Before I sit down to write a book, I spend a lot of time researching. First I read everything I can find on the subject of my book: children's books, adult books, magazine articles. I even look for videos and audio materials that are available on the topic. Then I search the internet for useful websites and information. Sometimes this research is enough to get my book or article idea rolling. Usually, however, a project requires more extensive research. That is when things really get fun for me, because I get to meet men and women who work in or are experts in the field I am writing about. I've detailed some of my recent research trips below. Click on images to enlarge them ... and enjoy!
My third book, CITIZEN SCIENTISTS, grew out of experiences I had while working on my first two books. While researching TRACKING TRASH, I became involved in a worldwide beach cleanup event called the International Coastal Cleanup, sponsored by The Ocean Conservancy. And while writing THE HIVE DETECTIVES, I stumbled upon The Great Sunflower Project, a nationwide survey of native pollinators conducted, in large part, by kids. Both are great examples of citizen science, that is, science carried out not by paid professional scientists, but by interested men, women, and children.
I became completely enthralled with the concept of citizen science. You see, I once worked as a professional scientist. And even though I had traded my lab bench for a writing desk, I still thought of myself as a scientist. The idea that I could still practice science—not just write about it, but DO IT—sort of took me by surprise. For example, I’d been watching birds at my backyard feeders for years … but it was a complete shock to learn that scientists at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (CLO) were collecting data from backyard birders like me in order to better understand bird populations. Could I practice science without a lab bench? In my own backyard?
To find out, I signed on to record the birds visiting my backyard feeders through Project FeederWatch.
And since I have a friend who tracks local frog populations for the North American Amphibian Monitoring Project, I joined her for a season of frog watching.
When I came across an advertisement for a butterfly-tagging event at my local Audubon sanctuary … I went.
It wasn’t long before I’d begun to think about sharing the amazing experiences I was having with readers. I dreamed of creating a book that would introduce readers to citizen science, make them feel as if they were out in the field doing it as they read, and inspire them to participate the moment they were finished.
Researching the book was a string of unforgettable adventures. I explored new things, at home, often with help from my own kids. We tagged butterflies, hunted ladybugs, observed the night sky, counted turkeys, tracked wildlife, and so much more. Before long, we had activities for every season of the year. As we worked, we tuned in to our small patch of Earth, its immediate environment, and the ways they both change throughout the year. We also became much, much more aware of the plants, animals, and fungi that we shared our place with.
As if all this hands-on research weren’t excitement enough, I also traveled the globe in order to interview scientists who have developed and run popular citizen science programs. I interviewed scientists in Rhode Island, upstate New York, Central Park and, most incredibly, in a grove of wintering monarch butterflies at the tip-top of a mountain in central Mexico. Photographer Ellen Harasimowicz joined me for many of these trips, and the photos below are all hers. (You’ll find many, many more in the book.)
CITIZEN SCIENTISTS will be published on Valentines Day, February 14, 2012. I hope you love it!
I am currently working on a book about the scientists who are studying honey bees and their mysterious disappearance from hives around the world. I am calling the book THE HIVE DETECTIVES, but that may change between now, Summer 2008, and its publication in Spring 2010.
I didn’t know much about honey bees when I began this project, and so I have spent lots of time learning. I have read books, interviewed beekeepers, and attended bee school. Seriously. Bee school. Here are my diplomas to prove it.
I have also been learning about bees from people who know them best: beekeepers. Mary Duane is president of the Worcester County Beekeepers Association, and she has been teaching me how to work with bees and manage their hives.
I have also spent time in larger bee yards observing and talking to the men and women who are working to understand honey bees and their mysterious decline. Photographer Ellen Harasimowicz accompanied me on these trips to collect images for the book. The photos below that feature me were taken by Ellen, those photos that feature Ellen were taken by me.
To read more about bee books, click here.
To read more about my research adventures, click here.
Photographs © 2008 Loree Griffin Burns and Ellen Harasimowicz
All text © 2008 Loree Griffin Burns
I made two trips to Washington while researching the book Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam and the Science of Ocean Motion. My good friend (and fabulous photographer) Betty Jenewin joined me both times, and she recorded the trip with her camera. You can see more of her photographs in the book.
My trips to Washington were a mix of work and pleasure. One of the primary reasons for the visits was to interview oceanographers Curt Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham. Both men study surface currents in the Pacific Ocean, and they do so in an amazing way: by tracking floating trash across the sea. (For more details about their fascinating science, read my book!)
In November 2004 I interviewed both men in Seattle . These were my first-ever in-person interviews and Curt and Jim made them truly special. Betty took lots of photos for the book, and I recorded four hours of tape ... all of which had to be transcribed in my hotel room that night. This is a big part of my research trips, by the way: recording everything I see, do and discover. I take notes all day long and transcribe them at night in my hotel room, while everything is fresh in my mind.
A big part of the trash-tracking that Curt and Jim do involves hanging out with beachcombers. Beachcombers are folks who walk the coastlines in search of interesting things. Some beachcombers collect natural objects, like sand dollars and sea beans. Others collect not-so-natural objects, like glass fishing floats and plastic tub toys. To get a feel for the "work" these beachcombers do, Betty and I set off on our own beachcombing excursion during our first Washington trip. Curt and Jim recommended the beaches in Grayland, Washington and that is where we went.
The beachcombing experience gave me a great perspective for working on the book. It also prepared me for my second Washington trip, which involved a visit to the Beachcombers Fun Fair in Ocean Shores, Washington. What is a Beachcombers Fun Fair? I wasn't sure myself, but I knew Curt was going there to meet and talk with the many beachcombers who help him track trash. Betty and I joined him to find out more.
The fair was, in a word, FUN. There was something for everyone ... collectable beach debris, seminars, a guided beach walk, the famous Dash for Trash and Treasure. I met beachcombers, scientists, families, and colleagues each of whom helped me to understand the unique culture that is the beachcombing community. I even gave my first live radio interview while at the event. KOSW, Ocean Shores' local radio station, broadcast live from the Fair and Sara Owen interviewed me about my book. That was a hoot! (As luck would have it, I ran into a man the next day who had actually heard my interview on the radio. I tried to be calm and cool about it, although I couldn't help but ask how I had sounded on the air. His response: "Next time hold the microphone closer to your mouth." Oh, well.)
John Anderson, one of the many beachcombers I met at the Fair, was nice enough to invite Betty and me to his home ... a place Curt refers to as the American Museum of Beachcombing. How could we pass up that opportunity? We took the long way back to Seattle and headed north from Ocean Shores to Forks, Washington . The ride through the Olympic Peninsula was stunning and included amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and a bald eagle sighting. Neither of these, however, compared to what we saw at John's home. His passion for beachcombing was mind-boggling and his collection of beachcombed items left me speechless.
Before leaving Washington, Betty and I made time to visit one of our favorite places ... the public library. What a treat! The Seattle Public Library (www.spl.org) is eleven floors of pure heaven. Truly ... you should visit if you have the chance. In addition to lots and lots of books there is an information center, a café and a gift shop. I spent a good deal of time in the children's room, where I was pleased to find a collection of 'Scientist in the Field' books.
All photographs © 2005 Betty Jenewin
All text © 2005 Loree Griffin Burns
In February 2005 I traveled to Long Beach , California to meet Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation (AMRF) (www.algalita.org). Captain Moore and his colleagues at AMRF are dedicated to protecting and preserving our marine environment, and one of the ways they do this is by quantifying the amount of plastic trash floating in the ocean. My husband, Gerry Burns, joined me for this trip and the photos below are his.
The day of my scheduled visit with Captain Moore coincided with a planned research cruise, and I was invited aboard the research vessel Alguita for the afternoon. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm, and I was able to see the crew collect and observe various sea samples.
The marine life we saw during the afternoon ranged from large dolphins and sea lions to minute zooplankton, tiny clear-bodied creatures that float in the surface waters and that can only be seen under a microscope. (By the way, it is difficult to look at objects under a microscope when you are on a moving ship!) Richard Weaver, the marine biologist on board, found many organisms in the samples the crew pulled out of the ocean, including tube worms, red algae, an armored sandstar, sea urchins, sand dollars, flat fish, a large red rock crab and many, many others. Each sample also contained bits and pieces of plastic debris. A number of samples were processed and returned to the laboratory on shore, where scientists would examine them more carefully and determine exactly how much plastic was present.
The next day I met Captain Moore in his office for a more formal interview. When we were finished, he took me to a nearby beach for a glimpse into the extent of the plastic debris problem he and his colleagues at AMRF are working so hard to address. What I saw on that beach was sobering and gave me another perspective on the science of tracking trash.
All photographs © 2005 Gerald L. Burns, Jr.
All text © 2005 Loree Griffin Burns