Why it’s crucial hunters and anglers participate in citizen science

Participating in citizen science initiatives is one of the easiest ways those who enjoy the outdoors can help themselves. This is especially true of hunters and anglers.

As they saying goes, “we only protect that which we understand.” Those who hunt and fish have a unique grasp and perspective on how nature truly works. And there are some easy ways for us to share our point of view with the people actively seeking our assistance. Providing a helping hand in this regard can pay dividends for all involved and help others understand just why we value the outdoors so much.

Between recording measurements in my rain gauge for CoCoRaHS and entering observations in my eBird app, I try to participate in some level of citizen science every day.

These are, admittedly, small measures. But they are not the only ways to take part in helping the scientists who protect the resources we love through their work.

Reporting harvests, when required, in an accurate and timely fashion gives decision makers much-needed data that helps shape outdoors policy. So does participating in creel surveys or chronic wasting disease testing.

Catch a chinook salmon, rainbow trout, or lake trout with a clipped adipose fin? Bring the head to your local collection location and submit the requested information. Not only does this give those who oversee our fish populations a more complete picture of what is happening in Lake Michigan, you’ll receive some background information on your catch in return.

If you have a trail camera, you can apply to be a volunteer with Snapshot Wisconsin. This program, backed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, helps build a photo database of wildlife activity in designated regions of the state.

In fact, you don’t even need to host a trail camera to participate. The photos from Snapshot Wisconsin are sent to a platform called Zooniverse. This allows members of the public to classify the wildlife present in each photo. This, in turn, converts the photos into usable data that feeds into wildlife management decisions for many local species.

This year, I’ve taken to have my birding app open while out hunting. During a duck hunt on the Wisconsin River, our group encountered a couple flocks of snipe. When I recorded this in the app, I was prompted to provide additional detail because the number of the species I reported was unusually high for the area.

For some reason, this bothered me. It was like the app didn’t believe in my bird identification skills But, after giving it some thought, I realized something. This number may, indeed, be significantly higher than the typical amount of this species reported in a given log. But how many of those reports came from hunters?

Our location was accessed by boat, nestled between the main channel and the backwaters. No reasonable birding enthusiast is likely to put in this type of effort solely in the name of a birding excursion. That’s when it dawned on me: recording the birds I see during a hunt is particularly vital.

When you pair the spot with the time of day we were out, it is highly unlikely that anyone had ever submitted a file of their bird observations that reflected this unique combination of factors.

If you are simply glassing the big water through your binoculars on shore, seeing 12 snipe is, in all likelihood, a tall order. But from the concealment of a proper duck blind, your prospects increase substantially.

One of my local duck spots, a parcel of public land close to home, is frequented by birders. I often think of how much their experiences can vary from mine. It doesn’t make their input any less valuable, but it’s simply not possible for one demographic to provide scientists with the complete picture.

Consider the types of birds you see just before or after shooting hours or during the migration. If someone were to observe the same setting at a different time of day or year, they probably wouldn’t believe there were many coot, mergansers, or green herons around. But those who spend time actively pursuing other game know otherwise.

Think about your favorite deer stand or trout stream. Now take a brief tally of the number of hours you spend in those locations. Who else could possibly have a better idea of what is actually happening in these places? But this knowledge does little for the collective good if it isn’t shared in a constructive way.

As hunters and anglers, we have a truly unique viewpoint on how the natural world functions. This perspective needs to be shared so that we can help wildlife officials, scientists, hikers, birders, an other outdoor enthusiasts have a better grasp of these treasured places through our eyes.

In a world seemingly bent on industrial development, those who enjoy land in its more natural state need to team up to defend the locations we go to when we seek peace, balance, and a different perspective on the world than our regular day-to-day gives us.

Because our culture prioritizes revenue potential and profitability, nature lovers are under increasing pressure to justify the existence of the places they hold dear.

Though, for whatever reasons, it may not always seem like it, those who enjoy the outdoors, however they choose to do it, are on the same team in this regard. A place to continue unifying our standing comes through actively participating in citizen science.

So, next time your local department of natural resources or scientific group provides you the opportunity to participate in one of these initiatives, take advantage. We all stand to benefit.

How birding has made me a better outdoorsman

I’ve always had an interest in birds.

Both sets of my grandparents had feeders in their yards, and when I visited I always enjoyed watching the flurry of activity that came with the approach of hungry birds.

In college, I put my own feeder up in the side yard of the house we rented my junior and senior years. I spent many an afternoon at the kitchen table tapping away at my laptop, pausing occasionally to observe the latest visitors.

When my wife and I bought our first house, I quickly hung up a feeder on one of the old laundry line posts.

There’s a certain pride that comes with being able to accurately identify an assortment of bird species. I appreciate that ability in a person the same way I watch in awe as one my friends, who is a forester, can readily rattle off types of trees by simply looking at the branches strewn about the forest floor.

As a numbers person, I enjoy keeping a tally of the species of birds that frequent our feeder. On occasion, I’ll go out and snap a few photos to share on social media or keep for my own enjoyment. I’ve found this to be a great way to prolong the excitement of duck season long after hunting has ended.

Recently, I’ve taken to logging my bird sightings through ebird, a fun app that provides data to those who track bird patterns and habitats.

As I continue to look for more ways to enjoy the outdoors, birding has become a part of my weekly regimen.

Reflecting back on my birding experiences, I’ve realized this new-found commitment has helped my sharpen some of the skills that assist me when I’m hunting and fishing.

Take the bird identification piece, for example. That skill translates well to waterfowling. Identifying birds on the wing is a crucial part of being a successful duck hunter. Spend an afternoon attempting to differentiate between species of sparrows and all of a sudden picking out the types of ducks in distant rafts doesn’t seem so difficult.

Birding will quickly teach you how to identify birds through methods other than strictly the appearance of feathers. Calls, wing beats, flight patterns, and other mannerisms can also help you solve the identification puzzle. The more time you spend looking at birds, the faster you will be able to pick up on indicators of this type.

Having somewhat of an understanding of bird patterns has also made me more aware of the season changes occurring around me. This, in turn, has altered the expectations I have surrounding the timing of my hunting and fishing excursions.

We humans have a way of labeling the seasons. The calendar hits a certain date or the weather turns in a certain direction and, in our minds, the season has changed. But that’s not always how the animals see it.

Identifying seasonal shifts is a critical part of hunting or fishing success. But too often we revert back to our definitions of seasons, rather than deferring to the signs shown to us by the expertise of the birds whose very survival is dependent upon an adequate migration.

I’ve found that winter isn’t truly over in Wisconsin until I’ve gone several days without seeing a dark-eyed junco. Conversely, fall isn’t in full swing until the last of the robins have made their way out of the area. This happens on a different timeline than the one we assign to the seasons.

It doesn’t matter what we think the weather is doing, it’s how the animals we are pursuing react to the patterns. Now, am I saying you’re going to go out and shoot a Booner the next time you sit in your deer stand because the birds in your yard are acting a certain way? No, not by a long shot. But understanding bird behavior offers a glimpse into the world the way the animals see it.

Remember earlier when I said I use birding to extend my duck season? Well it turns out that hunting ducks with a camera can be just as much fun as hunting them during the season.

Spending time looking for ducks during the winter and spring months has exposed me to species I would never dream of seeing during the hunting season without having to drastically shift my locations.

What normally holds wood ducks, mallards, and other puddle ducks in the summer and fall can become a diver haven for bluebills, goldeneyes, and mergansers once the weather turns cold.

It’s incredibly informative to watch how the birds interact with one another, note their behavior patterns, and the times of day they are most active. If you play your cards right, you’ll get a chance to watch this play out. I’ve even been known to give myself the full hunting experience, complete with camouflage and decoys, but I’m armed with my Nikon instead of my Benelli. Trust me, the experience can be just as fulfilling and beneficial.

Finally, there is one more way (so far) that birding has made me a better outdoorsman. It has forced me to get out and scout, even when I don’t realize I’m doing it.

Many of my birding journeys take me to pieces of land I wouldn’t spend time on otherwise. That has led me to discover a host of new fishing and hunting spots that I never would have checked out.

Both of the King Salmon I caught during this year’s run came from a spot I found while out birding, a place I never would have considered otherwise.

So grab a pair of binoculars and check out the bird scene around you. You may just pick up a helpful tip or perspective that will benefit you the next time you’re out hunting or fishing.

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