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1000 Herons Project

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Partners

New York City Parks Baltimore City Office of Sustainability Patterson Park Audubon Center Audubon PA New Jersey Audubon Society New York City Audubon John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge Cornell Lab of Ornithology

[photo:] Photo shows transmitter on back of bird.  Photo by Natalie Gregorio, used with permission.

 

This program is a partnership between the Northern Research Station and 1000 Herons, a nonprofit run by Dr. John Brzorad, a researcher at Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina. The program uses cell phone technology to monitor the daily, seasonal, and annual movements of two Great Blue Herons and two Great Egrets, and pairs each bird with a partner school to name the bird, track the data, and bring new lesson plans and technology into the classroom.

 

Dr. Brzorad’s program is following ten birds across the Eastern United States. Our birds come from four northeastern cities: Baltimore, MD (Threebe); Philadelphia, PA (#7); Newtown Square, PA (Cee Cee); and New York City (Clarence). Our researchers teamed up with Audubon in all four locations, and every bird is paired up with at least one partner school. New York City Parks, Baltimore City Office of Sustainability, and John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge are also local partners.

 

This effort focuses on middle school students, but data from this and other bird tracking programs led by Dr. Brzoard are appropriate for educators in grades 4-12, community college instructors, homeschoolers and after school programs.

 

Meet the Scientist

Dr. John Brzorad standing in chest deep water in waders.Dr. John Brzorad has been studying egrets and herons since cutting his teeth in graduate school (at Rutgers University) with the Harbor Herons Project in the estuaries around New York City-Newark Harbors.   

Dr. B was first interested in the sorts of food these birds ate and not only watched them hunting (foraging) but also put nets in the water to describe their prey first hand. Going to the same tidal creeks, day after day, he and his colleagues would often see birds in the same places. Were these the same individuals? Did one bird visit many sites? How much time did they spend hunting? Where, exactly do they migrate in the winter? Do they return to the same places each year? How do they find these places having migrated hundreds, if not thousands of miles? With every question answered in science, many new ones are raised. As telemetry technology improved (think smart phone tracking), these questions are now being answered. Since April of 2014 Dr. B and his co-workers have fitted nine Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons with GPS-GSM, solar-powered transmitters. Fully charged, these units can collect 288 GPS points per day! Armed with this type of technology, those questions, and more, are now being answered.

Learn about Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s All About Birds website provides detailed information on species identification and life history, as well as sound files for different calls and videos for each species. Click on each species below to go directly to their page.

Science Starts with a Question…

This partnership between scientists and schools is highly adaptable to cross-curricular exploration of data and species biology. Whether the subject is science, math, language arts, social studies or the arts, teachers and students can custom fit the data to their studies. Explore how the program fits with curricular areas and to see sample areas of inquiry for students to pursue.

Tracking the birds in Movebank.org

  • Go to www.movebank.org in your web browser
  • When Movebank is up, you will click on the right side of the screen “Browse tracking data
  • A search box will appear on the left. Type in ‘great blue heron
  • Click “search
  • Click the “+” sign in the green box labeled; “Egrets & Herons
  • Check the box to the left of the bird you want to track. Three of our birds, Cee Cee, Threebe and #7 are not currently sending signals, probably because they did not get enough sunlight to recharge their transmitters over the winter months. We are hoping they will start transmitting again as the hours of daylight increases in the spring. There are still data sets for each bird, however, and if you want to choose a bird that is currently transmitting, you can choose any of the other six birds in Dr. Brzorad’s study.
  • Click the magnifying glass to the right of the bird’s name to zoom in to the bird you are looking at. You can use the options drop-down box at the top of the map to add lines indicating direction between points, or to make your points larger or smaller. You can also double click on the map to zoom in and add the directional lines.

Tracking the birds using Google Earth

  • Be sure you have Google Earth installed on your computer.
  • Go to www.movebank.org in your web browser
  • When Movebank is up, you will click on the right side of the screen “Browse tracking data
  • A search box will appear on the left. Type in ‘great blue heron
  • Click “search”
  • Click the “+” sign in the green box labeled; “Egrets & Herons”
  • Check the box to the left of the bird you want to track. Three of our birds, Cee Cee, Threebe and #7 are not currently sending signals, probably because they did not get enough sunlight to recharge their transmitters over the winter months. We are hoping they will start transmitting again as the hours of daylight increases in the spring. There are still data sets for each bird, however, and if you want to choose a bird that is currently transmitting, you can choose any of the other six birds in Dr. Brzorad’s study.
  • Click the “i” icon in the box to the right of the bird’s name. This will show GPS locations using Google Earth. (Alternatively, you can click on the magnifying glass to get a quick update on all the bird’s locations. You will not be able to see attributes associated with each point as you can in Google Earth)
  • Click “Download search result
  • Choose the circle next to “GoogleEarth (Tracks)
  • Click “download
  • Click “ok” in “Opening Clarence”, etc.
  • Wait. If there are many points, this could take a minute or more.
  • A map will appear in Google Earth with purple icons and lines between them. Each dot is a location of our bird communicated through the cell phone network.
  • Slide the tool bar in the upper left to show locations over time. There are two sliders. If both are moved to the right, you can see the most recent position of the bird. If one is to the left and one to the right, you can hit play and watch the bird’s movement over time.
  • There are other options for data download on Movebank, including adding environmental data to your download, or downloading for MS Excel – these are all available after you hit the ‘i’ next to the bird’s name. And the Movebank team is still adding new options – like a ‘heat map’ to show the density of time a bird spends in a particular area.
  • One reminder – data for each bird comes in at 11 am, 4 pm, and 9 pm daily (as long as the bird is in cell phone range!), though it may take 10-15 minutes to register on the Movebank map.

Tracking the birds using ArcGIS Online

  • Go to www.movebank.org in your web browser
  • When Movebank is up, you will click on the right side of the screen “Browse tracking data
  • A search box will appear on the left. Type in ‘great blue heron
  • Click “search”
  • Click the “+” sign in the green box labeled; “Egrets & Herons
  • Check the box to the left of the bird you want to track. Three of our birds, Cee Cee, Threebe and #7 are not currently sending signals, probably because they did not get enough sunlight to recharge their transmitters over the winter months. We are hoping they will start transmitting again as the hours of daylight increases in the spring. There are still data sets for each bird, however, and if you want to choose a bird that is currently transmitting, you can choose any of the other six birds in Dr. Brzorad’s study.
  • Click the “i” icon in the box to the right of the bird’s name. This will show GPS locations using Google Earth. (Alternatively, you can click on the magnifying glass to get a quick update on all the bird’s locations. You will not be able to see attributes associated with each point as you can in Google Earth)
  • Click “Download search result
  • Choose the circle next to “CSV” and check the box titled “Add UTM Coordinates” Note: If your database has more than 10,000 data points, you cannot open the ESRI shapefile directly in ArcGIS Online.
  • Save the file to your computer
  • Click “download
  • Open www.arcgis.com in your web browser and click on “Map” in the menu on the top left side of the page. (You do not have to create an account to data in ArcGIS, but you cannot save your maps without an account.) Click on “Modify Map” in the upper right hand corner.
  • Using the drop-down arrow next to “Add” on the left side of the page, choose “Add layer from file” and then navigate to the csv file you saved from movebank.org using the “Choose File” button. Then click “Import Layer”. A pop-up box will appear with a list of features available in the data file. It is important to identify how the longitude and latitude data is coded in the data file. Click on the words “Not used” to the right of “location_long”. A drop-down box will appear, and choose “longitude”. Scroll down and do the same thing for “location_lat”, choosing “latitude”. These files contain a lot of data, so it may take a few minutes to load the map.
  • Once the map has loaded, you have options to change the data point style. At this point, the best data to look at is the location data. Using the drop-down box under #1 :Choose an attribute to show, choose “Show location only” and then click “Done” at the bottom of the box.
  • Now you can see the location data in ArcGIS. Read more to learn how to look at additional data or change data attributes.

Lesson Plans (from us and others)

Before the birds were fitted with transmitters, we worked with our partners to identify a suitable habitat, and prepare the site. These lesson plans were used for each location, but even if you’re not tagging a new bird, you can still use these lesson plans with your students to understand the habitat in your area. These lesson plans were provided by Dr. Brzorad.

  • Field Survey of the waterway
  • Mapping the habitat

Our partners have great resources too. Here are a few links to get you started.

  • BirdSleuth K-12
    Cornell’s K-12 resources for teachers, homeschoolers, informal educators, after school programs and 4H Clubs.
  • Migratory Bird Day Educator’s Supplement
    This set of lessons introduces middle school students to migratory bird species, and guides educators through Adopt-A-Bird activities.