Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Track Your Backyard Part I: Nature's Notebook

This week I want to look at two projects for tracking nature in your backyard.  It's timely as the fall observing season approaches, and as I come back invigorated from PPSR2012.  These are two projects I've wanted to highlight before but couldn't fit in before the conference.

The first is Nature's Notebook.  This fun project helps you track changes to plants and animals living in a specific site.  Although this can happen anywhere it's easy to pick a site at your office or in your own backyard.  Just commit to spending five minutes once a week.  That is enough to notice any changes to nearby plants, count any animal species that are (or aren't!) around that day, and describe conditions in the area.

This is not the first nature tracking program; others ask citizen scientists to look for specific animals/plants of interest or provide data to different sets of researchers asking different questions.  So there is overlap with projects such as Project Budburst, ProjectNOAH, and the Great Backyard Bird Count (among others).  But Nature's Notebook sets itself apart in a few different ways.  First, the large amount of easy-to-use training materials available for every type of person and learning style.  It is also created by the USA National Phenology Network so we know the data will be disseminated broadly and can be correlated with the huge archive of historical data they've already collected.  So not only does it add to that collection, it can fill in a lot of holes and allow better understanding of niche environments researchers were previously unable to study.

Like many projects, Nature's Notebook takes little time to learn.  There are just a few steps below, but if these seem too vague or if you have questions the Nature's Notebook web site offers a wealth of additional information.

Getting Started is Easy:
  1. Select a convenient site for nature watching.  If you are just looking for plant life the site can be quite small, and for animals it can be as large as 15 acres or as small as your backyard.  Ultimately the area's size is not as whether it is representative of the local area.
  2. Select the plants and animals you wish to observe.  For plants, make sure they appear undamaged and healthy, free of pests and disease.   You should also pick one "calibration species" determined by Nature's Notebook that will keep you data in line with observers elsewhere in the country. For animals it should be those you are confident identifying by sight or by sound.  Help with identification of both plants and animals is available on the site here.
  3. Mark any plants you are tracking with tape, pins, or other methods so they can be easily identified later.  Make sure to have permission of the landowner first if it is not your own.
  4. Register as a participant with the USA National Phenology Network.  They don't ask for much, mainly just an email account they can use to identify and communicate with you.
  5. Register your site and the plants/animals you will be tracking online.  This will generate the check sheets Nature's Notebook provides to help you collect data and prompt you for the most important things to observe.
  6. Start observing.  Once a week is a minimum but feel free to visit more often.  Once you are finished make sure to transfer those observations online through your registered account.
  7. If you have any questions, check out the series of helpful tutorial videos.
That's all there is to it...or at least a quick summary of it.  Of course every animal or plant will have unique items that need to be observed, and every site will be different.  But Nature's Notebook helps guide you through that process and keeps you on track.  So if you want to help science, and want to learn about the wildlife in your backyard at the same time, check out Nature's Notebook.  You'll be glad you did.

See More in the Track Your Backyard Series:
  1. Nature's Notebook
  2. Nature's Notebook - Mobile App
  3. YardMap (Coming Soon)


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