An APPortunity to Learn about Nature

Susan Moore and Amanda Tracey

Prairie Smoke found near Camden East, from the iNaturalist website. (Photo by Michael Bauer)
[This article appears in the February/March 2020 issue of The SCOOP.]

Love connecting with nature? Here’s a cool way. Try your hand at iNaturalist (www.inaturalist.org), an online citizen science project. Everyone can use it to share observations and help each other learn more about nature. The phone app is very easy to use.

In March, the Lennox & Addington Stewardship Council will host Mike Burrell, project zoologist from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, supervisor of eBird Canada, and formerly with Bird Studies Canada. Mike will explain step by step how to use the amazing iNaturalist program.

The iNaturalist program is an online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built to map and share biodiversity information across the globe. Access is via its website or its mobile applications.

On iNaturalist, you can:

  • Share your observations of wild plants, animals, etc.
  • See what other naturalists have found nearby
  • Get help with identification
  • Keep a life list

This app is incredibly easy to use. Take a photo of an organism and iNaturalist gives you its top guesses as to what it is, using its community and image recognition software. The ID accuracy is high, especially for common plants and animals.

From Amanda Tracey, conservation biologist in Napanee, with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC): “Using iNaturalist is SO much fun. We took a group of 7th/8th graders out to an NCC property and showed them the app. It was fall, so no leaves on the trees, and the plants were done flowering. I showed them a sensitive fern and snapped a photo to iNaturalist, which it quickly identified as sensitive fern. We tried it many more times with leafless branches, lichens, mushrooms and more, and the students were fascinated. It’s an easy way to learn about the natural world around you, without having to tote heavy books.” and “It is always exciting to take a photo of a caterpillar and iNat can tell you what moth or butterfly it will become.”

This app is becoming increasingly important in the field of conservation. People can record observations (with photographic evidence) and submit them to projects for natural areas and properties. Land managers can use this data to decide how best to steward the land. For instance, tracking turtle mortality helps us to know where to install turtle crossings. Early detection of invasive species is also a great use of this program.

Recently, the Nature Conservancy of Canada added many properties to the iNaturalist database to encourage Ontarians to help monitor and manage some of its key conservation lands.

Visit www.natureconservancy.ca and select: where we work > Ontario > news releases.

For those who don’t have smartphones, you can upload your camera photos to the iNaturalist website (www.inaturalist.org) on your computer, and you’re laughing – and learning.

For more information, contact Susan at lastewardship@gmail.com.
iNaturalist is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. The purpose of the program is to connect people to nature.
Add your observations to a growing record of Earth’s biodiversity.
So far: over 14 million observations of nearly 200,000 different species.
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A March workshop on iNaturalist with expert birder, Mike Burrell will be hosted by the Lennox & Addington Stewardship Council. At the time of publication, the date and venue were not available; (it will likely be in Odessa). Please see  www.lastewardship.ca and The SCOOP’s Facebook page for the date, time, and location. 
Eastern Giant Swallowtail observed near Marlbank, from the iNaturalist website. (Photo by Bruce Ripley)

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