Wednesday, January 16, 2019

City Nature Challenge DC 2019!

     "Citizen Science" is scientific research and data gathering that is conducted or assisted using public participation, often amateurs and nonprofessionals. Such public interest and wishing to contribute to science is a growing trend, providing many chances to tap into volunteers and collect data. All these extra eyes and ears (and photos) the public can provide can greatly expand how much certain forms of data can be collected. This is what citizen science is all about, with regular people providing useful data, but it also can provide great opportunities for education and public events.    
     Bioblitzes are probably the best known natural history citizen science events. These are typically periods of biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area. Groups of scientists, naturalists and public volunteers conduct intensive field study over a continuous time period (usually 24 hours) and record what they find. A Bioblitz provides a snap shot in time. While it is certainly not a complete record of what lives in the location, if you take enough snap shots over different times and seasons, you can get a good picture of what is going on there. 

     The free iNaturalist app is now more-or-less the standard way for bioblitzes and other citizen science projects to record natural history observations. The beauty of the app is that with a simple uploaded photo, crowd sourcing can then help identify the organism and the observation is recorded so that worldwide any researchers can data mine the info they need. You never know what piece of data you could be providing some researcher somewhere in the world. Here’s a link to various tutorials on how to use the free app:
     You don't even need to know what you're reporting (though the iNaturalist app has a neat suggested identification feature to provide likely ID possibilities as well). Thanks to crowd sourcing, other, perhaps more knowledgeable, people can provide their ID skills. The suggested ID feature also means that you can basically have a virtual field guide of sorts to use, though it is much better at some taxa than others. The iNaturalist platform can also help users setup different projects to provide ongoing check lists and biotic inventories of parks and other surveyed locations, large and small.  For a great summary of iNaturalist and its use in a bioblitz, setting, please check out this article and video by Steve Baragona of "Voice of America" which features a bioblitz we ran:

     The City Nature Challenge is another citizen science event, a friendly global citizen science competition to see which city can have the most people observe the most species of wildlife and plants and record them over a 4-day span of time. Last year 68 cities world-wide competed with many more planning to participate this year from April 26-29. These cities tallied 441,888 observations by 17,329 people. Think of it as a 4 day bioblitz in multiple cities across the globe which is planned to be repeated yearly.
     The next big opportunity, and it is repeated yearly, is the global City Nature Challenge April 26-29, 2019. So mark your calendars and give it a shot, either personally, as part of one of the many planned events, or perhaps to run an event yourself. More information can be found here: though there are many cities with their own individual websites as (here’s the Washington, DC one I’m taking part in again for example:
     The DC Metro Area did very well indeed in this global event last year, hosting over 40 events. Its 22,809 observations was 5th place overall among all participating cities, behind San Francisco who originally started the competition 3 years ago (41,737 observations), Dallas/Fort Worth (34,218 observations), San Diego (33,448 observations), and Klang Valley/Greater Kuala Lumpur (25,287 observations). Just behind DC were Houston and then New York. Interesting to note was last place Palmer Station, which is perfectly understandable given its in Antarctica (!) with only 3 people posting 36 observations of 27 species. Just ahead of them was Buenos Aires (170 observations of 96 species by 18 people) and San Salvador (220 observations of 52 species using only 6 people). Worldwide, 124 new species were added the iNaturalist data base that had been present before, with Hong Kong providing 57 of them.

     As far as participation, the DC region again did wonderfully! It came in 4th place overall with 876 participants who recorded observations. This was behind San Francisco (1,532 observers), San Diego County (1,211 observers), and Boston (992 observers), while being ahead of Los Angeles, one of the original cities starting the competition with San Francisco, with 855 observers. With over 40 planned organized events, these group events really paid off.
     The DC Metro area also did remarkably well with its species counts, considering some of the tropical places have so much more potential biodiversity. The DC region came in 8th overall with 1,855 species observed.
     So join the fun this year! There are over 100 cities currently planning to participate during the April 26-29, 2019 Challenge. So save the dates as there will be many chances to participate, either on your own or with one of the myriad of events planned.  Learn more at
     Arlington events include a Barcroft Park Mini BioBlitz on Friday April 26 10am-1pm. More event info and to register, contact or call 703-228-7742. And a City Nature Challenge at Gulf Branch nature Center Saturday April 27, from 10am-11:30am, for more info call 703-228-3403. 
     There will be several other events that the Capital Naturalist will be involved with, including a repeat of the fun trip I will lead to Thompson Wildlife Management Area in Linden, VA on Saturday, April 27 featuring the wonderful botanical discoveries and so much more that location has to offer. More to come on that later.
     On a personal note, the Capital Naturalist was proud to be a City Nature Challenge partner (and to be one again this year!) and to have led multiple events in the DC Metro Area. I’m even prouder to have had a good showing overall, with my 533 observations putting me in 5th place on the DC area leaderboard overall, and my 282 species identified placing me in first place in that category for the region. Better yet, it allowed me ample time outdoors with like-minded people making nature discoveries. What's not to like about that? So here's to the City Nature Challenge again this year, hoping to make even more observations, conducting some citizen science and showing the great diversity of the DC region! So save the dates (April 26-29) and plan on participating! if everyone makes just a few observations, we will surely win this friendly global competition, while having fun, contributing to citizen science, making some wonderful discoveries along the way, and showing the that the DC area has great diversity and interest in citizen science!


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