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Be A Citizen Scientist; Take the City Nature Challenge: How to Use the iNaturalist App

Use the INaturalist app to document your observation for the City Nature Challenge this weekend.

Yesterday, we introduced the City Nature Challenge, open from April 26-29, and explained how you can participate by becoming a Citizen Scientist.  If you were intrigued and would like to join us, all you have to do is download an APP, be OBSERVANT, and use your smartphone CAMERA to shoot nature, UPLOAD your photo to the iNaturalist database, and get feedback on what you’ve seen. You’ll have your own personal index of observations to refer to again and again, right there in your phone.

The City Nature Challenge is a world-wide event involving more than 150 cities, with citizens competing to make the most wildlife observations in their own urban environments. Your observations will contribute to a worldwide database used by scientists and naturalists around the globe to help determine the kind and numbers of wildlife in our urban habitats around the world.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is a local sponsor and challenges Angelenos to get out their phones and shoot photographs, be it in your backyard, while walking the dog, or in a park – just make sure it’s in Los Angeles county. Last year the heated competition between Los Angeles and San Francisco resulted in SF recording more observations;  this year we’re determined LA will out-observe SF!

The steps to get involved are simple. You can do it on your own time, day or night. Best of all, your photos and the correct identifications will be stored on your phone, so you can go back to refresh your memory on what you saw, and impress your friends with your knowledge of all things natural.  Here’s how to do it:

1. Download the iNaturalist App from your App store, available for Apple and Android phones. Open it.

Download the iNaturalist app

2. Sign in, using your email address. This will allow you get feedback from other contributors should you want it.

3. Find wildlife. It can be any plant or critter in your yard, a park or on the way to work or school. No domestic animals (pets or humans.) Think birds, spiders, bees, lizards, trees, flowers, or that plant you’ve aways wondered the name of.

4. In the iNaturalist App, tap on the OBSERVE button and your camera will engage – snap the photo. Get as close as you can to the leaf, bloom or bug so it’s easier to identify, and make sure your image is in focus.


5. Shoot your photo. Then press NEXT when you have your shot. You can add another if you feel two angles or a wide shot and close up would help in identification.

6. Next, you’ll see the DETAILS page. Tap on “What did you see? View Suggestions.”

This will take you to the next page to show you what iNaturalist believes the genus of the plant/animal is, and will give you Top Ten suggestions on what it might be. The App’s algorithm is crunching data using your geo-location and the color and shape of the observation in your photograph.

If you tap on the small info button to the right of each suggestion, you can see more closely the details of what it may be and make your choice. Once you think you’ve found the correct identification, tap on it. It will show the time and location, and you can also choose whether the plant/animal is captive/cultivated or not.

7. Next, in Projects, choose “LA City Biodiversity Initiative” and then tap on SHARE. This will load your observation into the data collection, and share it with the iNaturalist community. If someone has a better identification for you you’ll see it show up in an email message, or in the App. Once two others have confirmed your ID you know it’s correct. (Of course, the initiative would love to record rare and different species, but they welcome any plants and animals you find.)

8. Finally, your new identification will be added to your personal list of observations under the ACTIVITY button. It will include your photo, location and when you saw it. It’s great to have these as a handy pocket guide to nature, which you’ve recorded yourself. (Note: you can also find your entries under the ME button.)



9. You can also tap on the EXPLORE button and see a map of what other people in your immediate area are recording as observations.


10. And under the MORE button you’ll find lots to explore, in Guides you can download and Projects you can join to see what others are up to.


The app will store your observations so you can refer to them.
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Julie Grist
Julie Grist
Julie co-founded the Larchmont Buzz with fellow buzzer Mary Hawley in 2011 and served as Editor, Publisher and writer for the hive for many years until the sale of the Buzz in August 2015. She is still circling the hive as an occasional writer.

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