City Nature Challenge 2019: Washington DC Metro Area's Journal

January 03, 2020

January 7 City Nature Challenge interest call for DC area new people and groups

Do you know an organization in the broader DC metro area that cares about biodiversity? Please join an introductory call on Tuesday, January 7, 10-11 am to learn more about the City Nature Challenge.

Details here:
Tuesday, January 7, 10-11 am
605-472-5436 Access code 908439#
Open this document and follow along during the call:

The Washington Metropolitan Area has participated annually since 2017. Dozens of environmental organizations, parks, libraries, nature centers, and other local groups help spread the word and incorporate iNaturalist into events. There are many ways to be involved and many ways to collaborate with other organizations.

We have outreach materials in Spanish, encourage bilingual events, and welcome other ideas for broadening participation.

Hope you can join us to learn more, or spread the word!

Posted on January 03, 2020 19:17 by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 3 comments | Leave a comment

December 03, 2019

Planning for 2020! Calls for returning and new organizers in Dec and Jan

Time to get organized for 2020! Next Tuesday, December 10, 10-11 am we'll have a call for returning organizers. On Tuesday, January 7, 10-11 am we'll have a call for new organizers where we go over more of the context and orientation that we'll skip for returning organizers. 

Please think about people or organizations that may want to be involved but haven't been, and invite them to the January call. Especially take a look at parts of the region where we've had low participation. We know there's lots of biodiversity there, too!

Join the Google Group to stay in the loop on organizing calls and events, because they won't all be posted on iNaturalist.!forum/dc-area-citynaturechallenge

In the meantime, please join the new project on iNaturalist:

Posted on December 03, 2019 14:52 by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 6 comments | Leave a comment

May 10, 2019

Well done, DC metro area! Leaders of the East Coast! Overall: 5th for people, 11th for observations, 15th for species.

Congratulations, everyone! I'm sorry for not chiming in sooner. As often seems to happen after burning the candle at both ends for too long, I came down with a knock-you-down miserable virus just as the results were being tallied on Monday and didn't come out from the fever until yesterday. I've been playing catch up ever since, so...

Here's a link to the official press release from the California Academy of Sciences. I'm also linking a larger version of the graphic results summary.

Washington DC Metro Area, I hope you’re all as proud of our showing in the City Nature Challenge as I am. There’s lots to be proud of in our performance, and we led the East Coast in all three categories, beating populous, well-organized, and biodiverse cities like NYC, Boston, and Miami. Like Stella said, the biggest win is our shared, dedicated attention to biodiversity and the awareness, action, and data that emerge from it.

Please jot down your reflections on CNC while they’re fresh in your mind because we’ll have more formal debriefing by survey/phone/in person. Stay tuned for details.

If you’re interested to hear my reflections on our region’s performance in the context of other cities and my musings on our strengths, read on.

We’ll learn more during the international debrief calls with all the city-level organizers later this month, but I can share/speculate on strategies from a few of the leading cities:
-South Africa already had a highly active community on iNaturalist and they were very strategic in making sure that they organized people to visit all of their most biodiverse areas of Cape Town. There’s a great thread here that lays out many successes. Also, it’s an uncommon combination of both incredibly biodiverse and very well documented.
-I heard mention of advertisements on city buses in La Paz...
-Tena, the small Ecuadorian city in the Amazon that made a big splash, worked with the local university to involve students during classes on Friday and Monday, and had the support of the National Biodiversity Institute from Quito, and is highly biodiverse because it’s the Amazon rainforest.
-Quito was really motivated to beat Tena, despite confusingly using a different iNaturalist spinoff platform called Natusfera. They worked with several universities in Quito to get hundreds of students involved.

The San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, and cities in Texas have had the advantage of years of local iNaturalist promotion as part of specific citizen science initiatives that are well integrated into outreach programs, such as Texas Nature Trackers, California Master Naturalists, and SnapShot CalCoast. Their regional institutions have had strong local relationships around citizen science, community science, and natural resources for years now to lay solid foundations of dedicated and experienced iNaturalist users.

The fact that we beat San Diego and every city in Texas for number of observers (5th out of 159 cities) to come in behind San Francisco & Los Angeles (the original CNC cities) and La Paz & Quito (two high impact newcomers) is awesome.

For the first couple of years that we participated in the City Nature Challenge, I thought we were at a disadvantage by not having core local leadership from one flagship regional institution. Instead, we had a handful of organizations (now many more) that each held different pieces of this puzzle of people, places, and resources. Now, I think our organizing model is an asset. At the Citizen Science Association meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina in March, I met/saw many CNC organizers from Boston and learned that they have a similarly broad and diverse group of organizations working together. In 2018, Boston was the only East Coast city that had higher participation than us, so I saw them as the city to beat. This year Boston had some pretty rough weather, so that may have given us a bit of an edge, but I was reassured by their similar approach to organizing for the City Nature Challenge. We are more impactful working together than any of us could be alone.

I am especially impressed at how many events we collectively organized— 125 events from the first ID party in January at The Nature Conservancy focused on last year’s CNC observations to the last ID party organized by Fairfax Master Naturalists on Sunday afternoon! I know some were rained out on Friday or were very small gathering, but we know that small groups can be highly effective in finding and documenting biodiversity. Many thanks to everyone who helped with events at any level and everyone who helped spread the word on social media or good old postcards and flyers! Make a note now of how many postcards you’ll need next year. :-)

Our regional collective intelligence about biodiversity benefits from and contributes to the global intelligence of the iNaturalist community. I'm pleased with how far we were able to get with identifications in the week following the observation period. Like observations & the photography to document them, identifications are an area we can continue to improve over the next year. Maybe we'll come up with even better strategies for organizing our identification efforts.

One of the things I love most about this is that it's not a one-off effort. This is a foundation upon which we continue to build. Now we have hundreds more people in the area who know how to use iNaturalist and have their eyes tuned in to biodiversity they might have otherwise overlooked. I hope that each of us as individuals and within organizations think on how to best leverage this community to support conservation in our region. The data are powerful, but the community even more so. What else can we accomplish together that we can’t accomplish alone?

I look forward to crossing paths with you all on iNaturalist and hopefully in person as well. Thank you for everything you contributed to the City Nature Challenge!

Posted on May 10, 2019 04:43 by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 1 comment | Leave a comment

May 07, 2019

Guest Post: CNC Results and Wrap-up!

Greetings Washington DC Area CNC Community - the official results for the 2019 City Nature Challenge are in! On behalf of Carrie, Deborah, and the rest of the area planning team thank you for making this year’s Challenge such a success. The Washington DC area had 1,258 observers (5th internationally), we logged 29,944 observations (11th out of 159 cities) and we identified 2,031 species (15th internationally). Kudos to:

Observer @jmgconsult for most observations - 1,180
Observer @capitalnaturalist, Capital Naturalist Alonso Abugattas for most species - 431
...and Mayapples for being our region’s most observed plant species - followed by the American Robin for animal species.

It’s a big world and we had a lot of competitors. We should be proud of all of the discoveries and engagement that have been part of our CNC experience — and our place on the leaderboard. Everyone wins when citizens and scientists around the world are observing the natural world they are part of. The species need us.

Thank you for your participation.

Stella Tarnay (@stella20009)
Capital Nature
Washington Area Citizen Science Network

Posted on May 07, 2019 19:11 by dbarber dbarber | 4 comments | Leave a comment

May 05, 2019

One last push! Results will be tallied 9am Monday!

Here's where we stand this morning, on the LAST DAY to upload and identify, and what we can do to keep these good standings!

Observations: We are 10th place worldwide. Review your observations again. Did you get everything of yours uploaded? In addition to pictures, did you remember to upload any audio recordings you took?

Species: We are 15th place worldwide.
--See if someone has provided an ID or correction that you can learn from and respond to.
--Look at your photos and see if there is an extra plant, bug or gall hiding in there that you didn't notice before. You can upload the same photo multiple times and use for multiple species observations, just make a coarse ID and maybe a comment ("Dicots" and "The pink flower in the background") so that people know what organism you want to feature in the photo.

Observers: We are 4th place worldwide. If you led a walk or encouraged one of your contacts to participate, see if they have uploaded their observations, and send them a quick reminder if not. Even one less-than-ideal quality photo by one person qualifies them as an observer, and the hope is that by participating in even a small way they will discover the fun of iNat and participate more fully in the future.

ID's: We are at 45% Research Grade. New observations are still coming in. You KNOW these people have been busy if they are still getting their observations uploaded from a week ago, so give them some iNat love!

Thanks to @carrieseltzer for the following advice on how to help with ID's no matter what your experience level:

"If you haven't helped with identifications yet (or want to do more but are unsure how), find which of these strategies best fits your interest & abilities:

  1. Get the unknown stuff classified broadly (currently 2000+ observations sitting in the "unknown" category). This means adding "plants" or "insects" or "birds" so others can find it more easily.
  2. Get the stuff from a broad category into a finer category (e.g. from "Plants" to "Ferns" or "Insects" to "Lepidoptera").
  3. Get stuff from any of these categories to species.
  4. Confirm species-level identifications for species you know well and can distinguish from lookalikes.
  5. Add comments to help users who may have encountered common errors (copy/paste from iNat Help page).
  6. Mark garden plants/captive animals as captive/cultivated if they aren't already.

Tips to remember:
• Assume people mean well, be kind, and remember everyone makes mistakes sometimes.
• Use the Identify page to work more quickly. (video tutorial)

• Always try to add a more specific identification (i.e. if it's already identified to species, don't add something like "plants" unless you disagree it's that species).
• Don't agree blindly with other people's IDs.
• Check in daily to see updates and withdraw or correct earlier identifications if needed.
• You can turn off notifications for confirming identifications in your account settings (highly recommended to reduce a flood of uninteresting notifications)."

Posted on May 05, 2019 13:46 by dbarber dbarber | 1 comment | Leave a comment

May 03, 2019

It's not over yet! Keep uploading and doing ID's through Sunday...

Observations are still rolling in. I'm very grateful that we have more time this year to upload observations and make ID's--last year's upload/ID period ended at 9am on Friday #2 (today). This year, we have through Sunday!

Keep at those ID's. When you add an ID, lots of good things happen:
--CNC observers (many of whom are brand new to iNat) get some quick feedback and a true sense of the power of iNat, which goes beyond the amazing computer vision to the source of the real magic: real live people who care about our natural world.
--Observers have the opportunity to learn from their correct ID's and/or their mistakes.
--YOU get a better sense of how to provide good clear evidence via in-focus photos that show the essential aspects of the organism--by seeing many submissions that don't :-)
--More observations reach Research Grade (RG), making them eligible data for scientific publications. (Did you know that more than 260 scientific publications have used iNat data?!)
--RG observations help us reach another (unofficial) metric of DC-area fabulousness: percentage of observations reaching Research Grade!

Here are this year's global CNC major players, ranked by percentage of observations at RG. I am mostly rounding here and it changes by the minute:
Dallas/Fort Worth: 53%
San Diego: 51%
San Francisco: 43%
Washington DC: 41%
Houston: 38%
Los Angeles: 33%
Boston: 31.34%
New York: 30.81%
Cape Town: 28%
Hong Kong: 27%
Mazatlan: 26%
Tena: 9.89%
La Paz: 7.81%
Klang Valley: 5.45%

When you need a break from poison ivy, white-tailed deer and American robins, consider traveling to the ID page for Tena, la Paz or Klang Valley and taking a peek. Maybe you'll recognize a species from one of your vacations. Maybe you'll spot a garden or invasive plant that we both share. Perhaps you'll add a coarse ID like Plants or Milkweeds that will help local specialists use the filter to find what they are looking to ID. If you can confirm a few ID's, you might help them nudge their RG score up a .01 or two. At the very least, you'll come back to DC ID's with a new appreciation for how our biodiversity complements that of the rest of the world.

Now, please note that agreeing with ID's to get other's observations to RG is not a peer-pressure, groupthink kind of situation. We are not looking for people to agree just to be agreeable. If you disagree, why? If you can't confirm an ID, what aspect of the plant or animal would you like to have seen in the photo(s)? Push back politely--this is what the comment field is for, and it's how we all learn and become better observers.

For the official metrics of CNC2019, check here (no more midnight counts for me!)

You'll see that while we have drifted out of the top ten for Observations and Species, we are still #4 for Observers! And who knows where we will end up by the time everything is uploaded.

Posted on May 03, 2019 13:02 by dbarber dbarber | 1 comment | Leave a comment

May 01, 2019

Keep cranking with those ID's!

As of midnight last night, we had 26,931 observations (9th place), 1,934 species (11th place) and 1,207 observers (4th place). We have been neck-and-neck with Austin for species for about a day--at this moment we are 9 species behind them; earlier this morning it was just 1 species difference!

HATS OFF to the identifiers! Especially @tsn since you're not even in the area, and @rock_flipper since we know you would rather be outside! 550 people have helped with ID's and many more identifications are needed. So: Here are some more ID tips, whether you attend one of the remaining group ID parties or you work on your own.

Take care of your peeps: If you led a trip or encouraged someone to participate, be sure to review their observations. In ID mode for CNC-DC 2019:
open the filter and type in a user name. If you disagree with their ID, and especially if they are new to iNat, leave a constructive comment about why you disagree (e.g. "Pacific dogwood does not occur in our area") along with your species suggestion. Also be aware that new iNat users may not check their notifications before the end of the ID period, and an email from you saying you suggested an alternate ID might be what it takes to get them to go back in and learn from your feedback.

Pluck the low-hanging fruit: It's fun to spend lots of time looking things up in field guides chasing an ID down for that one mystery plant! At the same time, we have lots and lots of quick ID's waiting to be made. Try this:
Go to our Identify page again
and in the Species field at the top of the page, type in a genus you're pretty familiar with--say, Lamium. You'll see a bunch of lamium species observations ready to check off "Agree" below the thumbnail picture (if you do agree--no pressure!) . Do that and BOOM--that's half a dozen or so ID's right there in just a few seconds. Then refresh the page to bring up ones that still need ID. Now you'll see ones that are ID'd to genus and need your help to get to species, or that you want to open up the observation to take a closer look at the photo. Open up the first, do your thing with it (don't forget to hit Save if you've suggested a new species ID), and use the right arrow on your keyboard to quickly move to the next one.

Try this with some of the genera I mentioned yesterday (poison ivies, lindera, skunk cabbages, liquidambar, claytonia, cornus, cottontails, or deer.) Some others to try are:
Redbuds: Ours is Eastern redbud.
Pawpaws: We have the common pawpaw.
Microstegium: So far we only have microstegium vimineum, thank goodness.
Berberis: Sadly almost all of these will be Japanese barberry.
Dandelion: Learn Common vs. Red-seeded:
Plantains: It's not hard to learn the 6 that are likely to be in our area. Dwarf is fuzzy and cute; American has reddish lower stems and curled-edge leaves compared to Greater (American reminds me of spring lettuce mix); Ribwort looks ribby. Bracted, Swamp and Redseed sadly have not been ID'd yet in CNCDC19 but maybe one is hiding amongst all those Plantagos that need ID. Will YOU be the one to find it?

Thanks for giving ID's a try, and I'll see you in ID land tomorrow (I still have to finish uploading my observations :-/ )

Posted on May 01, 2019 16:47 by dbarber dbarber | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 30, 2019

The observation period is over!

....But not the CNC fun! More on that in a bit. At midnight, the counts were 25,788 observations, 2,050 species, 1,186 observers, and 488 identifiers. Our midnight standings were 9th for observations, 11th for species and 4th for observers. Mighty fine, and that is FAR from the end of the story!

We have until the end of the week to upload evidence (photos and audio recordings) of our observations made between Friday morning and Monday night. There are lots of things you can do to keep our counts growing!

  • Make sure all your own observations are uploaded.
  • If you were one of our dozens of event leaders, follow up with your participants and remind them to upload.
  • If you encouraged friends/colleagues/neighbors to participate in CNC, follow up with them.
  • If you know someone who regularly takes smartphone or digital pictures of wild things in nature, encourage them to upload to iNaturalist. For smartphone images, the time, date and usually location are attached to the photo (or audio recording) as metadata, and items that meet the date and location criteria for CNC-DC will be automatically added to the project.

Although new uploads need to be done by the end of the week, the sooner they are posted, the better chance they have of getting confirmatory ID's. Many eyes are reviewing observations this week, and identifiers are working both on their own and attending ID parties around the metro area:

Here are a few tips for working through ID's quickly:

Many observations just have ID's to genus. This is a common error among newcomers, and even experienced iNaturalists can do it by mistake if they're in a rush or working on a small smartphone screen. You can search on, for example, "Toxicodendron" and most of those will be poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)--look for a brown-stemmed vine with the middle of the 3 leaflets bearing a visible stem. Possible lookalikes are box elder (green-stemmed tree with 3 or 5 leaflets) or fragrant sumac (middle leaflet has no stem). Similarly, our "Lindera" is Lindera benzoin, northern spicebush.

Other things to search on to pretty easily help your observer get to species:
Cottontail = eastern cottontail
Deer = white-tailed deer
Liquidambar = American sweetgum
Spring beauties = Virginia spring beauty (look for long straplike leaves to make sure it's not Carolina spring beauty)
Dogwood = usually flowering dogwood (look for tree with large 4-part white or pink flowers--fading and browning by now--with a dent or stain at the tip of each "petal"; be aware that there are other dogwoods in our area though)
Skunk cabbage = eastern skunk cabbage
There are others; feel free to post a comment about other common errors you have noticed.

Happy identifying!

Posted on April 30, 2019 12:09 by dbarber dbarber | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 29, 2019

Midnight Update: Day 3

We've had another beautiful day to iNaturalize, starting out cloudy in many areas followed by sun and breeze. It just felt great to be outside.

We've got one more day to make observations and recruit observers. When you get into work tomorrow and someone asks you why you have that healthy glow and twinkle in your eye, are you going to tell them about your weekend adventures? About how you found amazing things just because you were paying attention? About how even when the world makes you feel cynical and weary, there's always something in nature that can astonish and refresh you? You can share the fun by recruiting one new iNat user tomorrow, connecting them with our community and getting us over 1000 observers for this year's CNC.

Did you notice that there was a friendly competition the last 2 years around who would make the first observation as the clock struck midnight on Thursday? I wonder if there will be an equivalent contest around who will make the last observation just before midnight tomorrow...If you're contemplating this, here are some strategies you could consider to make observations after dark:

  • flashlight-illuminated backyard flora
  • basement creepy-crawlies
  • audio recordings of insomniac mockingbirds
  • compost critters
  • dead bugs from your windowsill
    Let's see what people come up with!

Remember that while observations need to made (that is, photos or audio recordings taken) by midnight on Monday, we have until the end of the week to upload and identify observations. The sooner you upload, the more eyes will see your work and the more likely you are to get ID's. If you can help with ID's, great! Even if not, please stay tuned to iNat for the rest of the week and check to see if someone has suggested ID's on any of your mystery observations, so that you can accept those ID's if they seem reasonable and get your observations up to Research grade.

At midnight we have 19,150 observations, 1,749 species and 996 observers. While it's a little odd to talk at midnight our time about how that stacks up against other cities because of global time differences, you may be curious so here's what we've got: DC is 8th for observations, 10th for species and 5th for observers. Really great considering how many cities are participating, and many of the frontrunners have got tropical forest or fynbos going for them, or else they're, well, California. Thanks to all the observers, organizers, event leaders, spouses and partners who hold the fort down while we're in the field, and of course all the identifiers!

Posted on April 29, 2019 04:38 by dbarber dbarber | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 28, 2019

Midnight Update: Day 2

Today was a spectacular day! It was sunny and comfortable if rather windy, which does make taking focused shots of plants a bit harder.

Today's top 10 species were the same as yesterday's (all terrestrial plants), just in a different order. The top bird is the robin, closely followed by the cardinal and Canada goose. The most frequently observed mammal (often in the form of tracks) was white-tailed deer, then Eastern gray squirrel and Eastern cottontail. The most frequently seen insects were Eastern tiger swallowtail, six-spotted tiger beetle, and pearl crescent. Top herps are common box turtle, Eastern rat snake, Eastern red-backed salamander. Frequent fungi include turkey-tail, false turkey-tail, dryad's saddle.

We've got 17 spongy oak apple gall observations already, while last year there was only one. In contrast, by this time in last year's challenge we had logged 20 juniper-apple rust galls, while this year we only have four. We've got lots of black cherry leaf galls, along with several other types that need their ID's confirmed.

If you'd like to do some mission planning for your forays tomorrow, you can see what hasn't been spotted yet in this year's CNC, or see geographic breakdowns via the links in this document. So if you know where to find any of the missing organisms, go seek!

Posted on April 28, 2019 04:56 by dbarber dbarber | 0 comments | Leave a comment