New South Dakota “Hotspots” Page – Good Earth State Park

One of my New Year’s Resolution…less time sulking about the state of the world, more time being productive. Now when I say “productive”, I don’t necessarily mean work! No, I’m thinking more about my free time, and instead of wasting it, spending it doing things I love. Of course that includes birding, but it also includes working on my massive, out of control website, which I’ve neglected lately.

One element of my website are “Hotspots” pages, detailed information on specific birding hotspots in South Dakota. It’s been a work in progress, as it takes quite a long time to make each one of the hotspot pages! Over the last week I have completed a new one, one that was LONG overdue…for Good Earth State Park just outside of Sioux Falls.

We live across the street from the Big Sioux Recreation Area, a state park of comparable size, that also borders the Big Sioux River and has extensive, forested riparian habitat. While I do bird there, in recent years it just can’t hold a candle compared to Good Earth State Park. Much of it for me is how the parks are managed. The Big Sioux Recreation Area has a BIG focus on camping and other heavy recreational use. As a result, they’ve really disappointed me in recent years by ripping out a lot of good bird habitat to make way for camping, frisbee golf, etc. I get it…you have to manage the parks for multiple uses, but overall in South Dakota, birders and birding are the LAST priorities for park management.

That’s what’s so great about Good Earth. It’s not managed for birding, but there’s no camping. That alone makes a huge difference, as it’s less busy and there’s much more natural vegetation. The big draw of the park for me is the variety of habitats, from upland forest, to gorgeous, well-vegetated grasslands with plenty of native plants, to riparian floodplain. The trail system is incredible as well, with several miles of very well maintained trails.

I’ll save the rest for the new “Birding Hotspot” page itself! I hope you find this useful as you consider Good Earth State Park for your next birding trip. Click below to access the page:

Good Earth State Park – Birding “Hotspot”

Hurricane Matthew and U.S. Science Bashing…

Hurricane Matthew - Model Predictions

Ensemble model predictions for Hurricane Matthew over the next 7-10 days. The models all predict the path up the east coast of Florida, with some very minor variation in exact track. After about 5 days, the modeled tracks start to vary, with uncertainty in the hurricane’s path increasing as you move further and further into the future.

It’s early October. Winter is coming.  From a scientific perspective, we know why.  Given the tilt of the earth in relationship to the sun, the Northern Hemisphere is about to receive far less incoming solar radiation than in the summer months.  The obvious result…cooler temps than in summer.  The depths of winter may be a few months out, but we KNOW what’s going to happen based on some very basic, easily measured scientific information.

If we KNOW it’s going to get colder several  months in advance…why can’t a weatherman tell me if it’s going to rain or snow on Halloween?  That’s much closer, after all.  If a meteorologist can’t tell me what the weather will be like in 3 weeks, how can they possibly know that winter is going to be colder?  Clearly meteorologists and climatologists have no idea what they’re talking about.

THAT is the basic argument that was making the rounds on social media over the last day or two. Climate change skeptics are trying to link uncertainty in hurricane tracks to uncertainty in climate change, stating that if we can’t perfectly predict a hurricane’s track several days in advance, how can we possibly know what the climate will do over the next several decades?  Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, and is about to strike Florida.  As always, National Weather Service continues to monitor the storm, and issue forecasts on the likely future track.  There are uncertainties, of course.  Scientists use “ensemble modeling” to try to account for uncertainties in models.  Any ONE model may or may not have biases and error, but running many different models helps a scientist to visualize overall patterns and describe the most LIKELY outcome.

Fake Hurricane Model Graphic

A graphic circulating widely on social media, giving a false impression of hurricane forecasting.

For hurricane modeling, a common graphic is a hurricane forecast map that shows individual predictions of many different models.  These graphics also typically include an “average” track, created by basically averaging all the different model runs.  Typically an ensemble model graph looks like the image at the top, showing where Hurricane Matthew is likely to go over the next 7-10 days.  Uncertainty is much lower closer to the present time, so model tracks tend to be close to each other at first, and then become more uncertainty as the prediction period lengthens.  In the real Hurricane Matthew example above, the models are all quite consistent in predicting Matthew will hug the Florida coast  They all predict Matthew will take a right turn off the coast of South Carolina, Model paths then diverge some, although in updated predictions from the graphic above, models are mostly predicting a strong clockwise turn that may bring the hurricane back to Florida for a 2nd round.

On social media over the last few days, the 2nd graphic has been circulating.  It gives a very false impression of hurricane predictions, with many more modeled tracks than there are actual hurricane models, winding all over the map like a bowl of spaghetti.  The “punch line” with this graphic on social media?  That meteorologists have no idea where a hurricane is going in a few days, and thus they can’t possibly know that climate change is going to occur in the coming decades.

Other than the misrepresentation in the 2nd graphic of real hurricane model uncertainty, this attack on climate science makes a fundamental error in the difference between short-term weather, and longer-term climate.  It’s similar to the pathetic attack on climate science by James Inhofe on the U.S. Senate floor, where he brought a snowball onto the floor and thereby declared that since it was snowing, climate change clearly wasn’t occurring.  The analogy to the coming winter is quite fitting though. For seasonal change, we KNOW the physical characteristics of the earth/sun system that drive the changes between seasons.  For long-term climate change, we KNOW the physical impact of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Just as seasonal change occurs because of solar radiation differences between seasons, we KNOW the climate is going to warm given greenhouse gas influences on the balance between how much solar radiation is maintained in the earth/atmosphere system, versus how much radiates back out to space.

In effect, we’re putting a blanket on the atmosphere, trapping more heat.  It’s a known, physically measurable and quantifiable characteristic of the earth/sun/climate system, just as is the changing of the seasons.Just as it’s much harder to predict short-term variability in weather (including hurricane tracks over the next 7-10 days) versus long-term seasonal trends (hotter in summer, colder in winter), it’s much easier to predict long-term trends in climate, based on how we’re altering the atmosphere.

As a scientist the most frustrating thing about the 2nd graphic and the social media’s false attack on climate science is that it fits a general pattern of “science bashing” in the United States.  Be it evolution, climate change, or a host of other KNOWN scientific processes, there’s an odd anti-science pushback that’s grounded more in religion and politics than actual science.  It’s not a uniquely American phenomenon, but it certainly is much more amplified and prevalent in the U.S. than in most countries.  The politicization of science, the blatant disregard for scientific theory and even real, measurable empirical evidence, turns even something as obvious as evolution or climate change into a faux controversy.

All for the sake of advancing a political or religious agenda.

Don’t fall for the social media bullshit.  Scientists and modelers have done a wonderful job tracking and predicting Matthew’s path, giving millions in its potential path time to prepare or evacuate.  Weather is weather, and modeling an exact path over a week out is still an inexact (but rapidly improving) science.  That uncertainty in NO way relates to our certainty about long-term warming trends in relationship to climate change.

Mesmerizing Migration Map

Cornell - Migration Map

The mesmerizing migration map, from Cornell University. Each dot represents the typical migration movement and timing for an individual species.

I’m not nearly clever enough for such use of alliteration in a post title…this is straight from the source!  But it’s such a great name and title for the material, I had to use it.  Using eBird data that provides millions of bird sightings submitted by everyday citizens, Cornell University put together animated maps that depict bird migrations in the Western Hemisphere (click to see the animated maps).  118 species are represented, showing typical migration routes over the course of a year.

It’s fascinating to view.  The animation starts at the start of a year, and there’s not much movement at first, as birds are settled into their winter range.  A few oddballs start migrating quite early, but by March there’s widespread movement which crescendos in April and May before most birds are in their summer ranges.  Some species already start moving back south during the month of June, and by September there’s a mass south-bound flux of birds.

The long established monitoring programs of the Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count are great, providing relatively consistent observations of birds for well established routes and locations over several decades. This animated map, however, helps to show the power of eBird.  As someone who has used eBird both as a birder for the recording of my sightings, and as a scientist for the use of the data in bird species distribution modeling, I’m well aware of some of the difficulties with the data.  Given that anyone can enter sightings, there’s no systematic sampling design, there’s definite bias in sightings towards both heavily populated areas and for more “charismatic” species, and there are issues with reliability of sightings with bird ID skills ranging from novice to expert.  But given that eBird data aren’t limited to a specific season or geography, they offer an opportunity that BBS and CBC cannot…the ability to track bird movement, and also track how those movements change in the face of climate change or other stress factors.

Very cool map…it’s very interesting to try and follow one dot over the course of the year!  Only thing I wish it had were some kind of label (or clickable dots) so you knew what species each dot represents.

New and improved “Hotspot” pages for South Dakota

Screen Capture - LaCreek National Wildlife Refuge - Hotspot Page

Here’s a screen capture of part of the new “hostpot” page for LaCreek National Wildlife Refuge. The Google Map is clickable, allowing a user to see information and ground photos for actual locations within LaCreek. At the bottom of the hotspot page (not shown here) are also actual bird photos taken from the hotspot. All hotspot pages have been updated, and new pages are coming!

While I am continually adding new bird photos to my website, I admit I do often neglect to update the other pages on my website.  One set of pages that has long cried for updates are the “Hotspot” pages.  These are pages devoted to describing some of my favorite birding locations within South Dakota.  The pages I had contained a lot of information, but for a guy whose JOB it is to spatially map things, I was pretty far behind the technology curve on my hotspots pages.  The location maps and other maps were static screen grabs from maps I’d constructed in photoshop.

Time for an upgrade!  What I want to do with my hotspot pages is not only highlight a location on a map, but allow a viewer to “drill in” to actually look at ground photos for specific locations in and around a hotspot.  Using Google Map tools directly on the hotspot pages certainly allows for a much more dynamic and interactive environment than my old hotspot pages.  I’ve updated all my existing hotspot pages to include interactive Google Map tools. The main hotspot page provides an overview map of South Dakota, with little owl icons marking some of my favorite birding locations.  Clicking on an icon will bring you to a page devoted to birding information for that hotspot.

On each individual hotspot page is another interactive Google Map, showing specific areas of interest in and around the hotspot.  For example, for the hotspot pages for the Big Sioux Recreation Area, the map provides 8 more little owl icons, each of which depicts an actual ground photo from that spot.  The new pages thus allow a user to not only find the location of some of my favorite birding locations, but also allows a user to actually see ground photos of the area.  Each individual hotspot page also highlights a number of bird photos that were actually taken at that hotspot.

I only had 9 “hotspot” locations listed in my old pages, and I want to start adding many more of my favorite birding locations.  One new one that I’ve just added is a hotspot page for LaCreek National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s a long drive from my hometown of Brandon (about 300 miles!), so I don’t get there all that often, but I do just love birding at LaCreek.  Nothing beats curing the winter blues than going to LaCreek and seeing a number of massive Trumpeter Swans.

Hopefully this is just the start!  I plan on doing more augmenting of the hotspot pages in the coming days and weeks, with a specific focus in the short term of now adding additional hotspot locations.  I hope you find them useful!

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