Volunteering and Citizen Science at Starr Ranch

Audubonís 4000-acre Starr Ranch Sanctuary integrates applied land management and wildlife research into education and volunteer programs to fulfill our mission of connecting people with nature and conservation issues in Southern California. Over the years, we have relied on a group of dedicated volunteers to help us with weed control, restoration, and wildlife monitoring projects. People interested in helping out can become involved with any of the following: wildlife and habitat research, invasive species control and habitat restoration, maintenance, office work. Contact Sandy DeSimone ( ) at 949-858-0309 if you would like to become a Starr Ranch volunteer.

Bird Banding Volunteers

Dedicated birders who would like banding experience are invited to apply to become volunteer banders for a MAPS (Mapping Avian Productivity and Survivorship) station at the Starr Ranch Bird Observatory. MAPS is a growing network of hundreds of songbird banding stations in North America run by the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP). Long term banding data from MAPS stations help track changes in populations and migration patterns. In 2005, we became part of an international monitoring network that tracks birds in their wintering grounds, MoSI (Monitoreo de Sobrevivencia Invernal) with stations from Mexico to Columbia (and Starr Ranch!). Starr Ranch ornithologists offer beginning and advanced bird banding workshops every several years to train citizen scientists in songbird banding, ageing, and sexing. Watch our website and Facebook page

SongbirdersOther Songbird Monitoring

Besides bird banding, Starr Ranch manages other songbird monitoring projects that utilize volunteer citizen scientists who are trained by ornithologists. Monitoring usually targets rare species and habitats such as coastal sage scrub but we also use songbirds as indicators of restoration success and climate change. New monitoring projects help us make decisions on which invasive plant species we will work to control. Below are some current songbird monitoring projects that utilize citizen science volunteers. Watch this webpage and Facebook for announcements each season.


Orange County Cactus Wren Survey Team (Starr Ranch, TNC, Sea and Sage Audubon)

Songbirds of Starr Ranch Coastal Sage Scrub

Effects of Coastal Sage Scrub Restoration on Songbirds

Effects of the Streambank Weed, Periwinkle, on Songbirds

Songbird Phenology in Oak and Riparian Woodlands

If you would like to volunteer or would like to learn more about Starr Ranch songbird monitoring projects, please contact Sandy DeSimone () at 949-858-0309.

SlamanderOther Wildlife Monitoring

In spring 2004 we trained volunteers to assist our biologists with a long-term study that examined the effects of artichoke thistle control and coastal sage scrub restoration on small mammals (and songbirds).  See Effects of Restoration on Small Mammals for more information. The goal of this project was to produce estimates of small mammal species composition, richness, diversity, and abundance in our paired restoration and pristine coastal sage scrub monitoring sites as well as over a chronosequence of sites of increasing restoration age. Data collected through 2010 indicated a negative effect of artichoke thistle and a positive effect of restoration, so this small mammal study is currently inactive. 

Monitoring responses to actions or lack of actions remains the key strategy for resource management in a changing climate. Currently Starr Ranch biologists train citizen science volunteers to help us monitor wildlife that serve as good indicators of habitat quality and help us decide which invasive species we will work to control. These are long term projects that will also aid in detection of shifts in wildlife populations that may be associated with a changing climate. Current wildlife monitoring projects include:

Aquatic Vertebrates of Bell Creek (fish, reptiles and amphibians)

Perennial Pools of Bell Creek

Effects of the Streambank Weed, Periwinkle, on Small Mammals and Invertebrates

Reptile and Amphibian Populations of Coastal Sage Scrub

If you would like to volunteer with our wildlife monitoring projects, please contact Scott Gibson () at 949-858-0309.

fire watch trainingSouth County Fire Watch Volunteers

In partnership with Rancho Mission Viejo Land Trust and the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), Starr Ranch runs a volunteer fire watch. Each year since 2008 volunteers are trained in late summer by the OCFA to deter and report behaviors that could lead to fires and to detect fires quickly if they start. Volunteers work in pairs during Red Flag Alerts, periods of high winds and dry conditions, usually in the fall. Lookout locations are at the edges of south Orange County preserved land from Starr Ranch south to Rancho Mission Viejo Land Trust. Watch this webpage and Facebook for announcements each summer.

Click here for more information and to volunteer with the South County Fire Watch, or contact Sandy at , or Laura at .

bioassessment volunteersStream Bioassessment Volunteers

Since 2003, Starr Ranch biologists have trained volunteers to use a standardized protocol to gather data on stream water quality and the impacts of urban run-off on the physical, chemical, and biological components of water quality in the creeks of Starr Ranch. Our results are sent to a statewide database and we also track indicators of stream water quality at Starr Ranch.

If you would like to volunteer with the annual stream bioassessment project, please contact Scott Gibson ( ) at 949-858-0309. For more information visit Riparian Habitat Enhancement and Monitoring.

Invasive Plant Control Volunteers

Weed Warrior Volunteer Flyer

Starr Ranch "Weed Warriors" help us remove invasive plant species. Invasive species can alter habitats and can have negative effects on wildlife. All of our weed control is non-chemical, and done with hand tools. Currently volunteers help us with periwinkle, English ivy, and Smilo grass removal.

If you would like to become a "weed warrior" at Starr Ranch, please contact Sandy DeSimone ( ) at 949-858-0309.For more information and Saturday volunteer dates please see our invasive plant control volunteer flyer.


We Love Our Volunteers! THANK YOU ALL!

We have a wonderful group of dedicated volunteers who help us at Starr Ranch as docents during public events and as citizen science assistants to our researchers. Volunteers also help us with facility maintenance and office work. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the volunteers who have lent Starr Ranch a helping hand over the years.