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Volunteers needed to count fireflies at Sewickley Heights nature center

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Fireflies will be the focus of a program Friday at Fern Hollow Nature Center. Don Salvatore, Museum of Science, Boston/For the Herald

It's not about catching them; it's about counting them.

A firefly watch project through the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania has been expanded this summer because populations of the blinking insects — often caught in jars as a traditional children's summer activity — seem to be declining, said Rachel Handel, communications director.

“The major reason for the project is to determine one way or the other for sure,” Handel said.

For the first time, Fern Hollow Nature Center, 1901 Glen Mitchell Road, Sewickley Heights, will be involved in the project from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday.

Participants are asked to track how many fireflies they see during a specific time period.

Gail Hughes, a society environmental educator, will conduct the program that will consist of classroom training about different kinds of fireflies and how to identify them. Then, participants will go outside to practice what they learned.

The count also can be done in backyards. Participants then will create an online account with the Museum of Science, Boston, where the information is being collected. They can upload their information directly there.

“The counts do not need to be perfect,” Handel said. “The beauty of a Citizen Science project is the involvement of a lot of people over many years, allowing scientists to track and study trends.

“We recommend that people count the fireflies in groupings for a 10-second period. So the first 10-second grouping may have six fireflies. The second 10-second grouping may have two.”

Firefly watches have been offered at society-owned locations such as Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel for about five years and Succop Conservancy in Butler for two years.

However, this is the first year the society has been able to offer them to other locations ­— seven throughout western Pennsylvania — through a grant received through the Dominion Foundation.

“We wanted to take the Citizen Science programs out into the community so people don't have to drive as far. The programs are free, and some are offered at local libraries,” she said.

Citizen science programs encourage people to collect data on plants and animals, which Handel said is more relevant information than just one group of scientists could ever collect.

“They can help scientists see how populated certain areas are in western Pennsylvania to help monitor the overall health of the environment in a region,” she said.

Other similar events are being held nationwide, Handel said.

“Participants may continue reporting data as long as they see fireflies. Most fireflies are observed until the end of summer,” she said.

The Audubon Society also conducts the Christmas Bird Count and the annual Backyard Bird Count, through its Citizen Science programs.

There is limited seating for the firefly program. To attend, call Elizabeth Rivera at Audubon at 412-963-6100.

Other firefly watches will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. June 28 at the outdoor classroom, Boyce Mayview Park, Upper St. Clair; from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. July 11 at Butler Area Public Library; and from 8 to 9:30 p.m. July 31 at Crooked Creek Environmental Learning Center, Ford City.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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