Perhaps 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.
This year, the birds planted themselves a garden.
I have half a dozen bird feeders scattered around our yard. Some hold millet, others contain suet, and a small feeder near the house is full of tiny, black nyjer seeds specifically for the goldfinches and Pine Siskins. But the most popular feeders are the ones full of black oil sunflower seeds.
House Finches, jays, nuthatches and chickadees, magpies, grosbeaks—all are attracted to the sunflower seeds. (So are squirrels, but they only get the spilled seeds on the ground.) While the finches sit contentedly on the feeder, munching away, the jays, nuthatches and chickadees tend to swoop in, grab a seed (or three, in the case of the jays), and hightail it to the relative safety of a convenient branch. There they open the shell and extract the seed before returning to the feeder for their next bite.
After a year’s hiatus due to some major funding gaps, the Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener program is once again up and running in El Paso County. Yup, that means I can once again pin on my Master Gardener badge.
It also means that I’ll be volunteering again, putting in countless hours writing articles, taking photographs, teaching classes, and answering questions. It means our horticultural agent will be looking over my shoulder, making sure that my advice is solidly based on scientific research. And it means that I’ll again have access to CSU Extension’s excellent continuing education opportunities, keeping me up-to-date on the latest developments in horticulture.
Last month I learned that, as of October 1, I would no longer be a Colorado Master Gardener. Due to extreme budget deficits, our county can no longer fund their portion of the “cooperative” extension program, and the Master Gardener program is being put on furlough. The long-term prospects remain unclear, but for the present, I’m going to have some extra time on my hands.
On one hand, I’m sad. Volunteering as a master gardener for the past nine years has benefited me in many ways. I’ve improved my writing and photography skills, gained confidence as a public speaker, and learned a huge amount about horticulture. I also had a lot of fun. After focusing primarily on raising our kids for so many years, it was good to get back into the bigger world out there.