Citizen Science Connects Students with Real-World Lessons

by Bianca Perla on November 17, 2013 1 Comment

Written by: KATHRYN TRUE

A slightly shorter version of this article appeared in the November 13th Beachcomber as part of a series on citizen science. 

“I got another one!” “Look at this!” “It’s a mayfly — see the tails!” “I don’t understand why kids don’t like science… This is the best lab ever.”

These comments echoed through a McMurray Middle School science classroom last month as sixth graders eagerly sifted through leafy debris from Shinglemill and Needle Creeks water samples. They were working to find and identify stream-dwelling invertebrates — in this case mostly tiny insect larva, some barely visible to the naked eye — which scientists use to gauge water health. Vashon Nature Center, as part of a Vashon-Maury Island Groundwater Protection Committee study, brought invertebrates from local streams into six science classrooms where, with the help of local biologists, hand magnifiers, keys and microscopes, 100 students learned to ...

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Salmon Watchers Toast Big Year

by Bianca Perla on January 29, 2013 0 Comments


Written by: Kathryn True

The 2012 Salmon Watchers gathered for soup and stories last weekend to celebrate the best salmon return since 2003. A grand total of 202 live and dead fish were recorded by 23 enthusiastic volunteers of all ages—from 4 to over 65. The fish were mainly coho (152 live and 11 dead), though chum (11 live and 10 dead) and sea-run cutthroat trout (4 live), were also seen spawning in island streams.

Watch the video below for a visual summary of this year's effort. Photo and video clip credits: Kelly Keenan, Mabel Moses, Karen Olsen, and Bianca Perla: 

“We had a great salmon watching season this year,” says Vashon Nature Center Director Bianca Perla. “I always love the feeling of getting to experience our creeks so closely during this time, whether I see fish or not. But this year was amazing, particularly for coho. Volunteers ...

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BioBlissed: Absolutely Everyone Counts at the 2012 BioBlitz

by Bianca Perla on June 18, 2012 5 Comments

Written by: Kathryn True

My daughter and I arrived at Neill Point, unloaded the car and took a look around the maple-ringed clearing. We were the first to arrive, could we start counting yet? The sun broke through for the first time all week (part of the magic of our Island BioBlitz was the seemingly preordained weather—24 hours without rain between bookends of precipitation) and a Western Tiger Swallowtail fluttered towards us, then stopped on a blackberry leaf to flex her wings. We had our species #1.

Basecamp for the BioBlitz at Neill Point. photo by Ed Otto

A BioBlitz is a 24-hour marathon for nature lovers. A citizen-science effort disguised as a treasure hunt—groups of scientists, naturalists and curious citizens join together and do their best to document every living organism within a prescribed geographic area on one calendar day. Vashon Nature Center’s 2012 BioBlitz was ...

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Collect a Cloud Today

by Bianca Perla on April 14, 2012 4 Comments


clouds over Colvos 2

April sky over Colvos Passage

It’s hard not to notice a spring sky. Like throw pillows of the gods, towering piles of cumulus clouds dominate the horizon. Or they loom ominously overhead like bulbous gray zeppelins, warning us not to get too attached to the parts of the sky that remain blue. I love how the sun catches cloud edges—creating a literal silver lining, while the shadowy undersides do a poor job of hiding their “precipitatory” intent. And who can resist the flying-saucer-like, weather-predicting lenticulars that cap Mt. Rainier on pre-rain days? As the saying goes, “If Mt. Rainier puts on her bonnet, it’s going to rain, doggone it!”

Water floating on air

What are clouds? Most commonly, they form when air rises and expands at higher altitudes. The rising air carries water in a gas form, or water vapor. When its temperature ...

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Stars in my eyes

by Bianca Perla on February 7, 2012 1 Comment

WRITTEN BY: Kathryn True

When Orion strides into the skyscape each year I feel like I’m greeting an old friend, and I’m reminded of the first time I ever saw him. Standing on the sidewalk in front of my childhood home in Oregon, my mom showed me how to chain together the stars that outlined the hunter’s belt and sword. This was the first constellation I learned, and it still produces a sense of awe that we are so very, very small in the galactic scheme of things. Although daunting, I also find it weirdly freeing to try to wrap my brain around things completely un-Earthbound; the nature of the universe is so vast it swallows my worldly worries whole.

Orion is a great starter constellation because he’s easy to find and is composed of a number of very bright stars of varying colors, plus a ...

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Cycles in nature and change in our lives

by Bianca Perla on January 1, 2012 11 Comments

written by: Bianca Perla


As the winter solstice passes and the New Year begins, I hear excited whispers about snow and look out to the early blackness as dinner simmers on the stove.  The falling leaves, the cessation of growth, the turning of movement from branches to roots, the warmth of decomposition, the stillness of death, the stealth of the hunters, the bounty of apple harvests-all these seasonal happenings carry great metaphors for living our human lives.

One of the biggest metaphors contained in our seasons, and other natural cycles, is that of uncontrollable change. Nature can help us deal with fear surrounding the fact that some changes are beyond our control.  At the same time, it shows us that sometimes change can yield unanticipated beauty, and delight us with surprises.

As a new mother, I stumbled upon the power of nature to teach my kids about change when my ...

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Tidal Creatures of the night

by Bianca Perla on November 23, 2011 0 Comments



Creatures of the Night

This Friday, Nov. 25 at 10:45 p.m., the new-moon tide will ebb to a rare low of -3.4 feet. Taking this opportunity to explore an island community normally hidden from view, the Vashon Beach Naturalists will host a free Starlight Low-Tide Walk at the north-end ferry dock from 9-11 p.m. Sip a hot chocolate as you head to the beach with a naturalist guide to discover dozens of denizens of the intertidal zone: nudibranchs (sea slugs), sea cucumbers, and sea pens to name a few.

A shaggy mouse nudibranch (Aoelidia papillosa). Photo taken near Pt. Vashon by Kathryn True

Besides the fact that our local winter low tides occur only at night, this is a good time to get out for several reasons. At low tide on a hot summer day, animals that prefer cold, wet, and dark ...

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Children's books about Nature

by Bianca Perla on October 6, 2011 2 Comments


Stories, at their root, are a form of exploration. We use them to live vicariously. They teach not only through the intellect but by opening up our emotional channels. They make us receptive to their message by entertaining us. Stories integrate our emotions, our imagination, and our reason as they guide us on the journey to their message.  This is why stories are so powerful. Done well, their message imprints in us because it speaks to and engages all our human faculties at once.  For this reason stories are powerful teaching tools. And good storytellers are powerful teachers.

Books can be an incredibly effective and enjoyable tool in cultivating your child’s awareness of nature and in starting your exploration of the natural world together. Almost every children’s book out there contains animals or something about nature in it. But not all books about nature ...

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