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Time to Collect Wildflower Seeds for Pollinators

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It’s time to collect wildflower seeds for our native pollinators.  I mostly use the seeds for seed balls or package them as promotional items to encourage pollinator conservation but they can also be sown and grown under lights or in cold frames to kick start their growth before planned planting.

I like to snap or cut the mature seed heads into a bucket. After letting the ants and other little critters that might be in there crawl out, I transfer the seeds to paper bags or envelopes where they will undergo dehiscence or dry out and split to release their seeds. The paper bag allows air circulation thus preventing mold.  If you plan to hold the seeds into spring and grow them yourself be mindful that some seeds like many milkweeds require cold stratification before germinating and require refrigeration in a mix of horticultural sand and water.

Eco-School students and Green Clubs can collect and package seeds, craft a marketing plan and sell seeds as part of a schoolyard habitat fundraiser!

Citizen Science participants can collect milkweed seeds to send to Monarch Watch for their Bring Back The Monarchs Conservation initiative!

 

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com

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Frog Pond Science, Hop Into Action!

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If I had it my way, exploring a frog pond ecosystem would be mandatory for all students.  The observations and interaction with frogs, dragonflies, cattails, lily pads and so much more make for an incredible learning opportunity every child should experience.  One of the most popular classes that I offer is Frog Pond Science.  For more information, check out the Amphibian Encounter lesson in Hop Into Action, The Amphibian Curriculum For Grades K-4.

Record your findings at a frog pond for the Citizen Science program FrogWatch USA.   The program helps you to learn about the wetlands in your community and conserve amphibians by reporting the calls of local frogs and toads that you hear.

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com

Citizen Science & Wood Duck Boxes

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The wooded wetland forest around my home supports a variety of cavity nesting birds. The wood duck (Aix Sponsa), in particular, is a bird that searches out excavations or openings in trees where she can lay her eggs.  Due to habitat loss and because the forest is young there is a “housing shortage” that does not offer adequate nesting location in old large trees.  To assist the wood duck in finding shelter we continue to build and install many boxes.  With the help of local scouts looking for Eagle Scout projects and NJ Fish and Wildlife we have been able to  install over fifteen boxes within West Essex park adjacent to the Passaic River.

When we open boxes after the nesting season is complete there are a variety of surprises to find.  Its common to have mice living in the substrate at the bottom, wasps building nests under the top of the box, screech owls in the winter months (and their pellets) and potentially even a flying squirrel although I haven’t experiences that yet myself.  We hope to find shell membranes, pieces of eggshell, feather down and any other evidence of nesting or use of the box by Wood ducks. All findings are of note and are kept recorded in a journal with the box #.  We also record the gps mark of each box, date of each observation, hole orientation, hole size, box height from water or land, if climbing wire is installed on the inner cover, and if a predator guard in installed.

While habitat protection is ideal as a primary means of protection of these cavity nesters, there currently exists limited shelter availability. When artificial nest boxes are placed in the best locations according to our citizen science research, the nest box monitor can effectively increase the population of a species and make it a common sight as it was many years before.

Buzz Into Action with a Pollinator Habitat Inventory

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Take the Pollinator Habitat Inventory Checklist to Evaluate Your Habitat. 

Pollinator Habitat Inventory

Name(s): ______________________________ Date: __________________________

Habitat: __________________________

Answer the following questions to evaluate your pollinator habitat.

Is there a diversity of blooming flowers available in different seasons?  Yes or No

Buzz Into Action, Pollinator Inventory, Citizen Science Data Sheet

Tip: Pollinators appreciate seasonal blooms that provide continuous nectar flow.

Are you using only native plants? Yes or No

Tip: Native plants and animals evolve together in a relationship. Provide native plants that offer nectar in exchange for pollination services.

Are you limiting areas of mowed lawn? Yes or No

Tip: Avoid lawn in a wildlife habitat as it is largely useless to wildlife and often requires mowing, watering, and fertilizing.

Is shelter available for nesting sites? Yes or No

Tip: Pollinators can be offered shelter in the form of leaf litter or nest boxes and hollow tubes.

Is shelter available for overwintering insects? Yes or No

Tip: Wait until spring to landscape your habitat as many pollinators overwinter attached to and in leaf stems or leaf litter. Waiting may also allow time for certain plants to release their seeds.

Is there a water feature? Yes or No

Tip: Pollinators appreciate an easy drink in the way of a mud puddle, saucer pan or slow drip.

Are you avoiding pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides? Yes or No

Tip: Chemical applications may not be healthy for plants, pollinators, or people.

Do you have a viewing area to enjoy and study your pollinators? Yes or No

Tip: Share your garden with friends and relatives to encourage others to duplicate your efforts.

If you answer no to any of the above questions, research and consider how you can enhance your habitat.

Pollinator Information & Improvement Resources

Available on the Web:

  • Pollinator Partnership: Find out about how to create gardens designed to attract and conserve our important pollinators.
  • Selecting Plants for Pollinators in the Eastern Broadleaf Forest
  • Xerces Society:  A nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. For forty years, the Society has been at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs.
  • Monarch Watch:  Find information about creating and certifying a Monarch Waystation or location for migratory insects to stop, rest, and fuel up before they continue their journey.

Available in Print:

  • Pollinator Conservation Handbook by the Xerces Society
  • Butterfly Gardening: Creating Summer Magic in Your Garden by the Xerces Society
  • Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation by Donald J. Leopold
  • Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America by Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman

Buying Wildflower Seeds:

  • Ernst Conservation Seeds & Ernst Southern Native Seeds: Ask about their Pollinator Mixes.
  • Live Monarch:  You can order milkweed seeds and other supplies for Monarch rearing.  The packets can even be customized with the organization’s contact information for giveaways or sales.  Monarchs are often the charismatic stepping stone to additional insect conservation efforts.

Pollinator Grants:

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com

Citizen Science & Bluebird Trails

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Citizen science volunteers work hard to encourage and maintain suitable nesting sites for bluebirds. Bluebirds around where I live have been in decline due to habitat loss and also habitat succession as the farms of yesterday have been turning back into forests removing the broad open meadows once common place. To help assist beautiful bluebirds, nest boxes are placed in the remaining open meadows.  Bluebirds like to forage in these open areas and also require nesting shelters that are out in the open. They will not nest too close to the forest edge or within likely due to competition with other bird species for those nesting shelters.  It turns out that placing two nest boxes back to back or within 15 feet helps to allow tree swallows to take up one box and bluebirds to live in the other. This relationship works because the tree swallows will defend their territory against other tree swallows but allow bluebirds to move in. Bluebirds and tree swallows tolerate one another because the bluebirds are feeding from the ground level whereas the tree swallows feed in the air with their acrobatic maneuvers as they swoop up flying insects.

Bluebirds work hard to create a suitable home for their young and will aggressively protect it.  They face increasing nesting competition due to non-native birds like European starling and house sparrow. Fortunately, when a good location is provided they can have up to three broods a season.

Tree Swallow at Becker Farm Bluebird Box

Tree Swallow at Becker Farm Bluebird Box

Citizen Scientists can monitor these nest boxes to help provide adequate shelter for them to bring up babies.  Nestbox monitoring sheets often include the following information that is gathered: Nest box #, Species, Nesting Activity Notes, Nest Completed Date, 1st Egg Laid, Total Eggs Laid, Hatching Date, Total Eggs Hatched, Total Fledges and Date Fledged.

We can use the data to identify the suitable habitat elements that support bluebirds, document resident bird populations, increase available shelter for bluebird species recovery and promote a stewardship ethic that cares for our natural environment.

Consider installing a single box or an entire trail of boxes during National Nest Box Week in February to have them ready for the spring season.

Bluebird Eggs in Box

Monitoring Bluebirds at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

To learn how to properly construct a bluebird house and much more, visit the North American Bluebird Society.

Share your efforts with the community : )

Share your efforts with the community : )

Citizen Science for a Healthier Passaic River

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For the past eight years I’ve been working together with local schools on a citizen science endeavor to gather chemical and biological data on the health of the Passaic River at the Essex County Environmental Center in Roseland, New Jersey.

The projects purpose is to encourage and engage student involvement in establishing data resources for scientific use as a basis for sound decision-making.  In doing so, students have authentic place-based experiences that address real-life environmental issues in order to contribute to the protection of the natural resources in our communities.  In using the river as a rich learning laboratory students become ecologically aware of their surroundings and their immediate community impact. Hopefully through their participation they foster an ethic of appreciation for the environment and go forward as a steward who has the tools to make individual choices that work to protect and improve the health of our environment.

Classes graph all the combined collected data to examine changes taking place and make realistic recommendations  that can help to continue to improve the recovery of the river as a valued public resource.  Together we learn that just being concerned about the environment is not enough however there are small choices and changes we can make that help to leave it better than we found it.

For our Passaic River studies we use the Earth Force Standard Water Monitoring Kit and examine phosphate, nitrate, pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and temperature of water and air.  We also collect, identify and release aquatic organisms or macroinvertebrates that act as indicators of the health of the water.  We assign each macroinvertebrate a point value based on their ability to tolerate pollution (1pt), be somewhat tolerant of pollution (2pts) and pollution intolerant (3pts).  Emphasis is put on accuracy and precision of collected data to ensure results are useful and comparable.

Citizen Science – Experiencing the Phenology of New Jersey – Worthy of a Celebration!

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To find new things, take the path you took yesterday.
 – John Burroughs

I talk a lot about nature.  As a naturalist, my job is often to introduce participants to the seasonal discoveries they may not be wired to notice or have the time to slow down and recognize. Walking through habitats everyday and recording my observations helps to take notice of what is happening in the natural world. Phenology is the study of the timing of these natural events.  The word comes from a Greek word that means “coming into view”.  Events like the first openings of leaf and flower buds and the first calls of frogs and toads are all considered phonological events.  The timing of these events varies in different locations due to the climate differences.

Different factors affect an areas climate, including temperature, amount of precipitation, and day length at different latitude and altitude.

The occurrence of observed phenomenon may alter slightly from year to year, but is predictable.

If you hike, paddle, hunt, go birding or enjoy nature photography being in touch with the changing seasons brings eager anticipation for the delightful celebrations nature puts forward.  Try keeping your own phenology journal to be ready for each special moment in your neck of the woods.

Tips:  Check the dates of your digital photographs to record past observations!   Add these notes to your calendar so you can plan when and where you want to be far in advance.

Try Sharing your Citizen Science Observations at 

Project Budburst, INaturalist or Project Noah!

Here is a general list of some of my New Jersey nature observations.

Let me know in the comments what  seasonal discoveries you look forward to  seeing.

January

  • Black Bear cubs (usually two) are born in late January through February weighing around one pound.
  • Great horned owls incubate eggs late January through February.
  • Red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks begin to court and lay eggs.
  • Animal tracks are easy to discover after a light snowfall.
  • Eastern Tiger Salamanders begin breeding in vernal pools in southern New Jersey.
  • Long-tailed salamanders mate in underground tunnels near freshwater springs.  The female will secure her clutch of approximately 90 eggs to stones or wood within the water.

February

  • Screech Owl Courtship is taking place, nestlings take 28 days and they fledge at dusk.
  • Great Horned Owl nestlings are feeding and on branches.
  • Red maple trees flower.
  • White-tailed deer bucks are dropping their antlers.
  • Late-Feb: Bald Eagles begin laying eggs.  Clutches consist of one or three eggs. Incubation lasts approximately 36 days.

  March

  • Early – Amphibian Migration to Vernal Pools, look and listen for for calling frogs like spring peepers and wood frogs as well as eggs in pools.
  • Woodcock Watch (prenuptial flight) is taking place.
  • Skunk cabbage is emerging in wetlands.
  • Bald Eagle chicks begin to hatch.  Hatching will continue throughout March and April depending on when the eggs were laid.
  • Barred owls begin their mating rituals and can be heard calling throughout their wetland territory.  Have you heard the “who cooks for you, who cooks for you allll” song of the barred owl?
  • Note: March 20-21: Equal Day and Night.

April

  • Look for Morel Mushrooms after a spring rain under mature tulip trees.
  • Wood ducks incubate their eggs.
  • Jack-in the Pulpit begins to grow.
  • Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads are ready for foraging.
  • Wild Leeks are almost at their peak for harvest.

 May

  • Migratory song birds peak in early May.
  • Animal Babies: woodchucks and ducks mid-late May.
  • Rose Breasted Grosbeak and Oriole will eat half orange at this time.
  • Cinnamon ferns are open and covered in a cinnamon colored cotton like material used by hummingbirds for their nests.
  • White-tailed deer fawns are born (usually twins) late-May-early-June.
  • Gray Tree Frogs calling in swamplands.

 June

  • Hummingbirds are visiting feeders and red/orange tube flowers.
  • Green frogs are calling  (listen for clucks like a banjo string being plucked) and laying eggs.
  • Sedum is blooming on roof gardens.
  • Snapping turtles are laying eggs as far as a mile from their water source and wood ducks laying second clutch.
  • Note: June 21-22 is longest daylight period.

 July

  • Milkweed is attracting Monarch butterflies (look for eggs or caterpillars often on the bottom on the leaves).
  • Mid-July Nesting Orioles.
  • Daylilies in bloom.
  • Goldfinches are latest nesting bird.
  • Kingfishers, Herons and egrets active in wetland ditches because swamp is dry.
  • White-tailed deer bucks antlers are in velvet.

 August

  • Marsh Mallow is blooming in swamplands.
  • Early August – Goldenrod blooms.
  • Late August – Peak of Humming Bird Fall Migration.

 September

  • Passerine Migration begins.
  • The last generation of Monarchs are on their way down south.
  • Note: September 21, 22 offers equal day and night.

October

  • Hawk Migration (Visit a Hawk Watch!).
  • Deer Rut begins in NJ.
  • Wild fruit such as pawpaw, devils walking stick, wild grapes and black gum are abundant.
  • Many fruits and vegetables are ripe in NJ farms and gardens.

 November

  • Early- November – First Frost (get bulbs underground beforehand).
  • Large flocks of robins and blackbirds roost in swamp.

December

  • Animal Tracking: shoot tracks in shade (your own shadow) and open up a stop or two.
  • Great Horned Owls are setting up their nesting territories, sometimes in an old crow or hawk nest and will be on eggs in February.
  • Note: December 21,22 earth is tilted away from sun so shortest period of daylight.


   

Finding what you’re looking for! (Focus on New Jersey)

There are many wonderful environmental centers and park conservancies that will help you get closer to nature.  Join your local center for a seasonal walk or consider going out with an organization that focuses more closely on a specific topic of interest.

Butterflies: Take an outing with the local chapter of the North American Butterfly Association http://www.naba.org/chapters/nabanj/

Dragonflies and Damselflies: Take an outing with the Jersey Odonate Enthusiasts http://www.njodes.com/

Honeybees: Visit a local chapter of the NJ Beekeeper Association http://njbeekeepers.org/

Mushrooms:  Take an outing with the New Jersey Mycological Association http://www.njmyco.org/

Amphibians: Middle of March is the beginning of the amphibian breeding season.  Join an amphibian crossing with the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Programhttp://www.njaudubon.org/Education/AmphibianIntro.html

Birds: Join an outing led by expert naturalists with New Jersey Audubon http://www.njaudubon.org/

Plants: Join programs offered by the New Jersey Native Plant Society http://www.npsnj.org/

Additional Ideas for Nature Discovery!

  • Create a Photo Journal, sketch pad or nature notebook full of your seasonal discoveries
  • Five Minute Phenology – explore, discover, observe, record once every day for five minutes.
  • Document what is occurring outside  your home or schoolyard.  Let your own kids or students add their own observations.
  • Most Importantly, Share your Discoveries!

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