April 3, 2020

Observe nature from home

It’s spring! Migratory birds are on the move and plants are flowering and leafing out. Typically, our public landscapes would be teeming with people, some of whom would be outside to count brightly colored warblers, to watch cherry trees reach peak bloom, and to track the “green wave” of maples, oaks, and poplars pushing out new leaves. In the global wake of Covid-19, however, human movement is largely on pause. In the U.S., several states have orders and advisories to stay home. Despite this incredibly necessary limitation, if you have a room with a view (or a private outdoor space), you can make nature observations from home.

binoculars and field guides

Observation tools

Observing nature while inside might require binoculars depending on how close birds or plants are to your windows. If you have bird feeders next to your windows or in your private outdoor space, you will be able to bird watch without binoculars. If you have neither, and birds will congregate at some distance beyond your windows, then binoculars or telephoto lenses will be essential. The same is true if you want count a tree’s leaves or see the details of its flowers.

Nature watch station

Once you’ve decided on your observation tool, set up your nature watching station. Find the window in your home that offers the best views of sky and nearby habitats—vegetation and/or water. Stock your observation deck with binoculars and field guides. Other tools to consider are a camera and art materials, in case birds or other animals linger.

Share your nature finds

While some birders and botanizers have dedicated places in which they track nature through the seasons, some bird and plant watchers like to go to the latest super bloom or bird fallout sites. Since human travel is restricted now, it’s unlikely that people will be trekking locally or regionally to catch these natural phenomenon. However, from your indoor perch, you might be witness to flowers and birds that are of high interest to other nature observers. Furthermore, seasonal data about bird and plant activity are still important to scientists and land managers. Share what you are seeing. Upload your plant photographs to iNaturalist. List your bird sightings with eBird. Use SciStarter to find other community science projects.

Think beyond listing, though. For those of us whose rooms don’t have the best views of the diversity of birds that will move through North America or of the blooms and expanding green canopies, stream what you are seeing on Instagram or YouTube. Publish your photos and stories on a blog or in a Twitter thread.

Virtual nature encounters

If your living situation precludes direct nature observation, online nature cameras can deliver nature’s wonders to you. Universities on both coasts host raptor cams. The Campanile Tower at the University of California, Berkeley is home to a pair of peregrine falcons. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology hosts a bonanza of bird cams, 15 in total. If forest canopies are more your thing, watch a New England forest leaf out courtesy of the Harvard Forest Phenocam. The mother lode of live nature cams is hosted by lode Explore.org. To see, and even to help identify, what people are seeing worldwide, head to the Explore section of iNaturalist.

Let’s join in the study of seasonal activity in plants, birds, and other animals, known as phenology. It’s another way to connect to each other and to nature during this time of physical distancing.

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