Be a Citizen Scientist!

Black-crowned Antshrike

Here at Tranquilo, you can hardly walk from your garden cabina to the lodge for breakfast without encountering something special, be it a beautifully detailed, work-of-art of a caterpillar or a black-crowned antshike beating a succulent grub into submission for easy ingestion. The multitude of life that exists on this island consisting of a mere 24 square miles is extraordinary and, as it carries on all around us, we love not just to observe it but document it as well!

Many of the birdwatchers that come to Tranquilo (and we here at Tranquilo as well) are what has come to be termed as “eBirders”..meaning we have the app, we make the lists and we submit the information.  

The app is called eBird and was developed by Cornell Lab of Ornithology in 2002. By contributing to eBird, we are adding information to a massive online database of bird checklists submitted by more than 420,000 eBirders from all over the world. By contributing a simple checklist of birds identified–say on a short hike or even sitting at your back window–all that’s needed is date, time and location and this information can be added to a database which birders contribute to daily, making eBird the largest biodiversity-related citizen science project in the world.

Bay-breasted Warbler
(winter plumage)

Tranquilo Bay boasts 224 species of birds that, over the course of the year, can be found on our property. Spanning over 200 acres, the majority of Tranquilo Bay is heavily forested and hugged by about a kilometer of mangrove coastline. The birds, insects, mammals and other wildlife we encounter in addition to the lush greenery that supports all this life runs on a fairly cyclical pattern over the course of the year. The neotropical migratory birds pass through Tranquilo Bay in the spring and fall and they rely on the fruiting of various trees and bushes that help fuel their journey. The local resident birds base their nesting around the seasonal rains and the fruiting and flowering of the forest for the abundance of food required to raise little nestlings. By keeping track of these birds, their abundance and their activities, we are learning more about the importance of Tranquilo Bay as a refuge for the life that exists here, and even that which is just passing through.

Interesting and informative trends from the eBird database can be extrapolated through bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. This information, in turn, can give biologists and scientific researchers information on range and abundance, migratory patterns, range expansions, all of which can help us in ways including determination of ecological requirements and habitat management for species of concern.

Baltimore Oriole
(winter plumage)

Migratory birds are especially at risk in the face of the developing world. These birds make the bi-annual journey from north to south and back again as they spend their winters here in the tropics where food is in abundance. They head back north for the spring nesting season in the US and Canada’s temperate forests where the summer days grow long, giving ample time for the birds to set up territories, build a nest and feed their young as they constantly clamor for food. At the end of the nesting season, those recently fledged youngsters have a huge journey ahead of them and many trials along the way, including finding food and safe places to rest.

Chestnut-sided Warbler
(winter plumage)

So while we monitor what birds are coming through, how many, we’re connecting ourselves here at Tranquilo Bay to the wider network. Birds don’t see state lines or country borders. They go where the food is. They rely on a safe patch of forest they rested at in years past to be there again this year. Life is unstable for these long-distance migrants. By helping keep track of them when they’re in our corner of the world, we’re helping detail more about them which might help in their future preservation.  

Another app, as if you don’t have enough already, that I really enjoy is iNaturalist. This is another data-collection app and with it you are not just documenting birds, but ALL things living, that includes plantlife, insects, mammals, trees, mushrooms, everything. This is another global database and it is developed by California Academy of Science. This is especially fun for identifying whatever lizard or strange caterpillar you may have gotten a photo of, the app has a sort of “facial recognition” which can help automatically identify the creature and if that doesn’t get you down to species level, there are naturalists and experts who can weigh in. I’ve enjoyed learning the identification of many species of moths and butterflies and various flowering plants that I couldn’t determine until I posted it on iNaturalist. And, once again, this is citizen science in action, as if I’m contributing to the biological inventory of this part of Bocas del Toro and you can too!

Scott’s Thoughts on Learning the Yard Birds

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Bananaquit by Scott Viola

Last week, we heard from Tres about the kids’ science class for the school year 2015/2016.  This week we hear from Scott:

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Blackburnian Warbler by Scott Viola

We started the bird class at the beginning of this school year because a family was planning to come in the summer, and we (the kids) were to be the guides. We have sketched and studied every bird on site, except for the most recent additions to our list.

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Yellow-crowned Night-Heron by Scott Viola

Every week, bird flashcards were created to tell us which birds to look into. Usually, five were assigned every week, but once it varied to seven! We designate common names, Latin names description, size, food, habitat, and location for each bird. We may draw or insert a picture of the bird. I’ve always drawn them.

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Black Skimmer by Scott Viola

As I went through the school year, I began to notice the bird life surrounding me. I never saw the thrushes, hummingbirds, warblers, flycatchers, seedeaters, and more before we studied them. I picked up many calls and songs, which are as helpful as sight, too.

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Magnolia Warbler by Scott Viola

Today, I recognize many of our birds by sight and sound. I locate some birds, especially flycatchers, by sound. I’ve acquired a pair of binoculars (Mr. Jeri says “a binocular”) of my own. I use them whenever I go birding, or even just walking or playing outdoors. I never know what will appear.

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Stripe-throated Hermit by Scott Viola

Tres’ thoughts on learning our Yard Birds

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Yellow-throated Vireo by Tres Kimball

The children’s science class for the past school year was to learn the yard birds at Tranquilo Bay.  I have asked Tres and Scott to tell us what they feel they learned, how they felt about the process and to give us a few examples of the birds they drew.  First up – Tres.

Citizen Science Panama

Blue Gray Tanager by Tres Kimball

This year, our science class was to learn all the birds listed on-site at Tranquilo Bay. We researched their size, food, habitat, and range. Also, we drew a picture of every bird. Now, it is enjoyable to look out of a window, see a bird, and know what species it is.

Panama Birdwatching

Bay Wren by Tres Kimball

Due to the fact that I drew a bird almost every day, my drawing skills have improved immensely. Now, I draw mostly in pen, after sketching in pencil.

Drawing at Tranquilo Bay

Golden-collared Manakin by Tres Kimball

I think the greatest thing, while learning our birds, is that I learned the general appearance of the different families, therefore if I don’t know what species it is, I normally recognize the genus, and can look it up.

Birding Panama

Red-eyed Vireo by Tres Kimball

Now, I draw better and can identify most of our birds. What I need to learn this summer is the sounds. I lack severely in that department.

Homeschooling Science

Red-capped Manakin by Tres Kimball