ID Challenge

This beauty was found here in Olathe (NE KS) early last November by one of my students. Perhaps this wayfaring waif had a little help from hurricane Gustav? img_4212

“One Fish, Two Fish, 17,500 Fish”

JCCC Scholars Lecture on “Understanding the Diversity of Fishes”

Dr. Holcroft will present an overview of a large collaborative project to which she is contributing to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships among the euteleost fishes using data from their anatomy, development, and genes.


Who: Dr. Nancy I. Holcroft, Associate Professor of Science
When: Wednesday, February 18, at 7:00pm
Where: M.R. & Evelyn Hudson Auditorium, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College
Google Maps Link

Dr. Holcroft’s LinkedIn Profile

Although a few days belated, what better way is there to celebrate Darwin’s 200th Birthday and the 150th anniversary of his historic publication, On the Origin of Species!  After all, we are just modified fish…

Hope to see you there!

Monarch on NOVA


On the 15 Jan 2009 entry for the Monarch Watch blog, Chip Taylor has some fun info regarding the upcoming NOVA program, “The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies” set to air 8pm 27 Jan 2009.  Check it out at  If you have not yet been bitten by the monarch “bug,” do a little looking around at  What is there not to love about monarchs (besides their flavor, as any blue jay may tell you!)?  A jaunt around the site will acquaint you with these amazing animals, some of the the serious issues threatening their long-term persistence in our landscape, and various grassroots efforts aimed at countering the threats.

Jeff Witters

ID Challenge

Since the forecast for tonight is supposed to be a chilly 2 degrees, I thought I would post an ID Challenge that would remind us all of  Spring.

I photographed this bird last spring at the Baker Wetlands in Lawrence, KS.


Here is another shot:


Who can ID this bird?

eBird–Citizen Science at its best

eBird Home Page

eBird Home Page

Saturday morning, I got up early and headed over to a program presented by Chris Wood, sponsored by the Topeka Audobon folks and hosted by Janeen Walters at Washburn Rural Middle School.   Now I am a geek but the topic had to have a lot of promise for me to give up my Saturday morning cinnamon roll and the promise was more than fulfilled.  Chris Wood works with the eBird program at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.  I’ve got to say from years and years of working in the field of citizen science I was not expecting to be wowed but I was.  My expectations were tempered by the years of struggles trying to figure out how to encourage volunteers to submit, good quality data in a way that benefited the citizen scientist as well as the professional scientist–all the while trying to keep things inviting and exciting for recruiting new folks to participate.   Steve Case and Tom Baker put together a good web based infrastructure to support the Pathfinder science project but today’s Web 2.0 tools take collaboration to an entire new level, creating an environment that can promote and support powerful web-based efforts in conservation science.  eBird provides an exemplary example.

If you are a biology teacher that provides any instruction in or encourages birdwatching or if you are a bird watcher yourself eBird is something to really consider.  I’m not a lister but I think I’m about to start–only because my effort can significantly contribute to a larger effort.  I’m really more of a nature observer–birds just happen to be a convenient focal point.  I have participated in Christmas bird counts and have made a number of reports to the Kansas Bird List about observations and sightings but in general I’m not a hard-core birder.  That is the beauty of eBird.  A more casual birder like myself with just a bit of extra effort to record my sightings can make really significant contributions to a data  base of bird observations while a more intense birder can have a huge impact.  eBird makes it easy to record your sightings and their locations.  eBird simply works for all kinds of birders.

Data input

Data input

In fact, I learned from Chris that researchers accessing the data have developed very sophisticated algorithms to take into account your personal bird watching habits.  For instance, I might be hesitant to participate because when I bird in the spring, I’m primarily looking for warblers.  I’ll note the sparrows and such now, but my effort is going to be focused on the warblers.  Well guess what,  the filtering tools will note this correct for this.  That is good because I wouldn’t want my lack of focus on sparrows to indicate that they weren’t there when they probably were.  (That could create conservation issues.)  This is powerful.

Here’s the deal, though.  One of the reasons that Chris came to KS is that we have only a few folks signed up and participating in eBird.  Notice if you go to the site we are not in the top 30 states for observations reported this year, in fact as of this morning there were only 117 observations turned in this year.  The key to this overall effort is large numbers of observers.  For instance here’s part of a bar chart of bird occurrence in Johnson County.

eBird Chart

eBird Chart

Because of the numbers involved and the data base is a very rich resource for professional researchers.  The professionals are benefiting and we are learning more and more about our birds.  More importantly, as an educator think of the advantages eBird can offer you and your students to collect and help make sense of observations made from year to year, season to season–all the while contributing to the larger research community.  Think about it, create an account and start to contribute–I am.

Kansas Winter Bird Feeder Survey

The Winter Bird Feeder Survey began in January 1988 as a cooperative effort between the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and the Kansas Ornithological Society, to census birds at feeders. Data is gathered by hundreds of volunteers who watch their feeders and count birds on two, of four designated days. The four day feeder survey period for January 2009 is from January 15th, through January 18th.

The data collected on this project is invaluable to wildlife planners and researchers. The data and maps are also available to all who are interested in exploring the natural world.

Nature’s Evolutionary Gems

A pdf Resource for Teachers wishing to spread Awareness of Evolution by Natural Selection


In this celebratory year of the Birth of Charles Darwin and the publication of his On the Origin of Species, it is fitting that the January 1 issue of the journal Nature announces a document “for teachers and others wishing to spread awareness of evolution by natural selection.”  The document is accessible at the link above, which forwards one to a seventeen page pdf file

The document includes student-friendly “editorial introductions” to 15 papers that have been published in Nature during the past decade.  These papers were selected “to illustrate the breadth, depth and power of evolutionary thinking”, and cover natural selection from the perspectives of the Fossil Record, Habitats, and Molecular Processes.  The specific titles are given by clicking the more link at the end of this post. 

Each abstract is formatted to a single page, and is followed by a link to the orginal paper, links to additional resources (which may not be accessible), and a link to the website(s) of the author(s).  For those that don’t have a subscription to the journal, many of the links to abstracts of the original research papers provide access to the full text and a freely downloadable pdf .  Happy readings!

Nature, thanks for compiling this fitting and freely available educational resource!  It is a wonderful New Years Gift!

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