A Week of Citizen Science

View from the tree house tower on the VINS’ canopy walk

by Jim Armbruster – Research Coordinator


Each week starts off with walking the trails and checking on the camera traps around campus. There are currently four game cameras at VINS positioned strategically along wildlife trails in the hopes of inventorying the diverse species on the property. They are off the main hiking trails in areas of quality animal habitat. There are also two cameras at Old Pepper Place that are checked monthly. So far the cameras have revealed several interesting species including some that are not routinely seen on campus. So far the highlights have included, three deer fawns, bobcat, fisher, bear, coyotes, gray foxes, mink, a family of raccoons, skunk, and a flying squirrel.

Eastern Coyote, Canis latrans var., walks past a camera at VINS

Monday is also a day for setting up malaise, insect, traps at points throughout campus. This project is the second part of our breeding bird survey that was completed this June. Traps are placed at the 18 spots where counts were conducted. The idea is to see what insect species are available for birds that are nesting in each area. The bugs will then be identified down to order.

Malaise trap setup at a point count location


Tuesday is beach day…to launch a kayak to survey for cyanobacteria. This year VINS is monitoring at Lake Pinneo in Quechee and North Hartland Dam in Hartland as part of Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s cyanobacteria citizen science program. Each week we look for signs of a bloom along the beach by paddling or walking the shoreline. A secchi disk is also used to measure turbidity at the deepest part of the lake. This is an important project as cyanobacteria is known to have negative health effects on swimmers and beach goers. So far there have been no blooms at our sites, but there has been activity throughout the state.

Vermont Cyanobacteria Tracker

A secchi disk is used to measure turbidity at Lake Pinneo in Quechee


Each morning also starts off with the emptying of our rain gauge. Rainfall is measured from the previous day and recorded to the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network, CoCoRAHS, citizen science project. After Tropical storm Isaias the night before we received 1.79 inches of rain. We also monitor conditions with a weather station here on campus. Our station continuously transmits data to weather underground where anyone can see conditions on our campus.

VINS Weather Station

Today is also the kick off for a renewed collaboration between VINS and the White River Partnership in Royalton. Our organizations partnered previously to create a guide to the crayfish species of Vermont. We are now launching a crayfish inventory for the entire state of Vermont on iNaturalist. Any observation posted is automatically entered into this inventory and allows us to determine the dispersion of species throughout Vermont. This project is important as there is an invasive species of crayfish, the Rusty Crayfish, that is taking over watersheds. An inventory can help track their spread and show us where native species are still thriving.

Rusty Crayfish, Faxonius rusticus, observed in the White River at Clifford Park in Hartford

White River Partnership
Crayfish Project Intro Video
Crayfish Index on iNaturalist


Thursday is nest watch day. Every season we monitor activity in several nest boxes scattered around our meadow. We also monitor other nests we find through project nest watch. Data is recorded as nests are built, eggs are laid, eggs hatch, and young fledge. A report will be posted at the end of nesting season.

Checking a Red-eyed Vireo nest on VINS campus

While in the meadow we not only keep our eyes peeled for dive bombing swallows but also dragonflies. We are continuing our partnership with Black River Action Team and their dragonfly detective project to inventory species of dragonflies in Windsor and Windham counties of Vermont. Just like the crayfish index, observations submitted to iNaturalist are automatically added to the Dragonfly Detective project and help us to track what species might occur here.

Black River Action Team
Dragonfly Index

Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis, in VINS meadow


With the nice stretch of sunny hot days, Friday is the perfect day for catching monarchs. During the summer we monitor their health by using tape to remove scales from captured butterflies’ abdomens as part of the monarch health citizen science project. These samples may contain parasites that are present on monarchs throughout the country. These samples are sent to a lab in Georgia at the end of each season for analysis. With fall right around the corner, we are also gearing up for tagging the migratory butterflies that are born at the end of the summer. This will be our fourth year tagging for Monarch Watch and we will have a tagging event for the public in September.

Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, prior to a health check

Monarch Health Project Blog
Monarch Tagging Blog

The changing of seasons also means changing of research projects. We are in the process of starting several new exciting long term projects here on campus and at Mt. Ascutney in Windsor.

This year will be the first official hawk count season at the state park as part of the annual migration counting through Hawk Migration Association of North America. VINS staff and volunteers will be conducting counts most days from September 1st through October 18th.

Hawk Migration Association of North America
Hawk Watch Data from Ascutney

We are also starting a long term phenology study on our canopy walk. Trees on the walk will be observed for color changes in the fall, bud development, and leaf out in the spring.

We are also looking to begin banding of migratory birds that pass through our campus. Using the canopy walk as a platform for mist nets we will be able to easily access a part of the forest that is usually hard to get to. With a net on the ground as well we can see what species are using the canopy during different periods.

Stay tuned for updates from these exciting projects!

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