© Loree Griffin Burns

On Friday I led a group of citizen scientists out into a gorgeous milkweed meadow, where we hunted for ladybugs. In a short walk that involved no sweep nets (we didn’t want to whack all the beautiful, about-to-pop blooms off the milkweed), we recorded four species of ladybugs: ursine anthill ladybug (Brachiacantha ursine), polished ladybug (Cycloneda mundi), seven-spotted ladybug (Cocinella septempunctata), and multi-colored Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridris).

Because we didn’t collect specimens but, rather, recorded them photographically as we hiked, our numbers of individuals within a species are not precise. There was a single mating pair of ursines (see photo), one individual polished, and one individual seven-spotted. My best guess is that we spotted at least five Asian ladybugs, but I can’t be sure we didn’t recount the same individual.

Anyway, it was a great afternoon in the sunshine, celebrating insects that live in our neck of the woods. For more information on ladybug citizen science, or to view ladybugs we and others have found over the years, click on over to the Lost Ladybug Project website.


Wednesday Wild: Focus on Feeders Edition

© Ben Burns
© Ben Burns

This past weekend, MassAudubon sponsored its annual Focus on Feeders bird census. My kids and I managed to spot fifteen species of birds over the course of the two days. Most were at our feeders, but a few, like the crows and the red-tailed hawk, just happened to be flying overhead while we were counting. I was thrilled that one of our resident red nuthatches showed up and posed for a photo, and completely stoked that my son Ben was ready with the camera. (If you are into birds, you can compare this red nut to the white-breasted cousin from this recent post.) Here’s our full species list:

American crow

American goldfinch

Black-capped chickadee

Blue jay

Dark-eyed junco

Downy woodpecker

House finch

Mourning dove

Northern cardinal

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-breasted nuthatch

Tufted titmouse

White-breasted nuthatch

Red-tailed hawk

Don’t worry if you missed the fun; Great Backyard Bird Count is just two weeks away! I’ll be counting with kids from my local elementary school. How about you?

Citizen Science Portals


Is it me, or is citizen science EVERYWHERE? I just opened the January/February edition of Audubon magazine and found a piece about yet another web portal for curious kids and their families to explore citizen science projects that need their help. I’ve added it to my growing list (links below) of places to send folks who need a “real science” fix …


Cornell Lab of Ornithology Citizen Science Central


Happy exploring!


© Loree Griffin Burns
© Loree Griffin Burns

One of my favorite reviews of Citizen Scientists, from librarian and SLJ blogger Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes, contains this line:

“The rear of the book is a backmatter-palooza …” (You can read the full review here.)

Yes! The final ten pages of Citizen Scientists are a backmatter-palooza. That’s partly because I’m a sucker for meaty backmatter; how better to truly ponder a book than to thumb around in the land after THE END, getting a feel for why the author wrote what she wrote … and where she thought you might like to go next? The truth is, though, that this book demanded serious backmatter real estate. If Citizen Scientists worked as I hoped, then readers would finish antsy to launch their careers as citizen scientists. I wanted to point them to a depth and variety of print and web resources that would help them do that.

Alas, backmatter has its downside. Foremost on my mind today: the ephemeral nature of web addresses. After Citizen Scientists went to press, but before copies were even available for purchase, one of my favorite of the backmatter web resources, the website Science for Citizens, changed its name. And its internet handle. Grrr.

We will fix this in subsequent editions of the book, of course. In the meanwhile, know this: Science for Citizens is now SciStarter. It is a great place to search out real science projects in need of real amateur scientists. Into bats? They’ve got you covered. Crazy for mastodons? No problem. Honestly, it’s project-palooza over there. For a little taste, check out SciStarter’s Top 12 Citizen Science Projects of 2012. You’ll see some you’ve heard me talk about before (Great Sunflower Project) and some that I’m only beginning to contemplate (Project Squirrel, anyone?).

Happy exploring!

Winter Lecture Series

© Loree Griffin Burns

I’m pleased to be part of MassAudubon‘s Friday Night Lecture Series at Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary (113 Goodnow Road) in Princeton, Massachusetts this winter. Check out the complete list of the series speakers below, and join us for one or all events. Lecture admission is $7 for MassAudubon members and $10 for nonmembers, and all lectures begin at 7:30pm. Call the Sanctuary at 978-464-2712 if you have any questions.

January 11
Belize it or Not: Mass Audubon’s Tropical Connection
Leader: Bancroft Poor, Mass Audubon’s Vice President

January 25
How Can I Help? Empowering Citizens with Science
Leader: Loree Griffin Burns, Scientist/Author

February 8
A Forest Journey
Leader: Matthew “Twig” Largess, Certified Arborist, Largess Forestr, Inc

February 22
Management of Grassland and Shrubland Habitats for Declining Wildlife Species in Massachusetts
Leader: John Scanlon, Forestry Project Leader

March 8
Life as a Field Artist
Leader: Gordon Morrison, Artist, Naturalist and Author

March 22
The Nature of Mongolia
Leader: Chris Leahy, MassAudubon Bertrand Chair of Natural History and Ornithology

April 12
Nature Potpourri
Leader: Gail Hansche Godin, Photographer/Naturalist

‘Tis the (bird census) season …

© Loree Griffin Burns
© Loree Griffin Burns

Yesterday’s post reminded me to remind YOU that some excellent bird-related citizen science opportunities are just ’round the corner …

These are great opportunities to get outside, show off your birding skills, and do a small something to help monitor the birds in your neighborhood.  Both projects are simple, fun and–I warn you!–addicting. My kids and I have participated in one or the other since 2008, and we’ve had some extraordinary moments. (Last year’s sharp-shinned hawk comes to mind.)

All the information you need to get started can be found at the websites linked above. Check them out and see if a bird count is something you can fit into the family calendar. If so, fill up your feeders, dust off your ‘nocs, and invite the neighbors. Happy Counting!

In My Kitchen

© Loree Griffin Burns

This weekend I watched my four-year-old nephew catch the birding bug. He was over for the day, and on one of his trips through the kitchen, he caught me with binoculars checking out a bird on the feeders outside. He asked what I was doing and Presto! … he’s a birder. In about twenty minutes time he spotted eight species of birds. His reaction was fun to witness; I can’t think of anything more satisfying than a four-year-old leaping up and down in your kitchen and shouting, “There’s another one! Auntie Loree, look! I see another bird! What is it?”

(I think this guy needs his first birding field guide, don’t you? I’m going to put this one under the tree for him this year.)

Happy Monday, friends. May your week be filled with new birds … and a curious four-year-old or two.

Brookwood School

© Loree Griffin Burns

Check it out.

That right there is the FeederWatch station of the Pre-K students at Brookwood School in Manchester, Massachusetts. It has everything the students need to monitor the feeder bird populations on their school grounds: stools for comfortable viewing, windows looking out over the school bird feeders, a basket for storing clipboards, data sheets, and pencils, and photos of birds to help remind watchers what they are seeing. There is even a sign–its posted on the easel at the left of the photo–warning passersby: “Shhhhhhhh! Bird Watchers at Work!” I was lucky enough to have a personal tour of this research station, and was mighty impressed with the citizen scientists who work there. Thank you Brookwood Pre-K students!

Thank you also to the Brookwood kindergartners, who shared their MonarchWatch experiences with me, the first graders, who told me about their tulip work for Journey North, and the second graders, who taught me about chicken care, introduced me to Cynthia and Mabel … and even gifted me a couple of fresh eggs.

Hooray for student scientists and the schools that inspire them!

Peepers Out of Season

© Loree Griffin Burns

I’m soaking up John Hanson Mitchell’s A FIELD GUIDE TO YOUR OWN BACK YARD: A SEASONAL GUIDE TO THE FLORA & FAUNA OF THE EASTERN US this week, and I came across these words among his early spring (April, May, June) thoughts on peepers:

“… although a great deal is known about the mating habits of this common frog, not much is known about the other nine months of its life.”

They caught my attention because I happened to have observed something interesting about the post early-spring life of spring peepers recently. For the past two field seasons, while hunting for ladybugs in a milkweed meadow here in central Massachusetts, I’ve come across a surprising number of resting peepers. I’d estimate that I’ve made 4-6 individual observations, and always on the hottest and most humid of peak summer days. In each case, the frog in question was sitting on the top face of a milkweed leaf about three to four feet off the ground, shaded by the leaves above it.

Perhaps this is common spring peeper behavior? Perhaps its been observed and recorded a thousand times? Or–and I love this idea–perhaps I’ve seen something new?

There are ways to find out, of course. I can consult field guides and amphibian research journals in search of information on spring peeper behaviors recorded in summertime. I can get in touch with amphibian experts or local naturalists and ask them what they know. Or I could simply continue watching milkweed meadows and recording my peeper observations. Citizen-scientist-style.

Harvard Museum of Natural History

© Loree Griffin Burns

This past Saturday was a glorious–sunny and warm with a lovely breeze all day long–and I spent the early part of it talking about citizen science at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. That’s where I met Zepur, age six, who arrived sporting ladbybug earrings and clutching her own copy of Citizen Scientists. She told me she and her dad had already begun listening for frogs near their house, and then she pulled these hand-written checklists and notes from inside the front cover of her book. It was the sort of moment that makes a writer like me giddy.

I gave my talk, including a little introduction to the Lost Ladybug Project, and then Zepur, her dad, myself, and a dozen hearty ladybugging newbies headed out into the Museum’s courtyard for a look around. We were in the middle of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. We tried to shake ladybugs out of magnolias trees and lilac bushes, but came up empty. In fact, I was gearing up to launch my “sometimes science is like this” schtick when we approached what I now call the Crabapple Tree of Happiness. There we found the mother lode of ladybug larvae, enough for everyone to have a closer look. And then, with much cheering and oohing and ahhing, we spotted one mighty fine and much-appreciated Asian multicolored ladybug.

Thank you Zepur and friends. It was fun hunting ladybugs with you!