Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bioblitz #3 - Project Noah

Me with Yasser Ansari, the creator of Project Noah at Bioblitz 2013

It happened like this.  Last Thursday night Kelby and I were eating crawfish at Bayou Barn in Crown Point at a Bioblitz gathering hosted by National Geographic.  Yes, that’s right.  National Geographic was feeding us crawfish.  A couple came to sit with us with plates of crawdads.  We looked up from our feeding frenzy long enough to notice they weren’t eating.  “Want us to show you how to do it?” we asked.  “Yes,” they said with a non-Louisiana accent.  We did.

I asked, “What do you do?”  The man said, “I create software to document wildlife sightings.”  I looked up and said off-the-cuff, “Do you know about Project Noah?”  The gorgeous girl, whose name was Ariana, said, “He created Project Noah.”  That halted my consumption.  The man sitting across from me had created one of the most phenomenal internet sites that I had ever come across and which I had joined last year.  His name is Yasser Ansari.
Project Noah is a site where you can post your pictures of any organism that you come across on a page called “My Noah.”  If you don’t know what it is, then someone will identify it.  People from all over the world are continually posting pictures and you can get updates on Facebook.  That’s not all.  You earn badges for your efforts.  For example I have earned four badges:  Tadpole, Earth Week 2012, Deep Roots, and Keep it Steady.  You can also join a variety of missions.

Project Noah also has an easy-to-use application for educators.  Here are the three steps: 
1.       Join www. Project

2.       Register as a teacher and access the education tools

3.       Set up your classroom and reconnect your students w/nature
Now your students can take pictures of what they see and post it on the site.  Think of the excitement generated as they see their collections grow. 
Later when I talked to Yasser in the National Geographic tent at Jean Lafitte National and Historical Park and Preserve, he told me about the challenges encountered to get Project Noah started.  “There were many people, who said it wouldn’t work,” he said.  Yasser is enthusiastic about the impact of using technology in such a positive way to help connect people with nature.  His enthusiasm is infectious.
If you are a nature observer who takes picture, check out  It will broaden your horizons and it’s fun.

          Nature waits for you.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Bioblitz #2 - Experiential Learning in the Swamp

The Calm before the Storm
USDA Entomologist Joe Ballenger in light blue shirt on left
At first it seemed chaotic. There were dozens of volunteer science experts in yellow shirts milling around and collecting gear intermingled with National Park rangers and National Geographic employees, who were doing their best to orient and direct us.  Meanwhile at the gate of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve busload after busload of students of all ages were arriving and heading toward us.  I thought to myself, “This is really going to happen.  I am going out in the swamp with inner city third graders to do a biodiversity survey and collect data.”  I was  not at all sure how it was going to work?????
Fortunately I paired up with an expert, a young entomologist with the USDA by the name of Joe Ballenger.  I found out three things about Joe right away (while we were gathering our collecting nets):  first he is passionate about insects and started looking for them immediately, second his knowledge about insects is vast and he likes to share it, and third and most importantly he had done this before.    I have led many nature hikes with all kinds of students, but never had I been directed to collect, identify, and count macroinvertebrates with third graders many of whom had never been in the swamp much less identified a macroinvertebrate.  I was grateful to be with Joe.
We headed down a muddy trail called the Plantation trail to Plot #12.  Plots were assigned to each group and we and the students were to survey in a 20 foot radius in our plot.  Here are the four collection methods we used:
1.       Look up!  Use aerial nets and wave over the tops of flowers and other plants.
2.       Look down!  Get on your hands and knees for leaf litter sorting.  Watch for poison ivy.
3.       Log busting!  Carefully break open a log and look for invertebrates in the rotten wood.  This was very productive.  We were careful to turn logs back over and put the bark back on to protect the habitat of the critters.
4.       Look all around!  Use sweep nets and beating sheets.
Here are 2 pages of our data collection sheets:
A Page from my Bioblitz Field Notebook

As you can see we had to identify what we collected to Family, which was fairly easy for me with Joe's help.
Amazingly these third graders embraced the activity wholeheartedly.  I kept saying, "We are National Geographic explorers.  We are doing real science."  The teachers had prepared them and they felt as if they were making a real contribution to science.  They waved nets, got down and dug in leaf litter, helped me bust logs and remove bark, and asked many questions.  "Look at this!  What's this?  Come see what I found!"  They picked up caterpillars, bessbug larvae, and looked at spiders.  They were hot and sweaty, but they experienced field biology on this day.

Joe at work teaching about a longhorn beetle
I think this day was a great day for kids in nature.  Many of these students had never visited the swamp or touched a caterpillar and who knows what kind of difference it will make for them in the long run.  It was a privilege to be  a part of this phenomenal event in Louisiana.
Amy in palmettos with third graders

Here is our own Allyn Rodriguez, National Park Service environmental educator, Louisiana Environmental Education Association Newsletter writer, and Bioblitz organizer extraordinaire.

Congratulations, Allyn, for an outstanding Bioblitz!

Quote from Joe:  "What's the use of being a scientist if you can't inspire the next generation to be scientist."
Amen & Amen

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bioblitz #1

Bioblitz Gator

A major biological inventory and biodiversity festival will occur on May 17-18, 2013 at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.  The event termed “Bioblitz” combines the efforts of National Geographic and the National Park Service.  The two-day celebration of biodiversity centers on a 24-hour discovery of species.  Teams of scientists, students, and the general public will explore the park’s Barataria Preserve swamps, marshes, and forests to find as many species as possible.
According to their literature the goals of the Bioblitz are as follows:
·         Discover, count, map, and learn about the living creatures in the park including insects, fish, alligators, plants, microorganisms, and more.
·         Provide scientists and public an opportunity to do field work together.
·         Add to the park’s official species list.
·         Highlight the importance of protecting the biodiversity of this extraordinary national park located in and around New Orleans.
To learn more and see how you can participate, visit and
Children aged 8 and older accompanied by adults may participate in inventories, and younger kids can enjoy hands-on fun at the Biodiversity Festival at the Barataria Preseve.  All Bioblitz and festival parking will be at Bayou Segnette State Park (7777 Westbank Expressway, Westwego, LA).  Everyone going to Bioblitz will receive free park admission, free parking and free round-trip shuttle service to the preserve.  Handicapped-accessible shuttles will be available.
The free Biodiversity Festival will feature music, science demonstrations, hands-on activities provided by prominent science and environmental organizations, food and art.  The festival will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.  “Explorers” of all ages can enjoy the festival, watch scientists at work and “graduate” from Biodiversity University by participating in activities.  No registration is required for the festival.
I will be there reading letters from “Swamper, Letters from a Louisiana Swamp Rabbit”, helping kids make a nature journal, and observing the fantastic south Louisiana ecosystem.
Look for some wonderful resources at
                                                           Nature waits for you. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Web of Light by Tammy Slocum

Nature is light.  Light is nature.  The two are inseparable.  When I saw the picture of this glowing spider web, it reminded me of something I had learned about light from educator Kathy Holt at Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Livingston, Louisiana.  I had gone down on a Math Science Partnership field experience with a group of teachers from north Louisiana.  Kathy was using bubbles to teach us about light waves and had asked us, “What causes the colors of a bubble?”  Now this was something I had never thought about and it’s great when someone pushes your brain in a new direction.

Kathy said that light waves, like ocean waves, have peaks and valleys (crest and troughs).  Red light has the longest wavelength and violet the shortest.  Remember “ROY G BIV” or the sequence of colors in the rainbow.

“All waves, including light, have a curious property:  If two waves combine, the waves can meet each other crest-to-crest, adding up and reinforcing the effect of each other, or they can meet crest-to-trough, canceling each other out so that they have no effect.  When they meet crest-to-trough, for every ‘up’ vibration in one wave, there is a corresponding ‘down’ vibration in the other wave.  This combination of equal ups and downs causes complete cancellation or interference.  Interference is responsible for the pearly luster of an abalone shell, the beautiful colors in some bird feathers and insect wings, and the flowing patches of color in an oil slick – and for the color of bubbles.”

So when I saw the picture of the spider web, I knew that interference was the cause of the colors emanating from the web.  It’s fun to merge two sciences like life science and physical science in your nature observation.  Thanks, Kathy!  I remembered!
                                                                       Nature waits for you.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Twilight on Moon Lake on the Ouachita River by Burg Ransom

This morning before sunrise a cardinal sang outside my window.  I looked out and saw the pink glow in the morning sky.  This time of day is called “twilight.”  An animal active during the twilight moments is called “crepuscular.”  The diffuse light of twilight gives the forest a soft, mystical appearance, which is accentuated by fog or mist. Other terms used for this time of day are:  dawn, daybreak, dusk.

The website called is a good source of information about celestial events like phases of the moon, meteor showers, and planet visibility.   Here is their definition of twilight:  “You can define twilight simply as the time of day between daylight and darkness, whether that’s after sunset or before sunrise.  It’s a time when the light from the sky appears diffused and often pinkish.  The sun is below the horizon, but its rays are scattered by Earth’s atmosphere to create the colors of twilight.”

According to the website, there are three types of twilight defined by how far the sun is below the horizon.

Civil twilight:  It starts as soon as the sun dips below the western horizon and ends when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon.

Nautical twilight:  It begins when it’s fairly dark outside and ends when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon.

Astronomical twilight:  It ends when all traces of sky glow are gone or when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon.  Now stars can be observed if the sky is not cloudy.

I bet you did not know this twilight trivia.  Nevertheless, I beseech you to enjoy all the phases of twilight for it is a magical time in the natural world.

Remember:  Nature waits for you.