They’re coming! Spring migration has begun, none too soon for most of us. The first turkey vultures, killdeer, red-winged blackbirds and common grackles are widely reported in Maine already, with many species to follow.

If you want to find when you should expect to see the first arrivals of a particular species, I invite you to use a tool I created for that very purpose: hobbes.colby.edu/arrival/.

This tool was made possible by the contributions of more than 400 birders who contributed spring arrival dates for 105 species of birds from 1994 to 2017.

You can use the tool to see how the arrival dates for a particular species have changed over the 24-year period, as well as the impacts of springtime temperatures.

This project is a great example of the power of citizen science, relying on the contributions of many volunteers for a common goal.

Many examples of powerful projects accomplished through citizen science are chronicled in a recent book by Mary Ellen Hannibal, “Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction.”

We know that many species are under assault because of human impacts. Habitat destruction, accelerated release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and pollution are but some of the insults humans are visiting on the environment.

To gauge the impact of human activities on other organisms, we need baseline data to serve as a point of reference. Acquiring this baseline information requires thorough sampling and generally exceeds the capacity of a state agency or university laboratory. Citizen scientists are essential for these atlas projects.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife  has worked with partners on some atlas projects. Perhaps you participated in the Maine Dragonfly and Damselfly Survey, the Maine Butterfly Survey, or the ongoing Maine Bumblebee Survey.

Maine was one of the first states to produce an atlas of the breeding birds of the state from 1978-83. The atlas was a bare-bones effort, and the publication is mostly a series of maps with records of nesting indicated across the state. Nonetheless, it provides that important baseline to judge future breeding distributions.

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and four partner organizations began a new Breeding Bird Atlas project last year. The first year was a great success, and we hope the second year will be even more productive.  The project will continue through 2022.

This project has an ambitious scope. The state is divided into over 4,000 blocks, each a rectangle of 3 miles by 2.9 miles. More than 900 of these blocks, distributed across the state, are designated as priority blocks to insure thorough coverage of the state. Obviously, an army of volunteers is needed to see the project to fruition, and the project directors want to involve as many people as possible.

The basic protocol is to visit a site during the breeding season and search for evidence of nesting behavior. Such evidence can be building a nest, feeding young, a nest with eggs, or singing behavior by a male at the same place over a period of more than a week. It is a different kind of birding than most of us do, and it’s tremendously satisfying to really get to know our breeding birds.

Volunteers can participate by either adopting a block or simply making observations anywhere that is convenient for you. If you choose to adopt a block, you are expected to devote 20 hours of observations to that block.

You will report your data either through eBird or by submitting data forms to the coordinators, who will enter your data into the database.

Visit the website and download the volunteer guide to learn more and perhaps adopt a block. Appendix 1 has a list of the 30 regional coordinators. Find the one for your part of the state and contact the coordinator for more information.

Herb Wilson teaches ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at [email protected]

 


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