A Grand Idea

This is a photograph of the Grand Canyon that was taken on May 7, 2014 by Flickr user Airwolfhound.

On January 11, 1908, our 26th U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument. President Roosevelt was remarkable in his foresight. He knew the historical, ecological, and recreational value of the site. Find out for yourself. Take the U.S. National Park Service’s Virtual Tour of the Grand Canyon and discover the wonders that archeologists, naturalists, and hikers experience when they move through the park.

Journey North & Citizen Science

One of the most effective ways to teach pupils about science is go beyond simply reading about science and have learners actually do the work of scientists by immersing them in citizen science. January is a great month to help students take on the role of citizen scientists. How? Simply point pupils to the Journey North site (a free, web-based program sponsored by Annenberg Learner). Journey North participants do what scientists do. They do science. Learners make field observations, collect data, and contribute valuable information to ongoing, worldwide studies.

Journey North

Related topics:

  • Another great citizen science project to involve students in is the Great Backyard Bird Count. The GBBC gets underway beginning February (15th to 18th, to be exact).
  • If the GBBC is of interest to you, be sure to visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and sign up for a bird-watching calendar that was created for the 2012-13 season of Project FeederWatch, a winter-long survey of birds at feeders across the U.S. and Canada. Be sure to drop by the NestCams portion of the site, too.
  • Consider visiting the Citizen Science Alliance site. The CSA, describes itself as “a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop, manage and utilise internet-based citizen science projects in order to further science itself, and the public understanding of both science and of the scientific process.”

Python Counterstrike: Squirrel Ambush

Kurt Grandis, a soft-spoken software engineer from North Carolina, delivered a humorous and informative presentation at PyCon 2012. PyCon is the largest annual gathering for the community using and developing the open-source Python programming language. During the course of his presentation, Militarizing Your Backyard with Python: Computer Vision and the Squirrel Hordes, Kurt describes how participating in citizen science (ala the Backyard Bird Count) led him to use Python to tap into computer vision libraries and build an automated sentry water cannon capable of soaking bushy-tailed backyard bandits.

Related Resources:

  • Kurt mentions OpenCV in his presentation. What is it? The Wikipedia entry for OpenCV (or Open Source Computer Vision Library) states that it “is a library of programming functions mainly aimed at real time computer vision.”
  • He also talks about support vector machines (SVM) as a means of analyzing images so as to recognize and distinguish bird shapes from squirrel shapes.
  • Canny edge detection also comes into play.
  • NumPy (also mentioned in the presentation) is the fundamental package for scientific computing with Python.


Citizen-Science After Dark: GLOBE at Night

Globe At Night

Want to participate in an international citizen-science campaign designed to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution? Check out the GLOBE at Night program. The program encourages interested individuals to measure their night sky brightness and submit their observations. Contributors may share their findings to via a computer or smart phone. Why is this citizen-science campaign important? Light pollution affects energy consumption, wildlife, health, and our ability to appreciate the heavens.

Related Resources:

Foiling Foreign Foliage: Invasive Plant Atlas

Invasive Plant Atlas

The invaders are here. Actually, they’ve been here. Not only that, they’ve put down roots. The University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health (a collaborative project with the Plant Conservation Alliance‘s Alien Plant Working Group, the folks behind Weeds Gone Wild) maintains a database of information about the perniciously pesky plants that invade natural areas in the U.S. The database, known as the Invasive Plant Atlas, contains a wealth of useful information for students interested in ecology and the effects of organisms that end up where they shouldn’t be.

Meet the Beetles: Mike Libby’s Insect Lab Studio

Meet the BeetlesWhile others may be trying to get rid of any number of six-legged critters, artist Mike Libby is busily constructing them. His site, Insect Lab Studio, hosts images of mechanical creations that fascinate and evoke thoughts of science-fiction steeped in steampunk fauna. The cog and mainspring creepy-crawlies Libby assembles are beautiful and and instructive. His quasi-robotic works make viewers want to know more about their real-world counterparts. Fly over to  Insect Lab Studio and see what the buzz is all about.

Related Resources:

Soaring Back from Certain Death: the Cahow

Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés


In 1515, not too far from Bermuda, aboard a sea-going vessel bound for San Domingo, an anxious 37 year old fellow paced up and down the deck. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés wanted very much to make landfall. The nearby island fascinated Oviedo. Before 1505, no one in Europe had even known of its existence. The isle was so close. Yet, Oviedo’s ship was held at bay by less than accommodating winds. To pass the the time constructively, he observed a peculiar species of bird that was adept at feasting upon flying fishes.

The avian object that pleasantly distracted Oviedo’s is now known as the cahow (Pterodroma cahow or Bermuda petrel). In the year Oviedo observed the species, the birds most likely probably numbered well over a million. Though fun to watch, the birds were a source of an eerie nocturnal cries that spooked early Spanish seafarers. Owing to superstition–the sailors thought the isles were inhabited by devils–the Spanish steadfastly refused to colonize the islands. This turn of events bought the cahow a little time.

The respite was very brief.

The English had no problem settling down in the area. What followed was bad news for cahows. The birds and their eggs were easy prey for British inhabitants and the invasive dogs, cats, and rats that were brought over with settlers. So many birds were lost to predation that, by 1615, they were thought to be completely extinct.

But then, something remarkable happened. young cahow

In 1945 a full-grown cahow washed up on the beach at Cooper’s Island, Bermuda. The event prompted a noted ornithologist named Dr. Robert Cushman Murphy of the American Museum of Natural History to mount and lead an expedition to search for evidence of the bird’s existence. Being an amiable fellow, Murphy invited a thoughtful, adventure-seeking boy to come along. On January 8, 1951, that 15 year old boy helped Cushman re-discover the bird. The event was so moving to young David Wingate that he dedicated his life to bringing the cahow back from the edge of destruction.

Image of David Wingate as a young man

David Wingate

The story is related in Lucinda Spurling’s moving 2006 documentary Rare Bird. The exciting documentary tells how a species of bird and a determine boy teach the world about the power of perseverance. Despite invasive species, the poisonous pesticide DDT, and unbridled development and the looming threat of climate change, the cahow and its champion refuse to give up.

Related resources:

  • Official site for the Rare Bird documentary
  • Audubon works to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.
  • ARKive has an amazing collection of organisms from all over the earth, including the cahow