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Community Science & Volunteering
What we're doing, and what you can do to help.


Throughout the year Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority's scientists head out to the forests, streams, and coastal wetlands in our watershed to record specific measurable ecosystem components - preserving the stories our water and wildlife tell about the health of our watershed. 


Each ecosystem we monitor is given an annual health score making it easier to compare between similar ecosystems in different locations as well as observing changes in ecoystems over time.


The monitoring data we collect informs our understanding of the impacts of a variety of stressors (e.g. roads, industry, erosion) on our ecosystems and guides sustainable and responsible development, restoration, and management efforts.  Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority collects data for our own Integrated Watershed Monitoring Program as well as the Durham Region Coastal Wetland Monitoring Project (a joint project with Environment Canada and Ganaraska Region and Toronto and Region Conservation Authorities). 


All data collected since 2017, can be easily explored and visualized through our online StoryMap tool.


Community science is science done in partnership between scientists and any willing volunteers in the community. 


Typically volunteers collect information about the natural world based on guidelines and sometimes brief training provided by the scientists.  The huge amount of data collected by community science volunteers means that scientists are able to answer questions they otherwise could not.

Thank you for joining us in the journey!

Choose the topic that most interests you and find out how you can get involved below.

An adult and two boys using a shovel to clean out a birdbox




Some of the first sounds of spring are the songs of frogs and toads with each species gradually joining the chorus as spring progresses.  The variety and abundance of these species-specific calls is recorded by our wildlife biologist through evening roadside surveys and has been used to help calculate the health score of our coastal wetlands.  We always look forward to their annual heralding of spring.

Leopard frog sitting on a piece of cattail



The Toronto Zoo's FrogWatch Ontario program offers a fun, easy opportunity for you to become a FrogWatcher citizen scientist by collecting information on frogs in your neighbourhood or at the cottage and submitting the data online. 


The Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond program has online resources that can help you identify frogs by sight and sound!  All data collected online is shared with the Natural Heritage Information Centre and the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas at Ontario Nature.





Our biologists have monitored birds in our watershed for over two decades as the presence and absence of birds, especially certain species, helps tell the story of ecosystem health in our forests and coastal wetlands. 

In forest ecosystems, an inventory of the bird species is completed by visiting stations within the forest and listening and recording each bird species observed or heard.  Some species of birds get higher scoring values than others because they only live and breed in higher quality, larger habitats. 

For coastal wetlands, six species of birds that are only found in very healthy coastal wetland ecosystems are used to help determine wetland health.  These birds include the pied-billed grebe, Virginia rail, sora rail, American coot, common moorhen, and least bittern.  Since they are generally secretive, their presence and abundance is evaluated by playing recordings of their calls and listening for responses.




Join the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project: eBird.  This website and Merlin mobile app are free, easy-to-use tools for anyone interested in birds.  eBird helps locate local bird hotspots, allows for sharing of bird sightings, and tracks life bird lists.  Most importantly, the observations submitted to eBird are used for research.

Join Bird Studies Canada in their Project FeederWatch program by counting birds at your feeder and submitting your data online.  The goal of this project is to track long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.  Anyone is welcome to participate and will be sent a research kit with instructions and identification guides. 



Join Bird Studies Canada in their Project NestWatch program by tracking bird nests and submitting your data online.  Anyone is welcome to participate and will be sent a research kit with instructions and ID guides. 



Build your own birdhouse and install it in your backyard or on your balcony!  Learn the features of a good birdhouse and consider using the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “Right Bird, Right House” interactive to help decide which style of nesting structure to build - complete with free construction patterns and plans.  

Learn to garden for birds by checking out the Canadian Wildlife Federations Wildlife-friendly Gardening Guide or Credit Valley Conservation's Native Plant List for Breeding Birds or Migrating Birds.





Certain species of fish will only be found in high-quality habitats, so knowing the species and amounts of each species is an important consideration when determining a health score for our streams and coastal wetlands. 


Electrofishing is used in both our streams and wetlands to collect data on our fish populations.  This common scientific monitoring method involves introducing a localized electric current that temporarily stuns the fish, allowing for painless, efficient data collection and a quick release.

Close up view of the head of a salmon



Join us for our Fish on the Run program and help track spawning fish including rainbow trout, coho & chinook salmon, and white suckers.  Coming from Lake Ontario, these fish head up the streams in our watershed in the spring or fall to spawn (lay eggs).  Submit your observations by filling out our online migration survey.  Data collected is used to gain a better understanding of the fish community and their spawning activities, barriers in the creeks that prevent migration, and opportunities for habitat improvements.

Coming Soon





Marvelous Monarch Library Program

Our interactive traveling monarch display spends a week each summer at the Whitby, Oshawa and Clarington Public Libraries.   Complete with live eggs, munching caterpillars, transforming chrysalises, and newly hatched butterflies, this display lets you get up close and person with these amazing creatures.  

Pollinator Gardens

Check out our native plant pollinator gardens at Enniskillen Conservation Area and Purple Woods Conservation Area!

Social Media & Education

Ongoing awareness through our website, Facebook, blog, “In Our Watershed” school-based education programs and our “Marvelous Monarchs” activity station at our annual Durham Children's Watershed Festival.

Large monarch caterpillar on a milkweed leaf



Monarch caterpillars are picky eaters and only eat milkweed.  A variety of different milkweed species grow in Ontario.  Learn to recognize and protect our milkweed.  Many local native plant nurseries have milkweed in stock.  For schools or groups or areas larger than 2 acres, you can apply for free milkweed plants.  


All milkweed plants contain a milky-white sap that is poisonous to most animals.  Amazingly the monarch caterpillar uses this to its advantage and as it eats milkweed, becomes poisonous itself!  The bright colours of the monarch caterpillar and butterfly warn predators that they will be a nasty meal.  



Join Mission Monarch and search for and report monarchs at any life stage.




Prefer plant ID?  Join Milkweed Watch and report milkweed locations.





It’s tough to be a turtle!  All eight of Ontario’s turtles are species at risk.  Piloted using visual surveys in 2018, our biologists have started monitoring turtles in various wetlands within our watershed.  Using basking nets and fyke nets since 2019, information is collected on captured turtles before they are marked and released.  This data is used to determine population size, survivorship, and growth rates of our local turtles with efforts mainly focused on long-term population monitoring at Bowmanville and Lynde Creek Marshes. 


Since 2019, turtle nesting activity is also being monitored along a road bordering one of our coastal wetlands.  Many female turtles prefer a sandy area with good drainage for nesting, which makes road shoulders unfortunately appealing.  All turtle data is used to inform management, restoration, and conservation strategies.

Baby snapping turtle on a mowed lawn



Become a Turtle Guardian and help track, monitor and protect turtles across Ontario.  Turtle Guardians offer 5 levels of involvement based on skills from identification up to a research level. They offer lots of online education and information and a variety of volunteer opportunities.

The Toronto Zoo’s Ontario Turtle Tally is a fun, easy turtle monitoring project for people of all ages and abilities.  The purpose is to collect, record and store location and species information on Ontario turtles, including species at risk. Turtles are most often seen in June when they are traveling to reach their nesting sites. Adopt-A-Pond helps you learn to identify turtles through their online resources!  You can also contact them directly to receive a hard copy of our Ontario Turtle Tally Package.   All data collected online is shared with the Natural Heritage Information Centre and the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas at Ontario Nature.


The Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre is located near Peterborough and provides an operating turtle hospital that treats rehabilitates and releases injured turtles, performing extensive research in the field to further conservation initiatives.  They also run a comprehensive education and outreach program and offer opportunities for the general public to volunteer at their centre.  You can sign up for their newsletter, shop their online store or volunteer to provide taxi services for injured turtles.  


Remember to break for turtles, and learn how to help turtles safely cross the road in the direction they are going.


To help give turtle eggs a chance, we have set up some self-serve stations so you can help protect turtle nests in our Conservation Areas. If you see a turtle nesting in our Conservation Areas, please keep your distance and wait until they have finished laying eggs. When the mother has moved on, mark the place with an X of sticks and collect the materials and information you need from the following locations:

  • Enniskillen Conservation Area (station is located at the south entrance, north side of the Education Centre)

  • Bowmanville Westside Marshes Conservation Area (station is at the entrance)

  • Heber Down Conservation Area (station is at the Seasonal Entrance -Lyndebrook Rd)

  • Lynde Shores Conservation Area (Cranberry Marsh – station is at the beach end of the Lake Ontario Trail OR Lynde Marsh – station is located just west of the Pay and Display in the Victoria Street Parking Lot)


Enniskillen Conservation Area offers a pond for a dipping experience and an opportunity to see turtles in their habitat.  There are accessible floating docks and signage to remind our visitors to leave their finds behind when they leave.  All you need to bring is a small net and a white bucket.  Turtles are not likely to be caught, but you will gain an appreciation for their habitat and other pond life like dragonflies, minnows, snails and water striders.


Please re-home rather than release your unwanted pet turtles.  Turtles sold at pet stores are usually red-eared sliders, which are an invasive species in our wetlands. 

Wooden square fram with metal mesh on top and with a brick on each corner




We are constantly monitoring weather forecasts and watershed conditions at locations across the watershed.


Our Water Monitoring Network is a collection of stream gauges, rain gauges, air and water temperature probes, groundwater monitoring wells, snow measurement sites, surface water and groundwater quality sampling sites.  These measurements, weather forecasts and radar information on temperatures and rainfall predictions, along with historic data, are all taken into consideration when developing a flood forecast. 


The data is catalogued and analyzed to develop effective watershed wide management programs in support of our polices like the Flood Forecasting and Warning SystemLow Water Response and Source Water Protection programs.  Observing trends over time requires long-term tracking and monitoring. 




Our SMART Watersheds Project is designed to create a technology ecosystem, enhancing our environmental monitoring activities with more frequent data collection, analysis, and advanced data management.  In addition to the technology, the SMART Watersheds engages community volunteers, the general public, elementary, high school and post-secondary students in using this new technology in their local watershed.

Weather Watch involves accessing weather data on a publicly accessible data portal for current weather and historical weather conditions in your community. 


Water Watch involves completing self-guided online training, picking up a SMART Water Monitoring Kit at a local library, and heading out to do some water and soil testing in the community. 


Our goal is to provide the hands-on tools and technology for the watershed community to help us collect the data we need to help us adapt to climate change and to maintain healthy watersheds.

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