In the December 2016 Good Life article “Citizen Scientists”, Jaana Hatton deftly describes the power of collaboration as ordinary people lend to understanding of the world volunteering locally as citizen science volunteers. One of the projects Janna featured is Upper Basin Birders (UBB), under the leadership of Heather Murphy (retired, U.S.F.S. wildlife biologist). Now in its 17th year, UBB was initially started as a U.S. Forest Service survey and monitoring project, 1999-2003. When funded ended, a group of citizen scientists under Heather Murphy’s leadership, continued the surveys, 2003-present, as volunteers for the U.S. Forest Service.
Year-round, 21 bird survey stations are monitored in the upper Wenatchee River watershed. During winter, some stations are accessed used snowshoes or skies.
Several stations are at Fish Lake and are conducted April-November from the deck of a pontoon boat, circumnavigating the lake. Between Oct. 2015-2016, a total of 40 volunteers have participated, contributing over 1000 hours in the field on once/month surveys.
Volunteers take turns recording all bird species observed by the group, and later, enter the data into Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s online eBird citizen science database. During the projects 17 years, 204 different species of birds have been recorded at 21 separate bird survey stations in the upper Wenatchee River watershed. 1800 individual checklists have been entered in eBird, allowing scientists world-wide to access the data.
Upper Basin Birders is one of several on-going citizen science bird survey projects that utilize volunteers. Not all volunteers need to be skilled at bird identification, as note-takers, map-readers, and drivers are also needed on bird survey teams. Three on-going local projects include:
- The upcoming Christmas Bird Count is the longest running citizen science effort in North Central Washington, organized by North Central Washington Audubon Society volunteers. It is a census birds collected annually in the early Northern-hemisphere winter by volunteer birdwatchers and administered by the National Audubon Society. Between Dec. 15-Jan. 2, local volunteers travel prescribed routes to record bird species and to count individuals. Volunteers with all levels of experience are invited to join a team. Team leader contact information is here.
- Sagebrush Songbird Survey– a joint project between WA Audubon, Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, and our local Audubon Society chapter. New volunteers are needed and trainings are scheduled for late March and early April. Contact Christi Norman to learn more.
- Chelan-Douglas Land Trust walking monitoring eBird routes at Horse Lake Reserve and Mountain Home Preserve between April-November. A free Introduction to eBird workshop is scheduled for March 22 (evening) in Wenatchee and March 23 (morning) in Leavenworth. Contact Susan Ballinger, CDLT Conservation Fellow to learn more.
If you’d like to become more skilled at bird identification, Wenatchee Valley College Continuing Education is offering two evening short-course in 2017 co-taught by Jenny Graevell & Susan Ballinger: Winter Waterbirds (Feb. 13, 15, & 18) and Introduction to Birding (Apr. 24, 26, & 29). One of the best ways to improve your bird ID skills is in the field and both courses include a Saturday field trip.
On a tight budget? Our local Audubon chapter offers year-round free field trips led by volunteers who like to share their expertise. Chelan-Douglas Land Trust offered twice monthly bird ID Skills Building outings open to all at Walla Walla Park and the Horan Nature Area.
At these outings, participants from beginners to experts come together to improve their skills, make discoveries, and enjoy time out-of-doors together. Maybe 2017 will be the year you jump into birding as a citizen science volunteer!