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Citizen Science Success

November 13, 2011

By Rafael A. Gálvez

Florida Keys Hawkwatch 2011 could not have been possible without the untiring contributions of volunteers. The project managed to fulfill its monitoring duties by complementing the commitment of two full-time counters for the entire season, with the assistance of 32 registered part-time volunteers.  Out of a serious dedication to the important tasks related to the monitoring of migratory birds of prey from our Curry Hammock observation site, a total of 1,700 accumulated hours were granted to the hawkwatch over 60 days by citizen scientists.

It should be noted that although monitoring tasks were shared by several individuals during any given day throughout the season, at least one of the two official counters – both during the great majority of the season – was present to ensure that the standardized monitoring methods used historically at the site were practiced. For a detailed description of this methodology, please refer to Lott (2006). Rain or shine, counters were there daily throughout the season except during a single day in mid-October, when torrential rain and flooding associated with a tropical system defied even our most persistent efforts. The best-quality binoculars and telescopes were provided by our official optics sponsor – Leica Sport Optics – and made accessible to volunteers, providing unparalleled opportunities for fulfilling standardized scanning routines for the detection and identification of migrating raptors.

Although the inclusion of a citizen science component as part of this project may seem unprecedented and inconsistent in light of count methods used historically at Curry Hammock, its value has been multifaceted, proving to be an important part of a model for the long-term sustainability of this hawkwatch. It has served prominently in raising awareness, deflecting costs associated with the hiring of additional field technicians, and in fulfilling a mission towards outreach, education and recreation towards the appreciation of birds of prey. It has also allowed our supporters to participate and interact with the project, generating a shared sense of responsibility about the project, rooting a regionally-based sense of “ownership” necessary for long-term support. More importantly, citizen scientists have formed part of a community that has engaged in enlivened discussions about raptor appreciation, identification, education and conservation throughout the season. It has been our hope that after engaging with the Florida Keys Hawkwatch – whether onsite or vicariously through the web – participants have retained an interest in raptors that will transmit to a growing commitment to raptor conservation.

Simply, we could not have asked for a better team of dedicated counters, committed to monitoring raptors according FKH protocols. Our deepest gratitude goes foremost to our registered citizen scientists: Rudy Brancel, Mary Butterfield, Kevin Calhoon, Charles Caudill, Colleen Caudill, Dave Cenker, Gabe Cenker, Jen Cenker, Dan Click, Lilly Ferguson, Darrell Hartman, Sue Hartman, Jeff Madsen, Larry McDaniel, Carey Parks, Ruth Parks, Eric Pineiro, Julie Reagan, Karen Riedle, Samantha Sardes, Gayle Sheets, David Simpson, Bob Stalnaker, Steve Tryon, Christine Vaskovic, Jenny Welch, and Tedor Whitman. However, there are several individuals without whom this season would not have been possible. Jeff Bouton has been an ardent ally of this project from the promotional stages of the 2011 season, through the day-t0-day grind at Curry Hammock, and much more. He supplied his wide-ranging expertise with friendliness, and took part in our renewed banding effort during this season; we look forward to continued collaborations with Jeff. Mark Hedden is that essential friend that serves as a beacon of reliability in the Florida Keys; from the moment he voiced a commitment, there was no doubt he would be an ardent supporter of the project – we could not be more grateful that Mark continues watching over FKH. Dennis Olle served as kingpin for two important supporting organizations of the hawkwatch, and came through without hesitation time and again – thank you Dennis. Angel and Mariel Abreu of Badbirdz Reloaded were excellent in helping promote our efforts via their blog throughout the season, and joined us onsite for an exploratory session. Kevan and Linda Sunderland supplied beautiful photos taken throughout the season, which helped illustrate this blog and other collateral – thank you. Most importantly, the tremendous task of preparing for this 2011 season would not have been possible without the moral and strategic support provided by Begoñe Cazalis. The hawkwatch is also grateful to the following individuals for their relentless support, great advice, and friendship: Frank Albergaria, Julie Brown, Jim Duquesnel, Pete Dunne, Jerry Lorenz and Pete Frezza of the Tavernier Science Center, Ernesto Ruelas Inzunza, Ken Troisi and the staff of rangers and volunteers at Curry Hammock State Park.

Above – The Last Counters Standing: Left to right, Jim Eager, Rafael Galvez, and Jeff Madsen. The three of us managed to cover the last week of monitoring and additional duties to wrap up the 2011 season.

There is not enough space here to mention the hundreds of friends and visitors that stopped by and took part in the hawkwatch; but we are deeply indebted to their enthusiasm and interest, and we hope they will return time and again. With enhanced efforts towards the promotion, visibility and accessibility to the project, there is little doubt that the hawkwatch received more visitor this season than ever. Folk from all corners of Florida stopped by to spend time hawkwatching with us, in addition to visitors from 31 states. International visitors hailed from Brazil, Germany, Spain, United Kingdom, Panama, Venezuela, Finland, Denmark, Australia, South Africa, and other locations.

We are proud of the coalition we have built with our 2011 hawkwatch partners, and our success this season is directly connected to their belief in the project; a big thank you to: Tropical Audubon Society, Space Coast Audubon Society, Florida Keys Audubon Society, Hawk Migration Association of North America, Florida Ornithological Society, Leica Sport Optics, William H. and Patricia M. Kleh, Carlton Fields – Attorneys at Law, and the Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival.

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