Journey North

Journey North was founded in 1994 by Elizabeth Howard It is sponsored by Annenberg Learner
Journey North was founded in 1994 by Elizabeth Howard
It is sponsored by
Annenberg Learner
Maps used by permission, Elizabeth Howard, Director
To those who take personal pride in their yard, park, field, or community you could become part of an amazing network called Journey North. This is a free, extremely easy Citizen-Science online activity that people can simply enjoy, or enter data about their own backyard and join over 80,000 other people and schools that participate regularly.

Journey North began in 1994 as a way for people to contribute to the study of Phenology (which is the observation of seasonal changes in living things). Of course these changes take place based upon latitude, altitude, soil types, and proximity to water.

Basically, people observe what is happening in their own yard on any particular day, then they go to www.learner.org/jnorth/ where they can register their location and record their observations of certain birds migrating back north, or the budding and flowering of plants as the temperatures warm in the Spring. It’s interesting to compare the differences between Southern sites like Moab and Saint George to the Northern cities like Logan.

Nobody ever inspects your property, and the data is kept confidential on the Journey North site. There are no ads or phone calls to try to sell anything. This is strictly to collect science data. There ARE options to email other observers around the world, but nobody is required to respond.

Once you enter data, a dot will appear on the world map showing your general location. The dots are colored, based on the date of the entry so everyone can witness seasonal changes sweeping northward in full color.

What kinds of data does Journey North record? They’ve prepared a general list realizing that not all these species will be seen by everyone. A sample of birds includes: Hummingbirds, Bald Eagles, Whooping Cranes, Common Loons, Orioles, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Robins, and Barn Swallows.

Other sightings include the first day you observed: Milkweed growing, Monarch Butterflies, Earthworms surfacing, Frogs singing, the emerging and flowering of Tulips, the flowing of Maple sap, the date when tree buds opened into leaves, when ice melted off of nearby lakes, and when you first saw bats chasing insects around city lights.

Some reports come from around the world including South America, Eurasia, Africa, Asia, Australia and all of North America so don’t be surprised to see data about Gray Whales and Manatees. There’s even “Mystery Class” contests where people can try to guess the location of a school based upon their observation entries and the length of daylight they have reported during the season.

Journey North provides an opportunity for everyone to become a Citizen Scientist.

This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Journey North, jnorth.org, Map images used by permission, Elizabeth Howard, Director
Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading
http://jnorth.org/ has moved to:
http://www.learner.org/jnorth/

Journey North’s Spring Monarch Migration Monitoring, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Citizen Science Central, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/citscitoolkit/projects/journeynorth/monarchs/

Our .state butterfly, the monarch, is at risk, Make Way for Monarchs, a Milkweed-Butterfly Recovery Alliance, July 29, 2014, http://makewayformonarchs.org/i/archives/1455/

Project FeederWatch

Feederwatch Handbook and Instructions Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Click to view the .pdf
Feederwatch Handbook and Instructions Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Click to view the .pdf
There are several programs where citizens can report their observations of nature to science organizations who need their data. Today, I refer to “Project FeederWatch” hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the premier institute for the study of all kinds of wild birds.
View or download Project Feederwatch materials from feederwatch.org Courtesy Project Feederwatch
View or download Project Feederwatch materials from feederwatch.org
Courtesy Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The main goal of the program is to combine the interests of backyard bird watchers with the needs of professional ornithologists. By making simple, standardized counts of the birds in their yards and reporting them to the database, citizens are contributing directly to the scientific understanding and monitoring of bird populations. Our observations help those scientists study changes in the distribution and abundance of feeder birds over time. And people of all ages and experience levels can contribute to actual research by participating in Project FeederWatch.

Observation sites can be as large as two tennis courts, or as small as a single feeder. Make sure the site is easily seen through your windows, then just use that same site all season. You simply observe the birds that come to that site for two consecutive days each week. And your counting time can be less than an hour, or more than eight hours, depending on your personal choices.

The scientists want data collected only during winter months, so in 2018 the reporting time ends April 13.

Record and report the largest number of each species you see at any one time during the two days to avoid double-counting birds.

When the observation season is completed, you can learn the numbers and distribution of various species and see how your yard compared to others who have been observing throughout the United States and Canada.

A couple of tips to get you started: Place your feeder in a quiet area where they are easy to see and fill. It is best to have them around 10 feet from natural cover such as trees and shrubs. This provides them cover and discourages cats and squirrels from leaping to the feeders. Buy fairly large feeders so you don’t have to fill them so often. The best all-around attractant is black-oil sunflower seeds due to its high fat content and it is easy for small birds to handle and crack open. Suet, or cakes of beef fat containing a variety of seeds, is another great choice for attracting insect-eating birds such as woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches. The cakes are placed in small cages to hold the suet while birds enjoy the feast. If you can provide grit (sand, very small pebbles, or ground eggshells) the birds will appreciate it since they use that in their gizzard to basically “chew” the seeds. Water is essential for birds even in winter, but you may need to provide a birdbath heater to keep ice from forming. And NEVER use anti-freeze since it is poisonous to ALL animals. Keep your cat indoors. You can also prevent birds crashing into windows by breaking up the reflections on the glass with netting or other decorations.

And if, one day, while you’re enjoying a melodious chorus of bird songs that suddenly go silent, you may have a visiting Cooper’s or Sharp-Shinned Hawk hunting for lunch.

For more information, and how to register, go to feederwatch.org

This is Ron Hellstern and I’m Wild About Utah!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Project Feederwatch, feederwatch.org
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://feederwatch.org/

Feederwatch Handbook & Instructions, Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://feederwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Handbook.pdf

Instruction summary, Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://feederwatch.org/about/how-to-participate/instructions/

Detailed Instructions, Project Feederwatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://feederwatch.org/about/detailed-instructions/

HOMESCHOOLER’S GUIDE TO PROJECT FEEDERWATCH, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.birdsleuth.org/398/

Beyond Penquins and Polar Bears, College of Education and Human Ecology, The Ohio State University, Funded by NSF, February 2009, http://beyondpenguins.ehe.osu.edu/issue/arctic-and-anarctic-birds/project-feederwatch-integrating-real-time-science-and-math

Utah Envirothon

Utah Envirothon T-Shirt 2017 Courtesy Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Utah Envirothon 2017 T-Shirt
Courtesy Ron Hellstern, Photographer
No matter where you live in the State of Utah, you are located in one of the 38 Conservation Districts managed by the Utah Conservation Commission. Each of those Districts sponsor and support a wonderful program for High School students called the Utah Envirothon (which simply means a marathon competition to understand Utah’s environments).

The program started in 1979 in Pennsylvania. In 1995 a handful of teachers from the Cache and Logan School Districts, Utah State University, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Logan started the program in Utah.

The Envirothon is unique in science and Ag contests because teams of five students from each school get to work together as they compete in the subjects of Forestry, Wildlife, Soils and Land Use, Aquatic Ecology, and a Current Issue which changes topics each year. This isn’t a typical Science Fair where a student displays a cardboard backdrop explaining an experiment they may have done. In the Envirothon, without teachers present, the students are given written tests AND all day outdoor field-tests where they use professional scientific equipment to understand the functions of the natural world around them. They are also given an actual current problem that deals with Utah’s wild lands or agricultural settings and they must produce an Oral Presentation regarding their solution to a panel of Agency Judges. The students also get to learn about dozens of outdoor careers in the Natural Resources, Forest Service, Agriculture, Wildlife Management, and the National Park Service

The Judges are not acquainted with any of the students, who are required to wear identical team T-Shirts, during the entire competition. Scores are compiled from tests, equipment use, and the oral presentation to determine the State Champion who is presented with Olympic-quality medals and scholarships to universities within our State, and then goes on to the North American Envirothon, which is held in a different location in the U.S. or Canada each summer. Last year, about 60 State and Provincial winning teams went to Maryland to compete for the North American Championship.

The Utah competition has been held the last weekend in April, in places ranging from Logan to Saint George, on university campuses, forests, rangelands, farms, and even in Zion National Park.

Currently, more than half a million students participate throughout all the United States, Canada, and China. Europe, Mexico, Japan and Australia are also investigating how to establish the program.

For more information contact your local Conservation Districts or online at utahenvirothon.org for the simple rules, learning resources, and training videos about each topic. The North American website has even more detailed information at www.envirothon.org.

This is Ron Hellstern and I’m Wild About Utah!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

NCF-Envirothon, A Natural Resource Encounter for the Next Generation, https://www.envirothon.org/

Winter Bird Feeding

A suet feeder, individual cake and a box of cakes. To the right are three gravity feeders with black oil sunflower seeds as well as other seeds. Courtesy Ron Hellstern, photographer
A suet feeder, individual cake and a box of cakes. To the right are three gravity feeders with black oil sunflower seeds as well as other seeds.
Courtesy Ron Hellstern, photographer
Most people enjoy watching birds, except for their occasional deposits on cars or windows. In an earlier program, I mentioned at least fifteen benefits that birds provide to humans and planet Earth. But as human population and developments increase, the survival of many bird species becomes threatened. Now, as winter approaches, colder weather and lack of food adds to the life-threatening dilemmas birds face. Some birds migrate to warmer habitats, but for those that stay in the northern regions a helping-hand from humans is no doubt appreciated.

Presenting “gifts” of birdfeeders and seeds to others (and your own family) will help songbirds and fowls to survive so they can provide their songs and beauty in the Spring. Consider these tips:

  • Buy large birdfeeders so you don’t have to fill them so often. Wet seed can grow harmful bacteria, so use feeders with wide covers.
  • If deer, or other pests, invade your feeders, hang them up higher in trees.
  • Place feeders 10’ away from dense cover to prevent sneak attacks from cats.
  • Provide multiple feeders to increase amounts and diversity of foods.
  • “Favorite” winter foods depends on the species. Black Oil sunflower seeds are loved by most birds, but niger, millet, peanuts, corn, and wheat will attract a diverse range of birds. Experiment and see what comes to your feeders.
  • A combination of beef-fat, with seeds or fruit, is called suet. It is a high-energy food which helps birds stay warm. The 4” cakes are placed in small cages and are loved by flickers, woodpeckers and many other birds. Peanut butter is also relished by birds, but is more expensive than suet.
  • Once birds find your feeders, they will rely on them for regular food supplies. If your feeders become empty, especially during ice storms or blizzards, birds will have a hard time finding natural food. If you take a trip, have a neighbor keep your feeders filled.
  • Buy extra seed and store it in a cool, dry place like a covered plastic trash can which can be kept on a deck, porch, or in a garage.
  • Make sure the feeders are kept clean with hot water, and then dried, about once a month.
  • Some birds, like juncos, towhees, doves and pheasants prefer eating seed which has fallen to the ground. Compact the snow below your feeders so they can find that seed easier.
  • Unless you live near a natural water source, place a pan of water near a feeder on warmer days. Or you could consider a heated bird bath to provide drinking water.
  • If you have fruit trees or berry bushes, leave some of the fruit on the plants to provide natural foods.
  • You may wish to leave birdhouses and nest-boxes up all year for winter roosting sites.
  • Now the fun part comes. After your feeders have been discovered by some birds, word soon gets around the neighborhood and others will arrive. But do you know what they are? The Peterson Field Guidebooks are a great help for beginners because the illustrations are often grouped by color. Then you can become a citizen-scientist and submit your observations to Cornell’s Project Feederwatch or participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count each December. Look online for details.

    Time to get started with your own feeders, or as gifts to others, and begin enjoying the colorful company of finches, woodpeckers, towhees, juncos, sparrows, doves and many others.

    Credits:

    Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
    Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Feed the Birds, Jim Cane & Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society, Dec 1, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/tag/feeding-birds/

    Winter Song Birds, Jim Cane & Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society, Feb 3, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/tag/feeding-birds/

    Audubon Guide to Winter Bird-Feeding, Steve Kress, Audubon Magazine, Nov-Dec, 2010, http://www.audubon.org/magazine/november-december-2010/audubon-guide-winter-bird-feeding

    Backyard Birding, Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service(FWS), Last Updated: February 19, 2016, https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/bird-feeding.php

    Backyard Birding, Helping our Feathered Friends, US Fish & Wildlife Service(FWS), Last Updated: June 1, 2016, https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/songbird-conservation.php

    Backyard Bird-Feeding Resources, Birds at Your Feeder, Erica H. Dunn, Diane L. Tessaglia-Hymes, Project Feederwatch, https://feederwatch.org/learn/articles/backyard-bird-feeding-resources/