Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Citizen Science at Duke Gardens: Project BudBurst and eBird

American witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
by Erika Zambello

Technology and the rise of the internet have allowed for the expansion of citizen science projects, in which the general public of all ages can participate in collecting data and observations. These studies are not only engaging and informative for the citizen scientists themselves, they are also a valuable way to gather vast amounts of information. Duke Gardens is both an active citizen science partner and a fun location for local citizen science projects.

At Duke Gardens, two nationwide projects are particularly popular. Project BudBurst began in 2007 as a way to monitor plants across the United States. As one of their seven botanic garden partners, Duke Gardens is an excellent place to observe both native and non-native plant species. As part of BudBurst, volunteers go out into the Gardens and carefully observe plants in different phenophases ("an observable stage or phase in the annual life cycle of a plant or animal") throughout the year. Once the data is collected, volunteers then record their observations and submit them to the Project BudBurst website.

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
Do you have to be a plant specialist to participate in Project BudBurst? Absolutely not! With easy to follow online tutorials on what to look for when observing, citizen scientists of any age can submit their observations. In addition to specialist volunteers, school classes, church groups, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, visitors to botanic gardens, senior groups and more have all contributed to Project BudBurst.

Submitting an eBird checklist is another way visitors to Duke Gardens can participate in a citizen science project. It is relatively easy to learn the common bird species, and once a birder becomes comfortable with a few varieties he or she can explore the Gardens and keep track of species seen and the observed number of individuals in each species. Using a computer or the eBird cell phone app, birders can quickly complete a checklist and voila, their data has been recorded!

Gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
Duke Gardens is an especially good place to learn new birds and practice identifying familiar ones. The Blomquist Garden features bird feeders in its Steve Church Endangered Species Garden, as well as more feeders facing the beautiful Bird Viewing Shelter and at the President's Bridge entrance from Flowers Drive. The Asiatic Arboretum has its own feeders near the Garden Pond, complete with benches so birders can observe for as long as they want in comfort. All three locations provide great opportunities to watch feeder birds and practice identification skills, and you can quickly submit your sightings to eBird. 110 checklists have been logged in Duke Gardens so far!

Bird viewing shelter. Photo by Orla Swift
Whether you're partial to plants, birds, bees, frogs, or other nature creatures, there is a citizen science project out there for you. Do you have a different citizen science project that you love? Tell us about it! We'd love to feature it on our blog.

Blogger and photographer Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

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