Wrapping up 2020
In a normal year, my pattern of interaction with nature goes something like this:
- Daily: carry my camera with me when I go outside, and if I see a new species, try to get a picture of it and identify it later, adding it to my big notebooks for personalized field guides.
- Monthly: attend a meeting of a Texas Master Naturalist chapter for advanced training.
- Bi-monthly: do some sort of volunteer work for Master Naturalists — work a booth at a nature festival, help to teach a class, etc.
- Two or three times a year: go on a birding trip to the beach.
- Once a year: attend the Master Naturalist state conference, agonize over choosing which training sessions I can fit into my schedule, and gather inspiration from the keynote speech and field trips.
So of course this year did not fit that pattern, but it had its own rewards.
The first part of the year, right as news of COVID-19 was hitting, my husband and I took a long-planned birding trip to the Rio Grande Valley.
The World Birding Center is a group of nine birding sites in South Texas, spread out along 120 miles. Also in the area are some national wildlife refuges, the National Butterfly Center, and the Sea Turtle Center. It wasn’t easy to choose an itinerary from among all the possibilities. We ended up visiting six sites, I think, and we saw an awesome assortment of habitats and species. We will have to go back to visit the rest!
My favorites were the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, for the variety of habitats and feeling of remoteness; and the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, for number of species and easy accessibility.
Soon after we got home from that trip, things started shutting down. With my regular volunteer jobs canceled, and other people not being able to get out in nature at all, I was glad to participate in virtual bioblitzes. In April, August, and October, I went out for at least an hour a day for four to ten days in a row, documented the species I could find around me, and then uploaded them to iNaturalist.
This turned out to be the most memorable part of my year — sitting in the pasture, watching little insects buzz around, oblivous to me — being made aware of new species to learn about.
In early September, the state office for Texas Master Naturalists put on a Virtual Volunteer Fair, and through that I learned about Zooniverse, a website that gathers up citizen science and citizen history projects, for people to contribute to. The project I chose to work with was TORCH — Texas Oklahoma Regional Consortium of Herbaria. All I have to do is read the data on scanned images from plant collections, and enter it into a few fields in a form. It is a quick and easy task, and I love seeing plant samples collected by a famous botanist, or collected from a spot near a location I have visited. (Once all the data has been entered, the project staff is going to try to map it, giving us a better picture of what plant distribution has been across Texas and Oklahoma.)
There are all kinds of other projects on Zooniverse, from counting pollinators to parasites to pelicans. The tutorials and help screens are fantastic. I could happily spend days there!
Also in October, our Texas Master Naturalist state conference happened online, and while I missed the excitement of seeing everyone in person, I loved the fact that I didn’t have to choose between training sessions! Each and every session was made available and will be online for at least 6 months. If I miss a point, I can backtrack. It is so lovely to be able to dip into a nature class on any given evening!
The virtual classes, events, and volunteer tasks I participated in this year provided new layers to my nature knowledge. In the year ahead, I hope I can get back to celebrating nature with other people in person, but I also plan to keep up attending webinars and volunteering virtually.