birder; whether you are staying at home by yourself or you have a nest full of kids, whether you join from a high-rise apartment, a house or a rural farm - the Backyard Birding Blitz is for EVERYONE!

There are three challenges to pick from in the Backyard Birding Blitz (all times are CST):

  • Home Challenge (via Youtube Live) 7:45-10:45 am: Record as many birds as you can within the limits of what you consider home or consider your place of residence. While you bird from your backyard, stay tuned on Youtube Live as we will go through a live bird banding demonstration where we will observe the processes and discus the education and research value of this method of ornithological study. The challenge will end with Live Nature Themed Trivia along with a raffle prize drawing for those that share a checklist on eBird to the account: UrbanEcoCtr. Optional start at 6:45am.
  • Neighborhood Challenge (via Youtube Live) 7:45-10:45 am: Record as many birds as you can in your neighborhood without using fossil fuels (bikes are permitted). The challenge will end with Live Nature Themed Trivia starting along with a raffle prize drawing for those that share a checklist on eBird to the account: UrbanEcoCtr. Optional start at 6:45 am.
  • Family Challenge (via Zoom) 1-3 pm: Grab the kids and get to know what makes birds different from other animals. Explore the outdoors with your family as we embark on a birding scavenger hunt. Let’s see how many feathers friends we can find outside using monoculars we'll craft ourselves!

Feel free to compete in one or even all three of the challenges! You'll get a link to our YouTube Live channel when you register. This is a collaborative event and we will try to see how many species we record with everyone’s results compiled!

Register for the Backyard Birding Blitz today!

Magnolia Warbler by Bruce Halmo

Magnolia Warbler by Bruce Halmo

A few reminders:

  • You will be recording bird species and also the number of individual birds for each species (i.e. 7 Northern Cardinals)
  • You can count birds you positively identify by sight or sound
  • Try your best not to count the same individual more than once
  • All the data that we compile will be submitted to eBird, an international database that contains millions of observations just like yours and helps contribute to science and conservation decisions from around the world!

Read all the Challenge Guidelines Here

We hope to see you on Saturday, May 8 for this fun and unique challenge as we come together to celebrate birds, community, and ultimately each other! You will get a link when you register.

Register for the Backyard Birding Blitz today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I have never birded before?

Fear not! This is the perfect time to get started. We recommend using a bird book (like the one collecting dust in your attic) or an app on your device to get started. If you have a smartphone or tablet, we highly encourage you to download the Merlin Bird ID app. This free app is very easy to use (and did we mention the free app is free?) If you’re trying to ID a bird it will ask you five questions that will help it narrow down your list of possible species. If you happen to snap a picture of the bird, you can easily upload it into Merlin and it will help identify the bird with surprising accuracy (depending on the quality of the picture). Still nervous? We will have a seasoned birder on staff who will be available to answer any questions LIVE during the entire challenge. Identify birds by sound using the Song Sleuth app which is also free. Instead of using a photograph, record a bird singing on your phone and it will help identify it! (It is very similar to the music app: “Shazam,” that can identify any human song you hear on the radio).

What if I can’t identify a bird?

That’s OK too! It’s a learning experience. We encourage birding with a journal or pad of paper. Write down everything you were able to observe and then you can study it later with references, friends or UEC staff. Remember it’s better to be accurate than precise, so if you see a thrush you can’t identify, better to keep it listed as an unidentified thrush than to guess and potentially be wrong.

What if I don’t have binoculars?

No worries. Backyard birding can be done without binoculars. While they sure help a lot, we know not everyone has a pair. If you have a camera of any kind with a zoom lens (some phone cameras have enough zoom to work as well), it can work in a similar way to binoculars. If you don’t have a camera with zoom, many birds like robins, cardinals, and herons can be identified with the naked eye. Birds that are smaller can still be identified if you patiently wait for them to come closer or view them discreetly through your window. Again, this is a collaborative challenge so feel no pressure if you can’t identify the species.

What if you have never submitted a checklist on eBird before?

Again, fear not! We will guide you through submitting a checklist on eBird between 10:00-10:15 am CDT on the day of the challenge. Just make sure you create an eBird account prior to May 8.

What if I am in another time zone other than Central Time?

If you are in a time zone any other than Central Time, please read below.

a. If you are in a different but reasonable time zone (like birding at 7 am or during the day your time), please be mindful that the event is scheduled in Central Time and that you should participate along with us at our scheduled start time of 8 am Central Time or 11 am Central Time.

b. If you are in an unreasonable time zone (like birding at night or at 3 am) you are welcome to participate in this challenge the day before on Friday, May 8th at a time that works for you. You won’t be able to participate live with us, but you will still be entered into the raffle prize drawing if you share an eBird checklist to UrbanEcoCtr.

How many people can be on a team?

There is no limit to the number of people on your team. You can have teammates from all over the world! We are trying to collect the largest cumulative species list between all participants. However, winning team names as voted on by participants will receive a bonus raffle prize entry!

I'm having a great time at the Blitz! How do I support more events like this?

We're so glad you're enjoying the event! To support the UEC Community Science team and the UEC mission of connecting people to nature and each other, donate here

We hope to see you on May 8!

Register for the Backyard Birding Blitz today!

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Photo by Matt Unrau

Many thanks to our sponsor!


Tuesday, 02 March 2021 11:16

Spring Phenology Challenge

Spring is right around the corner, and it’s one of the most fun times of the year for phenology. As the snow melts and plants start sprouting, you can almost feel spring approaching in the air. Some animals, such as the Eastern chipmunk and the Blue Spotted Salamander, are waking up from their winter slumbers while others are returning from their annual southern migrations. Each year, we at the Urban Ecology Center have a staff competition to see who can observe the first Red-winged Blackbird at one of our parks. The males migrate back to the area in late winter, followed by the females a few weeks later. You could even beat our staff this year! Listen for their characteristic “VOTE-FOR-MEEEEE!” call. We also have challenges for documenting the first Mourning Cloak butterfly, Eastern Chipmunk, and Butler Garter snakes.

Back in June, the Urban Ecology Center challenged you to help document signs of summer using the free mobile phone app, iNaturalist, to record and submit wildlife and plant sightings to an international dataset. And wow – there were over 600 summertime observations that were submitted! With your help, 59 species were identified, which nearly met our total summertime challenge species goal! Some species of plants that evaded documentation were the Prairie Spiderwort and the Yellow Coneflower. On the wildlife list, both the Common Yellowthroat and the Dekay’s Brownsnake were left undocumented.

Summer is a prime time for catching and observing zipping dragonflies! In Wisconsin alone, there are 164 species of dragonfly and damselfly. Each one of these species not only has unique iridescent coloring to their thoraxes and abdomens but distinctive wings that are unique to each dragonfly. Scientists have been surveying dragonflies since the 1800s but their migratory patterns are still not fully understood and it is difficult for scientists to survey entire states without the help of the community. In recent years, the popularity of community science projects has allowed members of the community to participate in collecting data. Participating in dragonfly/damselfly surveying helps scientists study and conserve these mysterious shimmering odonates. 

It all started in the summer of 2018, which was my first true exposure to the world of dragonflies and damselflies. This was followed by my first field season leading odonate surveys with the Urban Ecology Center during the summer of 2019.

I’m not sure I can pinpoint what it is that is so utterly addictive about seeking out these flying assassins.

Co-authored by Jeff Veglahn.

Recently in early April, Jeff Veglahn, Land Steward at our Menomonee Valley Branch, spotted a bumble bee flying around and was able to capture an incredible video of it landing on a willow to feed. 

This interaction may seem common enough, but after careful identification of the bee, the video became more exciting than initially thought! What was captured on film was actually a Two-spotted Queen Bumble bee which is one of about twenty bumble bee species in Wisconsin. This was the first recorded sighting of a queen bumble bee of any kind in Milwaukee County this year and one of the very first in the state for this year.

We know COVID-19 is affecting everyone in Milwaukee County in many different and difficult ways. We are now spending a lot of time indoors living, working, and teaching as we care for ourselves and one another through physical distancing. However we also know that nature has incredible healing and calming powers that we want you to take advantage of during this stressful time. Whether that is in your backyard, in a park, or even through your window, we hope you have the chance to interact with the outdoors. Before you head outside, please abide by all health and social distancing recommendations by the CDC as well as by local health officials as they can change with every passing day. Please use your best judgment as your safety and ultimately the public’s safety is of utmost importance.

Thursday, 13 February 2020 16:44

A Sucker for Sapsuckers

One of my earliest interactions with a bird happened when I was a child. However, it was not actually with a bird, but instead an interaction with the source of its food. Every year as a child my family and I would pack up the car and head up to the great north woods to our log cabin situated on a small lake. In front of our cabin there was a birch tree just feet from the edge of the lake.

Friday, 02 August 2019 10:44

The Natural Bird GPS

I have always been interested in the unique physiology and behavior of our local avian friends; however, my internship this summer with the UEC has further sparked my interest in their migratory patterns. As one of the Community Science and Research Interns, I had the unique opportunity to travel to Door County for the annual Bioblitz. This event consists of several passionate scientists from around the state meeting and conducting biological surveys for an area of interest- basically a bunch of nerds doing what they love. As a part of this, I had the chance to participate in bird banding.

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