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See The Stars And Creatures Of The Night At This Science Festival In The Mountains

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Bird watching with a ranger (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)
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Grab your binoculars and get ready to geek out in the mountains this weekend for an all-ages science fest that will include live animal demos, night hikes, movies, food trucks and more.

This Friday and Saturday, the Santa Monica Mountains Science Festival will give visitors, young and old, a fun opportunity to explore and learn about wildlife while also contributing to important research as a citizen scientist. The free event, hosted by the National Park Service
will take place at the Paramount Ranch, a site once used to film Westerns that will be converted into an outdoor laboratory for the weekend. The festival coincides with BioBlitz 2016, nationwide events that give scientists and community members the chance to work together to document plants, animals, fungi, and other organisms.

The festival will kick off on Friday evening with activities that invite guests to discover the park after dark from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. You'll have the chance to scope out the night sky with a special astronomy program, go on self-guided night hikes, learn from presentations, and participate in other all-ages activities. Just be sure to bring your flashlight and dress appropriately.

Activities will continue on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the chance to check out live animals, science demos, hikes, watch movies and chow down at food trucks. You'll have the chance to really get your hands dirty and find out what it takes to be a national park scientist.

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Whether you're able to make the weekend's activities our not, you can download the iNaturalist app, which let's you easily take part in plant and animal surveys by reporting observations with your phone. You can also help the National Park Service gather coyote poop in the name of research.

Zach Behrens, a senior communications fellow for the Santa Monica Mountains, tells LAist why he's excited about this weekend's activities:

This weekend is a great chance for families to start trying citizen science, which I honestly see as a fun hobby. As a hiker, I've always wondered what all the beautiful flowers I'd see were. Then I started submitting photos of blooms to iNaturalist, an app which researchers use in their studies. In return, much of what I submitted got identified by the community. Now I'm becoming proficient in identifying them myself and am able to help others. At the end of the day, citizen science is a great way to learn more about your surroundings while contributing to science yourself—and it can be easy as snapping a photo. I've become so nerdy about this now, I'm actually going out with a friend on Sunday in search of Humboldt lily blooms. Of course, I'll submit lots of everything else I see, too.

More information about this weekend's activities can be found here.

Related: The Natural History Museum Wants Your Help To Track Urban Wildlife