It probably wouldn’t surprise even the most casual reader of this column that Meg Raynes and I enjoyed many, many chats about wildlife, conservation, the environment, ecology – the works. Meg introduced me to that universe, and we then discovered other friends with similar interests.

Neither of us was trained in biology or wildlife subjects, but we were eager to learn. We read pertinent literature, listened to contemporaries and learned from professionals. We were fortunate to get to know experts in various topics previously unknown to us. Been a great education and a sustaining fascination.

Now, in a recent wide-ranging conversation among my partners and me in the newly created Meg and Bert Raynes Wildlife Fund (in cooperation with the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole), important wildlife contributions can be made by any alert observer interested in recording wildlife activity.

Birds are certainly one of the most studied and observed: Christmas Bird Counts; Big Day Counts and Big Year Counts; Backyard Counts; May Day Counts; Counts Just for the Hell of It; checklists; Bird Club minutes; and on. But, in fact, amateurs make significant contributions to knowledge from insects to plants, from astronomy to zoology. From A to Z.

A one-time disdain by professionals for reports by ordinary citizens began to wane about the middle of the last century. Sure, a citizen naturalist can make a mistake. So can a professional. Observations need to be assessed and considered. Having more data from more independent observers makes judgments increasingly reliable.

The aforementioned conversation, fueled by sandwiches and soft drinks, was among Dick Collister, Steve Kilpatrick, Dave Lockman, Bob Oakleaf, Susan Patla, Chuck Schneebeck and me. In its sinuous progress the focus became how useful, how important, how sometimes vital having comprehensive and ongoing inventories of wildlife and our environment are to community leaders, planners, developers, wildlife managers, highway engineers – to each and all of us.

How to do that? Steve Kilpatrick knew of the Nature Mapping Program at the University of Washington, which has been gathering information about that state’s ecosystems from wildlife to plants for 15 years. Fifteen years. Never knew of it. Fifteen years in Washington and also in use in 13 other states. Never heard of them. But hot diggety, we here can learn from those states, we can learn to avoid mistakes, we can perhaps use their collecting and disseminating practices and existing software. Nature mapping is working; no need to reinvent it.

And so, these aforementioned worthies and their numerous and loyal accomplices have been busy and up to all kinds of wide-ranging business. Result: You upstanding citizen naturalists, aspiring citizen scientists, are most cordially invited to a presentation by Karen Dvornich, national director of the Nature Mapping Program, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in the 4-H Building in Jackson. Karen is based at the University of Washington.

For citizen naturalists who are also responsible for using reliable data in making decisions (elected officials, agency directors and staff, managers and others with similar responsibilities), Ms. Dvornich will present a one-hour workshop. For more information on any of this, call  733-1582.

You will not be surprised that I am grateful for the diligence and interest of my associates in the Meg and Bert Raynes Wildlife Fund, the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, the National Museum of Wildlife Art of the United States and staff. A potluck dinner will be enjoyed on the evening of March 18 with Nature Mapping folks, the entities including the University of Iowa, University of Wyoming, a number of local conservation and education institutions and organizations, and wonderful friends and acquaintances. A rather expected thank you, I suppose, but I mean it. Meg would, too.

Field Notes: March is March; predictably unpredictable in the Rockies.

One thing for sure is this March will be tough for many of our four-footed wildlife. Another is that March is bringing interesting birds to the Hole. White-winged and red crossbills are all over the valley it seems (Margie Melton, Boggy Hughes, Mike Maurer, Susan Moore, Patty Reily, Mike Vairlone).

Hamish Tear welcomed an early return of red-winged blackbirds on March 2; muntain bluebirds have showed in limited or single members (Mary Lohuis); a northern shrike in Wilson (Bobby Hughes); horned larks (Eric Cole, Ray White) and the first juncoes (Joan Lucas).

Common redpolls are also in the Hole (Margie Melton, Richard Rice); rather unusual numbers for this region. Robins in large numbers (Aice Richter, Patty Reilly, Mike Maurer, many others). Sally Haubert surprised a bald eagle with his mallard prize; the eagle left temporarily. A small flock of cedar waxwings (Mike Maurer) and wandering groups of gray-crowned rosy finches move erratically.

Richard Rice came upon a great gray owl during its hooting activity in late afternoon Friday in Grand Teton National park. Owls are courting and nesting. Let us know what you hear and see.

© Bert Raynes 2009

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Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.

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