Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Citizen Science is for the Birds

     I have been doing much better at ebirding my outings as I find more and more the platform not only aids the Cornell Lab of Ornithology database, but also keeps my personal records of sightings straight. Anyone who utilizes ebird is (whether they know it or not) taking part in citizen science, adding their records for their local areas and beyond to a database that can be accessed by scientists and others for purposes of studies, looking at trends, etc.
     Other forms of citizen science exist and myself plus two of my co-workers (who also happen to be good friends) take part in this one every spring: Horseshoe Crab Monitoring. Not a straight forward bird project, but horseshoe crab populations affect the populations of shorebirds, especially those that feed on their eggs. This is the time of year these crabs (not actually crabs) are laying their eggs making them easy to count and tag on beaches that act as their "nesting" grounds.
     I have found this opportunity through NYC Audubon, but know other citizen science groups put together counts on other NY beaches as well - and not just in NYC.
     Last year, I volunteered only at Plumb Beach, so this year we started our first night at Big Egg, a beach on the south shores of Broad Channel in Queens. It was a pretty amazing night...
Before our evening of tagging, we got some yummy Pizza at New Park in Howard Beach and then did some walking at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, where the breach on the West Pond is repaired!

Some sleepy least sandpipers on the reeds on the West Pond. Some other good sights were little blue and tricolored heron, osprey, boat-tailed grackles, and the adorable yellow warblers.
As the sunset and the tide reached it highest point, we set out for monitoring. First we had to measure our paces as we sampled the beach, walking a certain number of paces and then using a square (quadrat) to set down and count any crabs that lie in that square area.

In quadrat sampling, if the animal does not fall in the quadrat, it does not get counted. So, their pair missed our quadrat.

The female is buried in the sand, the male is clasped behind her. The males are smaller than the females and their first pair of legs look like hooks, used to clasp to the female and hold on tight. The female will lay eggs while the male fertilizes them.

We finally get a sample to count! 2 males, 1 female! The quadrat around them makes them countable.

These crabs are amazing, with their own little mini ecosystem on their backs-- with slipper (limpet) shells, barnacles, periwinkles, and worms-- to name a few.

After all our samples were taken, we then got to tagging. This involves determining the sex of the crab, taking measurements, assigning it a tag, and then tagging it. Here calipers are used to measure the diameter of the shell at the eyes of this male.

Tagged! Another way to be involved in this as a citizen scientist is to report any tagged crabs you find-- this helps scientists know where they go. And the reporter gets a certificate (and a cool pin for their first report) that states who tagged the crab and where plus any other reports of the crab sighted after tagging.

Some of the team recording measurements/sex/tag#'s, others measure and tag the animal, while others are out in the water looking for stray crabs to tag. Crabs that are in the process of laying eggs are not picked up and females buried in the sand are left alone.

We tagged 25 crabs last night!

The only female we tagged (leading) and her mate. We mobilized and came to them to tag them. We did not want to pick them up and possibly cause them to separate. 

We tagged, measured and all while they were connected-- and they stayed connected!
There were so many crabs on the first night of tagging, we really enjoyed working at this location and now want to come back later to maybe see how many crabs this beach gets-- which we hear is a lot! A very exciting night, looking forward to doing more- all in the name of science AND birds!