Plant Science for Gardeners

How Plants WorkNew gardening books seem to pop up as regularly as springtime dandelions. Most simply rehash what has been said before—perhaps with a new twist or better photos. But How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do (Science for Gardeners) isn’t your typical treatise on how to grow what. Instead, the author, Linda Chalker-Scott, explains the “why” behind the “how.”

An extension urban horticulturist and associate professor at Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University, Chalker-Scott knows what she’s talking about. This is her third book on horticulture, but there is a lot more. She’s written a series of articles on “Horticultural Myths” that I strongly urge you to read. Then, learn more at “The Informed Gardener,” a series of podcasts, or the informative Garden Professors website. She’s also a driving force behind the Gardening Professors Facebook blog (an extremely helpful research-based Q&A site).

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Be a Citizen Scientist

AndromedaPerhaps you’re an avid birder, or maybe you want to do something about noxious weeds. You might have a telescope, and you spend your nights looking at the sky.  Or maybe you drove your parents crazy (as I did) bringing home bugs and rocks and frogs and snakes—and you still haven’t outgrown your fascination. Having a hobby is fun, but turning it into something more significant is even better. No matter what your interest, you can put your knowledge and skills to good use as a citizen scientist.

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Resolved: Join eBird

ebird-welcomeDo you watch birds? And if so, are you a “lister”? That is, when you go out to look at birds, do you keep a list of which species you’ve seen?

While most of us start listing for our own sense of accomplishment (or compulsion!), those notebooks can actually help ornithologists determine where the birds live, whether their populations are thriving, stable, or in decline, and the human and environmental factors affecting them.

At the same time, we birders can benefit from one another’s sightings. Are you looking for a particular species to add to your life list? Did you know that you can find out where others have seen that bird?

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What I Did Last Saturday

rise-and-jackie_cos-cbc_lah_3179Once again, it’s time for Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC). And once again, I was out with some friends (right), surveying our section of the Colorado Springs count area. Part of our route just involved driving slowly through residential neighborhoods. Other times we parked the car and hiked through various segments of Palmer Park, a large natural area of Ponderosas, yucca and grasses in the middle of town.

santa-flamingo_cos-cbc_lah_3190This being Colorado, the weather is just a tad unpredictable. A few years ago we were dealing with temperatures that reached all of 6 degrees and heavy snowfall that created near-whiteout conditions. We kept expecting to encounter a penguin or two. This year the weather was lovely—sunny and relatively warm (with a high of 50 degrees). After our recent cold spell, it seemed almost tropical… so we weren’t too surprised to see a pair of flamingos, all decked out for the holidays.

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Watch Birds, Do Science

platform-feeder-home-17nov2005-lah-046r-1

Are you interested in birds? Do you enjoy counting them, listing them, or watching them cavort around your backyard birdfeeder? Would you like that interest to benefit more than your natural curiosity and enjoyment?

There are lots of ways that you, as a birder, can make a significant contribution to science. You don’t need to be an expert birder. It doesn’t matter how old—or young—you are. You don’t need to don a white lab coat or, in some cases, even leave the house. In fact, you can do science in your bathrobe!

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An Anthropologist’s Take on Birders: Part 1

birding_venetucci_20090916_lah_0667Anthropologists, being scientists, are good at taking complex topics and breaking them down into manageable pieces. Whereas my husband views birders as nice-but-slightly-eccentric people, our anthropologist daughter dissects us into pieces—clothing, rituals, language, and the like. I took notes and came up with this list. Although our daughter is not, herself, a birder, I think she knows us pretty well. What do you think?

Clothing
t-shirt-boobiesThe first thing most “normal” people notice about a group of birders is what we’re wearing. A floppy hat is essential for keeping the sun out of our eyes and preventing sunburn. A few hat pins are acceptable decoration, especially if they’re from exceptional birding locations. Beige or green pants and shirt are popular, as are vests with lots of pockets. Tennis shoes are fine, but comfortable hiking boots are preferred. Practicality trumps fashion, but we do have a dress code: nothing flashy, blend in with your surroundings, be prepared to be outdoors. A t-shirt with a bird on it is good, and you get extra points if the design is funny.

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Bracelets for the Birds

yellow-warbler_boqueronbirdrefugepr_20100527_lah_5179The sun is starting to color the eastern sky, although it won’t appear over the horizon for almost another hour. Flocks of songbirds that have been flying all night finally give in to the overwhelming need for food and rest before resuming their northward migration.

While most sensible people are still in bed, a team of dedicated volunteers is already hard at work. They’re bird banders. Capturing, measuring, tagging and releasing wild birds provides researchers with unique opportunities for study.

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