STEM, STEAM or STREAM?

Written by: Sherrie Ripple, Director of Education

For over 20 years education has focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). It’s a comprehensive approach to broaden STEM literacy and participation. Project based work has been the focus to solve real world problems. 

More recently, Art was added to make STEAM. This multidisciplinary approach kept all the elements of STEM but allowed learners to be more creative. Also, the argument has been made that STEM created an entirely new line of arts with virtual reality, augmented reality and even gaming. 

Even more recently, a new acronym has surfaced, STREAM, which adds another layer to STEM and STEAM, by adding Reading and wRiting (or for some even religion). STREAM is about giving kids the freedom to think creatively, to experiment and to construct things on their own in a more holistic approach. To Dr. Azi Jamalian, head of education strategies at littleBits, STREAM has the potential to be more approachable and inclusive than STEM. “Incorporating design, art, and reading into STEM is a way for anyone, regardless of their technical ability, to be exposed to STREAM in a highly impactful and engaging way,” she says. “It should be accessible to everyone no matter what their background, gender, or comfort level with technology is.”

Nobel laureate and physicist William D. Phillips said, “I enjoyed and profited from well-taught science and math classes, but in retrospect, I can see that the classes that emphasized language and writing skills were just as important for the development of my scientific career as were science and math. I certainly feel that my high school involvement in debating competitions helped me later to give better scientific talks, that the classes in writing style helped me to write better papers.”

Educators often find STREAM a more well-rounded type of curriculum approach, encompassing a wider range of study opportunities for students. The update from STEM to STREAM has been important as educators believe that this will actively promote collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking skills. After all, in most any kind of job, it is beneficial to be well-read and a wordsmith. 

While there are many different approaches to education, students in River Legacy’s environmental education programs benefit from experiential learning in science and nature-based curriculums which are enhanced by music, art and literacy. Our key initiative is to educate the next generation of environmental stewards using the resources of River Legacy Park and River Legacy Nature Center which is accomplished through balanced curriculums incorporating all three science-based curricula approaches with an end goal of a better tomorrow for all of us. 

https://www.niche.com/blog/stem-vs-steam-vs-stream/
https://www.edtechreview.in/trends-insights/insights/what-is-stream-education/

Birds Come in Many Different Colors… How Come?

Written by: Jorge Garcia, Naturalist

One of the most fascinating things about our feathery friends, the birds, is the stunning and beautiful colors some of them display. For example, let’s take a look at two River Legacy species – the painted bunting (Passerina ciris) (Figure 2), which is here in the summer months, and the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) (Figure 1), which graces us with its beauty all year long. Male painted buntings have an array of different shades of red, blue, and green while male
northern cardinals sport a very bright red that makes them relatively easy to spot if you’re birding at River Legacy. It is typically the males that have these bright colors though that is not always the case.

Figure 1. Male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Figure 2. Male painted bunting (Passerina ciris)

Scientists have researched the science of bird coloration for years and we will delve a bit into that today. The reason why feather colors are as diverse as they are is because of the presence of organic pigments found inside the feather cells. These are chemicals found at the nanometer scale and they absorb the energy of certain wavelengths of light and reflect the wavelengths corresponding to the colors that we see. Bird feathers contain 4 major classes of pigments: melanins, carotenoids, psitacofulvins, and porphyrins. Melanins are responsible for grays, blacks, browns, and similar colors. Carotenoids produce bright yellow, orange, red, and purple colors.

sittacofulvins are responsible for the yellow, orange, and red feather colors but only in parrots (order Psittaciformes). Porphyrins produce bright, olive green, and magenta colors in the turacos (order Musophagiformes)-a bird order native to sub-Saharan Africa-and other groups of birds. A possibility exists that another class of pigments, the pterins, exist in penguins (order Sphenisciformes) but scientists are still trying to confirm that! The diversity of structural colors that we see in the birds around us comes about because of physical, optical interactions between these pigments and light.

There are two types of melanin – eumelanin which gives black and gray colors and pheomelanin that gives red brown, rufous, and tan colors. Here is a cool fact about these two types of melanin: they are the ones responsible for hair color in humans (Homo sapiens)! Research has shown that melanins also help a feather’s resistance to degradation by keratin-eating bacteria. This is likely one of the reasons why birds in wetter climates (where more bacteria are found)
tend to be darker in coloration than birds in drier climates.

Carotenoids come originally from plants and birds obtain them through their diet. These pigments play a significant role in the colors of the iconic, aforementioned species, the northern cardinal and the painted bunting. 39 carotenoids in birds have been identified and the more common ones are -carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Another interesting thing about carotenoids is the fact that the colors they produce can also be influenced by the way in which the molecules are bound inside the feather. There are situations where the same carotenoid produces a red color in one species versus purple in another species due to this.

Psittacofulvins are exclusively found in parrots. The reason why parrots evolved the usage of these exclusive pigments is currently poorly understood. Porphyrins are pigments related to hemoglobin, found within our cells, and chlorophyll, found within plants and a few other organisms. Turacos predominantly use these pigments, but they have been found in at least 13 orders of birds, including one order that has River Legacy representatives – the owls.

Scientists have come up with many explanations as to the reason behind these pigments being present on birds and producing the colors we see. It is possible that a brighter color indicates that a particular bird is healthier. This could become important when females are selecting a mate. A brighter red hue in either a male northern cardinal or a male house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)-a River Legacy species all-year round-(Figure 3) could be an indicator of fitness of a male for a nearby female.


Though this has been a thorough dive into the chemicals responsible for bird colors, it is far from the complete story. Some birds also have iridescence, which is a change in color depending on the angle of observation. Some birds have been shown to exhibit ultra-violet colors, which are not visible to the naked eye.

Figure 3. Male house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

If you want to see some of the birds mentioned in this article and other species with different colors, we invite you to come over and participate in the 2024 Great Backyard Bird Count at River Legacy on Saturday, February 17th, 2024 from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. There will be different stations around the Nature Center where you can become a citizen scientist, by partaking in birdwatching and bird-counting. These will be manned by professional birders who can help you identify what you are seeing! In addition, there will be other activities, including kid-friendly activities, that we will have to celebrate the avian world! The bird wall of diversity will be a cool feature where you can see the different colors of birds from all the living bird orders. When you are standing there looking at it, you will now know the scientific mechanism as to how those colors are being produced!

Sources:
Gill, F.B. & Prum, R.O. (2019). Ornithology. 4 th edition. W. H. Freeman and Company.

Tree Talks

Written By: Mollie Ripple

It’s common to see trees and think they are independent lifeforms, connected only by proximity in a park or forest. But this may not actually be true! Some scientists believe that trees are collective, interdependent beings and that they can communicate with fellow trees for resource sharing and protection. 

Far below the plentiful green leaves, stretching branches and tall trunks emerging from the forest floor, there may exist an expansive network of fungus working tirelessly to keep the trees nourished and safe. More technically known as a mycorrhizal network, this fungus could allow trees to share water and nutrients and to communicate with one another. What would a tree need to communicate to its neighbor, you might wonder? Many things! 

  • If one tree is being attacked by an insect, like oakworms on an oak tree or leaf-eating caterpillars on an elm, it would begin to fill its leaves with chemicals as a protectant. Then, it could alert surrounding trees to do the same, so it’s more difficult for insects to harm it. 
  • Trees could share their absorbed water with others during a drought, so as to maintain the health of the forest as a whole. 
  • Sap could be sent to the damaged areas of a tree when it is cut down due to its antiseptic, healing properties. 
  • When a new seedling emerges, it could connect to the larger network of established trees headed by a “mother” tree, and they could send it water and nutrients to spur its growth. 

Fungus is believed to be helpful, or even necessary, to the survival of forests, but what might be fueling the fungus? Well, trees utilize carbon dioxide and water to create sugars through photosynthesis. The fungus in these mycorrhizal networks uses a percentage of this sugar as energy to seek out the nutrients that it can disperse to the trees. Therefore, the fungus and trees would have a mutualistic relationship, both benefiting and surviving because of the other. 

The work of each tree and the underground network of fungus below it go to show that, much like humans, communication, support and shared resources from the community may assist trees to survive and thrive. The River Legacy Nature Center is one such resource bringing together STEM education, walkable trails, and native animals for the benefit of the members of Arlington and surrounding communities! 

This River, Our River, Trinity River

Written by: Chad Etheridge, Naturalist

  This river, our river, drew us in, settled us down, aided in our quest for survival, and provided a firm foundation upon which generation after generation would build, expand, and prosper.  This river has been a force to be reckoned with; an aspect of nature that could rise up with aggressive power, and yet still meekly provide for those who chose to live near it in an otherwise hostile and somewhat uninhabitable area of North Texas.  This river, our river, the Trinity River has a wide and varied history which is largely unknown to those of us that live within its watershed and it will most certainly play an integral role in shaping how we adapt to the future.

     The importance of the Trinity River from both a natural and a cultural aspect cannot be ignored.  The approximately 18,000 square miles and all or part of 38 counties that are encompassed within its watershed comprise an immense area that supports an abundance of wildlife.  Everything from the tiny Western mosquitofish to the mighty American alligator swim in its waters.  Thousands of species of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians call the riparian zones along the four forks of the river home.  Approximately 400 different bird species utilize the airspace over the Trinity river in their annual migrations along the Central flyway.  Peering down from above they can clearly see the river as it meanders its way south carrying and eventually discharging just under 6-million-acre feet of water into the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way our river traverses many different physiographic areas.  It heads in the Cross Timbers, Grand Prairie, and Blackland Belt, flows through the Post Oak Belt and Piney Woods, and then continues through the Coastal plains on its way to the Gulf where it empties into Trinity Bay northeast of Galveston. 

     Of course a river of this size must pass through a lot of humanity.  In North Texas alone it is surrounded by over 7 million people and it eventually skirts the east side of the Houston metropolitan area, the largest city in the state.  It is no coincidence that our river runs among such inhabited areas.  The founding of both Dallas and Fort Worth occurred because of the Trinity River.  There were no natural lakes and very few springs to provide for any kind of settlement.  Our river provided easy and reliable access to water and today it is the thread connecting 22 reservoirs that hold billions of gallons of life-giving water. Traversing Texas basically from north to south, our river is the longest river entirely within the state.  As you can see, I use the term “our river” a lot when referring to the Trinity.  This is because the Trinity is unique in so many ways.  It is the only river in North Texas that has spurred development of such immensely populated areas which in turn have drawn in vast business ventures, industrial operations, and recreational opportunities.  It nourishes our insatiable need for water.  It is the lifeblood of our megalopolis.  The Trinity River is the watery web that holds this entire area of 7 million plus people together.  Because of its uniqueness it must be preserved.  It is as simple as not polluting our waterway.  You can join a river cleanup, donate to conservation groups that protect rivers, or simply spread the word that our river is important and necessary. We must always remember the past of our river, live in the present of our river, and protect the future of our river for generations to come.  This river, the Trinity River, our river.

If you want to learn more about the Trinity River or the wonderful resource that is water, visit our next free community festival… WATER Festival! September 9th from 10am-2pm.

Privet

Written by: Whitney Campbell / Volunteer Coordinator

When I first started working at River Legacy as the Volunteer Coordinator, I admit, I had absolutely no clue what ligustrum (privet) was. Fast forward to today… I know exactly what privet is and I do not like it one bit. Privet is a terribly invasive, non-native species of plant that grows at an astounding rate, adapts easily, is resistant to disease, and will take over and kill non-invasive, native plant life that is beneficial to the ecosystem- and all that our ecosystem encompasses. 

There are several different types of ligustrum species sold at nurseries (as well as at big-box retail stores like Home Depot), which should be avoided. These species of ligustrum were all introduced to North America from other continents and all of them look fairly similar to each other but have different common names which I will cover within this article.

According to the USDA, Chinese Privet (l. sinense) is one of the worst invasive species in the South. It thrives in the warm climate of the Southeast and has completely taken over many of the wooded areas in that region.

Chinese Privet was introduced in the US from Asia in the 1800s and escaped cultivation by the 1930s, continuing to spread over the past nearly 100 years. According to Wildlife.org, it is the primary cause of biodiversity loss along streams in the Southeast. Chinese Privet can also grow just about anywhere- in the sun, in the shade, in wet soil, in dry soil, in the city, in the country- you name it. Adding to the problem and complexity of privet is the fact that, if not removed properly, and on a regular basis, it will rebound, regrow and continue to ‘bully’ nature preserves and urban areas by taking over and consuming the land with its thickets, thus causing wildlife and bird populations to decline. Privet also matures early and produces abundant seeds and rhizomes which spread rapidly. As a result, privet forms monocultures, displacing native plant species that wildlife depends on, and for centuries has always depended on, for food and shelter. USDA rates the privet berries’ food value to wildlife as low. It’s been referred to as “popcorn for birds”, whereas native shrubs and trees such as cherry laurel, beautyberry, coralberry, and possumhaw vastly produce berries that are healthy and beneficial for wildlife. 

Privet is also very deceiving, as it is not as unsightly, as one might think. To the untrained eye, privet appears to be a pretty, glossy, flowery plant- but make no mistake, it is NOT a friendly plant species in the least, rather it is an enemy… an invasive monster that knows no bounds.

Other types of privet include:

  • Ligustrum japonicum (Japanese Privet- aka: “Wax Leaf Ligustrum”) – looks similar to Chinese Privet, but it has larger, thicker leaves.
  • Ligustrum lucidum (Glossy Privet) – can grow up to 50 feet tall.
  • Ligustrum vulgare (European Privet) – Native to Europe and Northern Africa, this species of privet , also known as “Common Privet” is taking over forests of the Northeastern United States.

Spot privet on your property? Take these steps to remove it ASAP:

  1. If the plant is small, dig it out. The best thing you can do is get to the ligustrum seedlings before they grow larger. Dig them out, removing all the roots.
  2. If the plant is large, cut it down to the ground. Larger plants may require a chainsaw to cut down, as some can grow up to 50 ft tall.
  3. Apply herbicide to the stump: Removing privet typically requires a herbicide application. Heavy duty herbicides, such as Pathfinder 2, are most effective. Spray the trunk and root collar… combining the herbicide with dye is helpful, as the dye allows you to see where you’ve sprayed it.
  4. Monitor for regrowth: Even with the herbicide, there will be regrowth. Monitor every few months and hand prune and apply more herbicide as needed.

Are all ligustrum bad news? The answer to this question would be a resounding YES! Your best bet is to opt for a non-invasive, native, beneficial alternative such as Cenizo, Yaupon Holly, Mountain Laurel, Evergreen Sumac, Wax Myrtle, Dwarf Barbados Cherry, plus many more. Not only would you be doing yourself and your yard a favor, you would simultaneously be doing our ecosystem and the wildlife it houses a huge favor, too. JUST SAY NO TO PRIVET! 

Martin, A. (2022). How North Texas natural areas are battling privet. (2022, April 7). GreenSource DFW. https://greensourcedfw.org/articles/battling-privet-north-texas-parks

Giambalvo, H. (2021). 5 Important Reasons to Not Plant Ligustrum (Privet) (2021, August 16). Native Backyards. https://nativebackyards.com/ligustrum/#download-the-free-invasive-plants-pdf

Sensory Serenity

Written by: Mollie Ripple, Social Media Coordinator

John Burroughs once said, “I go to nature to be soothed, healed, and have my senses put in order.” Like Burroughs, many of us often feel the therapeutic benefits of engaging our senses in nature. But how can this be understood scientifically?

When our bodies are too aroused or not aroused enough to engage with our environment properly, we call this dysregulation. It can manifest as an angry outburst, impulsivity, crying or feeling overwhelmed, and it impairs our ability to deal with stress, manage our emotions, and focus. The ability to change our level of arousal to engage in our environment effectively is called regulation, and one way to do this is through our senses. 

We have seven sensory systems: Sight (vision), Smell (Olfactory), Taste (Gustatory), Hearing (Auditory), Touch (Tactile), Vestibular (Movement), and Proprioception (Body Position). When we tap into these senses, we can increase or decrease our arousal to reach sensory regulation. Even better, we can practice these techniques outdoors and get the added benefits that time in nature provides us.

Here are a few ways we can engage each sensory system through natural materials and activities:

  • Sight: Stargazing, Bird Watching, Going on a scavenger hunt in nature to spot various plants and animals
  • Smell: Stopping to notice the scent of recent rain, wild berries, lavender, or pine
  • Taste: Consuming cold water, herbal tea, or fruit from a tree (that is approved as safe by an adult)
  • Hearing: Listening to the birds sing, a running stream, or the rain
  • Touch: Playing in the sand or soil, Walking barefoot through the grass, Petting your beloved animal, or Stroking the bark on a tree
  • Vestibular: Bicycling, Swinging, Running, or Playing on the playground
  • Proprioceptive:Heavy Work” activities like crawling through the grass, pushing/pulling a wagon, or jumping up and down on a trampoline

A study published by Chang & Chang in 2010 states, “many parents and teachers said that their children and students [were] more stable after doing [these] kind[s] of activit[ies].” So, the next time you or your child feel dysregulated, try getting outdoors and engaging your sensory systems to be soothed and healed in a way only nature can.

Chang, Y. Y., & Chang, C. Y. (2010). The benefits of outdoor activities for children with autism. 

Unpublished manuscript, Department of Horticulture, National Taiwan University, Taipei, ROC.

Spring in North Texas

Written by: Dr. Ellen Edwards-Ravkind, Naturalist Manager

Spring has arrived in North Texas! The days are getting longer and warmer while the nights are still cool. Our trees are covered with fresh, spring-green leaves. The Redbuds and Mexican Plums have already blossomed, but the Oaks, Hackberries and others are still producing more pollen than most people would like. Yellow pollen covers just about everything, and allergy sufferers have had enough. Roadways, meadows, and fields are exploding with color like a French impressionist painting with colors of blues, pinks, magentas, yellows and many more.

This spring, take some time to walk the trails at River Legacy. How many kinds of wildflowers you can identify? Strolling around the pond at the Nature Center you will see a sea of blue! These are the iconic and cherished Bluebonnets, adopted as the official state flower of Texas in 1901. Many residents and visitors alike dress in their Sunday best to have their photos taken in the sea of Bluebonnets. Columbines, Spiderworts, Pink Evening Primrose, Winecups, and Indian Paintbrushes are also blossoming. Look closely and you will find Purple Coneflowers, Mexican Hats, Prairie Coneflowers, and many others!  

You might wonder why there are so many beautiful wildflowers in our park, or how can you have some of these beautiful native wildflowers grow in your yard. It is not as difficult as you might imagine. Native Texas wildflower seeds are readily available. Seeds should be planted within the year harvested to have the best chance to germinate. Some seeds might last longer, but the germination odds decrease. Typically, in North Texas, the best time to sow the seeds is in the fall which gives them a chance to go through our weather cycles to help them induce germination. Rain, cold snaps, and soil abrasion all help with germination. Smaller seeds can be scattered on top of the soil. Larger ones might need to be buried, but not too deep which can prevent them from growing into their beautiful flowers. Usually, about 1/8 to 1/16 inch is more than enough. It is also important to clear the area of invasive plants such as Johnsongrass which can “choke” out your desired plants. It is not too late to plant seeds, but most of your wildflowers will not bloom this year. 

These wildflowers will produce seeds after blossoming and pollination. Make sure to give the seeds time to ripen before you mow or “deadhead” your plants. Simply put, deadheading is a process where old growth and seed heads are removed from the plant individually to either collect the seeds or spread them to new areas. Make sure the stems have turned brown and wear gloves to prevent skin irritation from cutting the dried plants. Leaving some of the dried, hollow plant stems will also provide a home for some of our solitary pollinators during the colder seasons. 

If you continue this process, your gardens will continue to produce these beautiful North Texas wildflowers. Sharing your seeds helps to spread the beauty of Texas wildflowers with others.

Share the excitement with us! If you have a wildflower garden or simply some awesome wildflower photos we’d love to see and feature them!

Send your photos to reply@riverlegacy.org

A Forest’s Purpose

Written By: Sarah Morris, Naturalist

As you walk around River Legacy, you’ll find a large variety of beautiful trees, such as the American elm, live oak, eastern redcedar, boxelder, and many more. These trees are shade tree species that are highly beneficial in providing heat island reduction, air pollution removal, and stormwater runoff control.

Unfortunately, during the storm on March 3rd, winds picked up to 80mph and many trees were destroyed by the strong winds or by the collapse of other trees. This storm damaged the trails around the Nature Center and the AISD trail that we use for field trips and educational programs.  The storm caused much devastation to the trees, which affected animal homes, the soil, and created dangers to the public. We lost old and important trees that had been used as key learning locations during educational programs since the Nature Center opened in 1996. 

Although this was a sad event, it was also a great reminder of why trees and forests are so important and they really are a bigger deal than you might think! Trees are known as “the lungs of the Earth” because they absorb many pollutants and filter the air. They also, of course, absorb CO2 (carbon dioxide) that’s in the air and let out O2 (oxygen) for us to live and breathe. 

Trees improve water quality, and reduce flooding and erosion. When raindrops hit leaves and branches, it slows the flow of rainfall which helps prevent flooding. Trees also absorb water through their roots and hold the soil in place to prevent erosion. It’s estimated that 100 mature trees can absorb about 100,000 gallons of rainfall per year. That’s AMAZING!

Trees create habitats for plants and animals which allows biodiversity and pollination to occur. Without our pollinators, we wouldn’t have nearly the amount of access to food/crops that we have now and over 100,000 species of plants would become extinct. Have you watched the Bee Movie? Yeah, they weren’t exaggerating. 

So yes, trees and forests are a big deal! As Earth Day approaches, we will be reminded of all the great things nature gives us, and trees are a huge part of that! They provide so many benefits to humans, plants, and animals. Most of all, trees and other variables are necessary for our survival as a human race. We need to take care of what we have now to have a brighter and greener tomorrow. 

The River Legacy Nature Center offers countless opportunities for people of all ages to learn about nature, and River Legacy Park is just a short hike away to surround yourself in it! Come to our Earth Day celebration, Saturday, April 1st from 10:00 am-2:00 pm at the Nature Center. There will be sustainable DIY crafts, children’s activities, guided hikes, storytimes, and plenty of opportunities to learn to be a great environmental steward.

Join the race to make the world a better place.

Nature’s Classroom

Written by: Sherrie Ripple, Director of Education

The weather’s warming up, flowers are blooming, and animals are becoming more active. It’s the perfect time to gather your family, go outside and enjoy the best classroom of all – NATURE!

We know playing outside in nature is good for us physically, mentally, and socially. According to one study published in 2019, spending just two hours a week in nature is correlated with significant increases in health and well-being (White et al., 2019). So, imagine if you spent even more time outdoors! Here are some fun family activities to plan for the next time you are outside and there’s even a bonus – these activities all promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) concepts:

● In your backyard, put some water in a plastic container to let your children explore with different materials (a penny, foil, a Lego, a cup, a plastic spoon, a metal spoon, or a leaf). What makes some materials sink in water and others float? Ask them to make a prediction about some of the
materials, then follow up with questions about what happened and why? Most children, and even some adults, are often surprised by the outcome!
● Start a garden. Discuss what you are going to plant and why. What do plants need to grow? Encourage your child to keep a journal along the way. Does it look, smell, feel or taste different?
● Go on a nature scavenger hunt (you can find some on our @riverlegacynatureschool Instagram Story Highlight – Activities). This is such a fun way to explore STEM concepts!

  • Look for a bird’s nest. Birds are expert engineers. Their ability to build nests that support and protect their eggs and chicks is an adaptation that has helped them survive and thrive within their habitat.
  • If your hunt leads you near a playground, look for a see-saw (a simple machine called a lever) or a ramp (a simple machine called an inclined plane). Both are very basic mechanical devices used to multiply force. If you ride bikes during your scavenger hunt, you can also mention gears and how they help you get to where you’re going faster and easier.
  • Make sure to add rocks to your scavenger hunt. Stop and examine them. They are one of the first known technological inventions!
  • Lastly, clouds! Find a great place to lie down in the grass and observe them. What are clouds? Discuss the water cycle and how water is essential to every living creature. Relax for a while and let nature take its course.

If you enjoy these ideas and want more, stop by the Nature Center from 9 am-5 pm Monday through Saturday. Our wonderful group of educators is happy to help you discover more ways to spend time in nature!

White, M.P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J. et al. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Sci Rep 9, 7730 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3

The Beauty of Citizen Science

Written by: Jorge Garcia, Naturalist

Life list? eBird? Birding? Bird count? Citizen scientist? What in the world do any of these terms mean? It’s very possible that you have heard of some or all of these terms before. But, if you don’t know what they mean, that’s ok. Here at River Legacy Nature Center, we will be taking part in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count – an annual, global event that will help shed light on some of these terms. The GBBC, shorthand for the Great Backyard Bird Count, is one of the largest citizen science projects in the world.

During a 4-day period in mid-February, thousands of regular people around the world observe, count, appreciate, and celebrate our feathered friends. Data collected is then submitted to a database and, eventually, is used to help guide conservation efforts and to help ornithologists better understand all facets of the avian world.

The GBBC has a fascinating history and powerful impact. It started 25 years ago, back in 1998, as an initiative by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, one of the world’s leading ornithological research institutions and the National Audubon Society, one of the largest and most-renowned bird and nature conservation organizations in the world. They coordinated one of the first ever internet-based citizen science projects. In 2009, Birds Canada joined the effort as the event took on greater popularity and spread across the North American continent. By 2013, the effort went global and has steadily grown in many countries over the years. In 2022, nearly 400,000 birders in 192 countries were able to observe and count 7,099 bird species – representing an astounding 3/4ths of all bird species currently known to science. River Legacy Park and the River Legacy Nature Center are considered to be one of the largest hotspots of bird diversity in Tarrant County and one of the largest in the Dallas-Ft. Worth region. Birders from all over the world, including well-known individual birders within the birding community, have visited River Legacy to enjoy its avian diversity.

So, how can you participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count? The count runs from February 17th through the 20th. You can participate from the comfort of your own backyard for at least 15 minutes throughout that weekend. However, we invite you to participate in person with us and other like-minded citizen scientists. On February 18th, 2023, we will be hosting the Great Backyard Bird Count event here at River Legacy Nature Center from 10 AM to 2 PM. There will be designated areas where you will be able to participate in counting and observing birds. Master naturalists will be on-site to help explain the event, help ID birds, and answer questions you may have. If you’ve never participated in an event like this and don’t know where or how to start, this is a perfect learning opportunity for you! Our master naturalist will help introduce you to the world of birding!

If you are an experienced birder and just want to do your count at River Legacy, you can come too and bond with other birders! Birders of all ages, knowledge, and backgrounds are welcome. In addition to the designated counting and observing areas, we will also have naturalist-led bird walks where you can partake in counting while moving along a designated trail plus a few other activities to celebrate the avian world. We hope to see you at the Nature Center as you spot a northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), a ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula), Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis), or pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), among many other species!

Sources:

www.birdcount.org

www.ebird.org