Immerse Yourself in Nature and Citizen Science

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By Ian Martin, Education Coordinator

I doubt that it’s news to most naturalists and other humans that follow current events surrounding the Bird Center, but there seems to be an almost universal agreement that greener, more natural environments can be beneficial in the realms of physical health and mental health. Experts suggest that immersing oneself in nature can yield alleviation from a variety of different cognitive stressors. Some of the benefits that most humans may experience when spending time in nature include:

  • Mental rejuvenation from fatigue related to work and studies.
  • Increased learning abilities, inquisitiveness, and alertness.
  • Positive development of creativity, mental cognition, and emotional connections to the natural world.

  • Birding is a great way to strengthen your investigation skills while also training yourself to be more in tune with your senses of vision and hearing.–Ian Martin, Education Coordinator

Entering natural spaces also allow for us to engage in physical activity that can be physically beneficial as well as mentally stimulating. I personally enjoy hiking, kayaking, scuba diving, surfing, and golfing. Each one of these activities allows me to enter the natural world, and each one requires me to exert myself mentally and/or physically. Stimulation, be it to the brain of muscles, is crucial in maintaining healthy, balanced mental and physical conditions. For these reasons I always encourage humans to engage with nature as much as possible, and to find an activity or hobby that helps to facilitate such engagement.

Photograph courtesy of  Cornell University Lab of Ornithology

Photograph courtesy of  Cornell University Lab of Ornithology

Another outdoor hobby of mine that I omitted in the previous text is birding. Birding is a great way to strengthen your investigation skills while also training yourself to be more in tune with your senses of vision and hearing. Watching for quick moving objects in a field of view, listening for the faint rustling of vegetation, deciphering the languages of songbirds, and being able to recognizing other indicators of birds that are nearby are skills that all birders work to perfect. While it may not be for everyone, birding is most definitely a great way to immerse oneself in nature. Birding done by everyday citizens can also help scientists to better understand migration, population fluctuations, and other trends in bird ecology.

Citizen Science Programs

How can non-scientist citizens make contributions to the bodies of work of reputable scientific minds? This is accomplished by engage in “citizen science” programs. Citizen science programs allow any willing participant to submit data that they have collected to central data bases. These data sets are then compiled, and scientists can extract trends from the pooled information. The internet is arguably the most powerful force on our planet today, and now science’s top researches can use it to collect empirical data from anywhere and everywhere, including international contributors.

How is this accomplished? There are many citizen science programs available to the public, but we at the Bird Center encourage all avid birders to use eBird. Participants can submit observation lists either on their computers or via mobile device using the eBird application. Both options are completely free, and both are extremely easy to use. The eBird system was designed with the system’s users in mind to ensure the accuracy of data as well as the enjoyment of submitting viable scientific data. For more information about eBird please visit the program’s website: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/. While most citizen science programs may still be in an infancy stage of development, their long term capabilities could be jaw dropping. Could eBird help us to save an endangered species such as the California Condor? Could it allow us to track the migrations patterns of birds like Arctic Terns to diagnose changing atmospheric conditions related to climate changes? Right now we’re working on gathering the data, but in the future we might be able to answer those and other similar questions.

Stimulate Body & Mind

Consistently stimulating one’s mind and body is paramount to both mental and physical health. By immersing ourselves in nature we allow for this to occur, and by participating in citizen science we can maximize not just our own personal potentials, but also the potential of our collective minds. Contributing to the body of knowledge of science isn’t just for humans in lab coats anymore; we can all be scientists. I encourage everyone to get outside, get into nature, and become part of the global community that is our collective scientific minds.

Ian Martin, Education Coordinator, 2015

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