City Nature Challenge 2024: The Maritimes/Atlantic Umbrella Project's Journal

April 25, 2024

Opportunity to post the first observations in the Atlantic provinces - up for the challenge?

I am hoping that fellow Maritimers will be out in full force once the clock strikes midnight tonight. Perhaps a few moths will be out waiting to be photographed or maybe you have a headlamp and can take a few photos of critters under a rock. or maybe you can record a few noisy animals in your area (not people!).

I am assume that Newfoundlanders are competitive and that they will be out between 12:00 and 12:29am Newfoundland time. They have an opportunity to post observations before any other iNatters in other parts of Canada are able to participate.

Last year three Newfoundland iNatters (@theshads @logybayer and @ibycter) were up late.
How many people in your CNC area will be the first or among the first few iNatters in the Maritime time zone?
How many will be out at the crack of dawn? This is a great time to record a few birds before you have your first coffee.

Best of luck everyone.

Keep an eye on the various umbrella projects - both New Zealand and Australia are in the 'race' in their part of the world:

By tomorrow morning the Americas will start posting:

Follow our local umbrella project and encourage friends, family, co-workers, strangers to get out and participate.

We have 4 days to show well within our region and wouldn't it be great to have an entry or two from the Atlantic provinces near the top of the Canadian leaderboard?

I'm ready - Are you?
Mary Kennedy, Dartmouth, NS (@mkkennedy)

Posted on April 25, 2024 03:27 PM by mkkennedy mkkennedy | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 12, 2024

The 2024 global promo video has been released!

On March 21st there was a journal post with links to past videos - the objective was to get people inspired and thinking about the upcoming City Nature Challenge while waiting for the release of the 2024 promo video.

No need to wait any longer - click this URL -

Below is the description of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) YouTube video.

TAKE PART in the CITY NATURE Challenge! Document NATURE Where People Live! April 26-29th
The City Nature Challenge is an international effort to document nature in cities, taking place from April 26 to April 29, 2024. The global event calls on current and aspiring community scientists, nature and science fans, and people of all ages and backgrounds to get outside and observe and submit pictures of wild plants, animals, and fungi during the Challenge dates in order to help scientists track real-time changes in our planet’s biodiversity and better understand wildlife conservation.

Posted on April 12, 2024 08:44 PM by mkkennedy mkkennedy | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 02, 2024

CNC Dawn Chorus and Sound Recording Guidelines.

During the CNC listen for the soloists in the dawn chorus. Can you separate out individuals from the entire symphony?

Practice your skills at recording individual birds – similar to focusing in on individual trees in a forest when taking photos.
Practice your sound recording skills and upload sounds of noisy squirrels, raccoons, and spring peepers!
Upload your recordings to iNaturalist.

Recording and reviewing sounds may be new to many iNatters. To assist in the process a few guidelines are suggested below.
Why the need for guidelines?

  • many people (observers) are discouraged from uploading audio, because audio-only observations are identified at a much slower rate than observations including photos.
  • many people (reviewers) are discouraged from identifying audio, because many observers don’t vet their audio as carefully as they do photos.

Let change these attitudes during the CNC by following a few guidelines!

Currently the iNat apps do allow sound recording but doesn’t permit editing a recording. Lots of extraneous species or other noise from people to aircraft may be included as background noise.
There are a number of options to deal with this issue.

  • When using the iNat app try to record/share as clean a recording as possible.
    a. There is an option to ‘retry’ – use it!
    b. There is an option to upload multiple recordings – don’t get carried away. Review and reorder recordings.

  • Use a method other than the iNat app to make the recording. Add a note to identify the method/app used. One needs to take care though as not all alternate methods record the required metadata (location, date, and time of the observation). You may need to add these manually.

Proposed Guidelines and Best Practices for Audio Observers

  • Avoid short clips. When possible, try to include multiple sets of a vocalization in a single audio clip. Try to avoid 5-second clips with only a single set.

    Often, audio clips are cut too short. People are impatient and instead of including a 30 second clip where the vocal of interest can be heard multiple times, they upload a 5 second clip where reviewers cannot fully wrap their head around the sound before the clip ends.

  • Include notes. Unless it is readily apparent (i.e., only one species can be heard in the audio file), include notes that indicate which vocalization is the one of interest. The best way to do this is to list the seconds in which the vocalization can be heard. Example ‘recording includes sounds of bubbling stream’ or ‘recording also includes sounds of a crow in the background – the subject of this observation is the cardinal that can be heard at the 15 second mark in the first recording’.
  • Add an ID. Even a general ID of “birds” or “frogs and toads” will get an observation identified faster than leaving it at Unknown. If you do use another machine learning approach and use its suggested name to back up your own ID, please be explicit about the process in your notes/descriptions. Example ‘Merlin app used to record song. Suggested name was black-capped chickadee.
  • Be wary of names suggested by other apps – use sound recognition apps as a tool and use suggested names to look for the species. The apps are often correct but sometimes misleading.

    Comment from one iNatter: ‘My Merlin app was going crazy suggesting lots of species in the area but the sound seemed to come all from one location. This led me to spotting a mockingbird that was singing its heart out – fun watching it sing and watching Merlin suggest other species. See’.

  • Do not add spectrogram images as a ‘photo’. Why? Spectrograms not only have the potential to confuse the iNat Computer Vision, but without some sort of standardized scale, they actually aren't that useful for human identifiers either. Spectrograms are different from photos because the scale of the x and y axes are independent; changing the scale of one doesn't necessitate changing the other.

    Comment from one iNatter who reviews a lot of bird audio for work. ‘I can easily identify my focal birds from a spectrogram at the scale I'm used to, but if you were to show me a spectrogram image that was on a different scale, I likely wouldn't be able to confirm.’

ADVANCED: Learn a new skill - Learn how to review/edit sound recordings
Many people know how to crop photos on their phone/computer, but people are less familiar with audio editing software. Unedited audio clips are harder to ID than unedited photos. One can zoom in on an uncropped photo, but reviewers are much more limited in their ability to normalize, amplify, etc. other iNatter’s audio observations and doing so requires more time.

One recommendation is to download Audacity - free, open-source software - the cropping and normalize tools are worth becoming familiar with.

  • Crop your audio clips. At the start and end of audio clips, there is often a lot of noise as you fumble with your phone to hit the right buttons. Crop these loud noises out to save the identifiers’ ears. This will also be important for when you normalize the audio.
  • Boost the volume. Adjust the level of each recording so that the loudest sound reaches -3 dB. ‘Normalize’ the volume for your recordings. If you can’t clearly hear the vocalization of interest in your audio clip, an identifier can’t either.

As a CNC activity consider listening to and helping review a few sound recordings. Encourage local iNatters to identify common species. Encourage local experts to assist and focus on identifying sound recordings associated with their favourite taxonomic group.

Many of the points above were extracted from discussions about audio recordings on the iNaturalist Forum. Thanks to @swampster and @cthawley for initial feedback on content for this article.
Please leave your suggestions and/or discuss issues encountered in the comment boxes below. Or participate in discussions on the iNaturalist forum!

Follow discussions on this iNat Forum topic:

Posted on April 02, 2024 03:05 PM by mkkennedy mkkennedy | 1 comment | Leave a comment

March 27, 2024

The 2024 Global CNC is huge – 500+ entries

The City Nature Challenge has grown and this year the global organizers have set up two umbrella projects to fit all of the cities!

Why: There are over 500 cities taking part in 2024. Each iNaturalist umbrella project can only host 500 projects and unfortunately iNaturalist cannot increase the number of city projects able to be hosted under a single umbrella project. Basically: the CNC2024 project ran out of space! All individual city projects are now being organized under two umbrella projects covering two geographical regions by continent.

Don’t be left out - join in the 2024 City Nature Challenge! Between April 26-29 record observations of wild plants and animals.

Take part in one of the largest community science events in the world!

Posted on March 27, 2024 12:42 PM by mkkennedy mkkennedy | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 26, 2024

EXPLORE iNat content before the CNC and try your hand at using the IDENTIFY tool

For many iNatters in the Atlantic Provinces 2024 will not be their first year participating in the City Nature Challenge. In fact, this is the 6th year that HRM has been registered!

In preparation for the upcoming event, it would be useful to browse observations posted from past events. Were most of the observations identified by the community?

A quick review shows that only 45-59% of the observations uploaded in the past have made it to Research Grade level.
2023: 15642 56.7%
2022:11,769 52.04%
2021: 11,722 59.29%
2020:10,518 45.7%
2019:7,645 48.07% (HRM only)
Why is this number so low? Is it possible to go back and review content and increase the percentage? (before the next CNC starts on April 26)

Could notes be compiled as to why content could not be identified with the hope that these points could be addressed before the next CNC? Example:

  • features required to facilitate ID not provided
  • observations were of taxa that require more than a photo to assign species name
  • photos/sound recordings were of poor quality
  • observations were of captive animals/pets or of cultivated plants

If you are looking for a pre-CNC activity look no further – help change the past RG stats before the 2024CNC starts! Practice using the iNat Identify feature. Remember that one can assist with the ID process by simply adding a high rank name or by adding an attribute – this may bring observations to the attention of taxonomic experts who can suggest names. You don't need to be an expert to help review iNat observations.

Create a personal list of goals. Challenge others!

  • Watch the iNat Help tutorial
  • Add broad IDs to 5 unknowns
  • ID a common, easy species
  • ID an observation from your province
  • ID your provincial wildflower
  • Add an annotation – dead|footprint|scat|egg
  • Mark a plant captive
  • ID an observation made on your birthday
  • ID an observation from a previous City Nature Challenge or local event
  • Refine an observation that is currently at Kingdom level
  • ID a bird or mammal
  • Add an ID to a plant
  • Add an observation to a project (perhaps add an attribute that will automatically add obs to project. Example evidence=feathers)
  • Mark an animal captive
  • Add an annotation to a plant that is in bud, or flowering
  • ID an observation from another country (or province in Canada)
  • ID an observation at least 1 year old

Plan to help review observations uploaded to iNaturalist during the 2024 CNC. Observations may be identified up until Sunday, May 5th. Global stats will be announced May 6th. Observations may be reviewed and identification improved after that date but the CNC results won’t change.

NOTE: Don't add IDs just for the sake of increasing your Identification stats AND if an observation has already been identified down to a specific rank but you don't know that taxon don't suggest a higher taxonomic level - skip to the next observation and keep skipping until you find one to which you can add value. Use common sense.

Posted on March 26, 2024 03:33 PM by mkkennedy mkkennedy | 1 comment | Leave a comment

March 25, 2024

Wildlife may be all around us but none are posing for a photo...

Can’t find any wildlife that will pose for photos for the City Nature Challenge? Consider looking for signs that they were around.

Normally when one thinks about sharing observations of wildlife with iNaturalist one thinks of uploading photos or sound recordings. There is another option – this is to photograph ‘evidence’ that critters were present at a given location sometime in the past. Perhaps better to see bear scat than the bear itself!

During the 2024 CNC add a new activity to your to do list. When out exploring look for scat (aka poop), and footprints.

Many species are elusive… and these observations will provide evidence that an animal was present in the area just not at the time that you were exploring. (NOTE: you could also include evidence and photos of the critter in one observation)

Below are a few basic guidelines for sharing these types of observations.

  • Add a few words in the observation notes or description box to indicate ‘tracks’ or ‘footprints’ or ‘scat’.
  • If possible, add annotation ‘evidence of presence’. Adding this information will get attention from thematic experts…
  • Take a photo showing the gait overall, then some closeups of individual tracks/footprints. Take those from straight above the track and include an object for scale. It can be a ruler or a coin or other object of known size. (The same goes for scat. Taking a photo with a scale helps later when identifying it.)
  • When posting footprints remember to include a second photo highlighting the track (series of footprints. Was the animal walking, trotting, loping or bounding? Learn a few terms related to gait.
  • Before heading out watch the beginner video and learn your ABCs to tracking! Because this presentation was created by Jonah Evans (@jonahevans) for an audience in Texas a few of the species mentioned will not be found in our region but the examples/comments are relevant. (Not too many feral hogs in the Atlantic Provinces!)
  • Practice…. Many tracks found along frequently used walking trails will likely be of dogs. These footprints come in all sizes! Practice your tracking skills by examining these footprints – learn the various features of a track. Keep an eye open for coyote tracks!

Hints for special conditions: Snow can be difficult to take photos in because cameras had white balance settings that are usually automatic. Some cameras have a setting for snow. With some cameras, the images just look very blue. Winter is a great time to document tracks. Get to know the settings in your camera - change the white balance to "auto" or "snow" (sometimes it says "beach/sand/snow" or something similar. (Hopefully by the time that the CNC takes place snow will have disappeared, but the info above may be useful for other times of the year.)

Thanks to Kim Cabrera (@beartracker) for assistance gathering info for this article.

Posted on March 25, 2024 06:57 PM by mkkennedy mkkennedy | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 23, 2024

Put a stamp on the City Nature Challenge!

During the 2024 City Nature Challenge learn to combine activities and skills. This year consider learning a bit about postage stamps. Maybe start a stamp collection! Perhaps there is or was a philatelist in your family? Maybe there is a box of stamps buried in a closet that could be retrieved and dusted off? Linking stamp collecting to other pastimes and pursuits can be both fun and rewarding.

To get started test your knowledge about postage stamps.

Did you know that a national Stamp Advisory Committee guides Canada Post in selecting stamp subjects and designs?

Are you aware that many species have been highlighted by Canada Post on stamps over the years? Browse an iNat project highlighting a list of species depicted on Canadian postage stamps

Did you know that in the 1970s there was a series of stamps featuring provincial flowers? How many of these provincial symbols (species) will be found, photographed, and uploaded to iNat during the CNC? Do you know what your provincial flower is?

Did you know that from 2016 to 2018, Canada Post featured Provincial birds on stamp? Don't know what your provincial bird is? Read this quick guide from The Canadian Homeschooler!

Did you know that each year since 2007 Canada Post has released a spring flower stamp?

Did you know that in the past Canada Post released a series of birds of Canada stamps? How many of these species can you observe in your part of the country? If you are using a cell phone as your camera it may be difficult to photograph birds – consider recording their songs and calls using the iNat app.

Did you know that in 2018 bee stamps were created to pay tribute to native pollinators? How many pollinators can you find in your neighbourhood? What plants are they visiting? How many observations can you record and upload to iNaturalist?

Did you know that since 1981 the Canadian Museum of History has housed a Canadian Stamp Collection which features every postage stamp ever issued in Canada — including stamps issued before Confederation in 1867!

How many stamps can you find that feature plants and animals that you can find and photograph in your part of the country?

Have fun learning about postage stamps and of course, happy iNatting!

Images of postage stamps used in this post were downloaded from Canada Post.

Posted on March 23, 2024 07:10 PM by mkkennedy mkkennedy | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 21, 2024

Watch global promo videos and get inspired!

Each year the organizers of the global City Nature Challenge create new promo material. While waiting for the release of the 2024 video perhaps watch ones from previous years – they are short.

Keep your eyes open for photos of Canadian participants and Canadian species. During this year’s event share a few photos of your activities with local organizers. Perhaps they will appear in next year’s video!

Year (length)
2023 (4:46)
2022 (1:20)
2021 (1:49)
2020 (1:40)
2019 (1:33)

As of April 12th the 2024 video is available.

Posted on March 21, 2024 07:43 PM by mkkennedy mkkennedy | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 13, 2024

Hang out online with other iNatters

If you are looking for events you can participate in with others while improving the iNat data at the same time, look no further - The iNaturalist Discord community regularly holds this sort of event. For example, last March, and once again this year, they are holding an "IDs of March" event during which making and improving IDs is the focus. This event runs alongside a more conventional bioblitz from March 15-25.

If that sounds like something you might enjoy, you can join with this invite link to check them out:

Posted on March 13, 2024 09:35 PM by mkkennedy mkkennedy | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 11, 2024

NEW: iNaturalist tutorial for City Nature Challenge participants

The global CNC organizers have released a new 'how-to video' for 2024. @joanseptembre (organizer from Abbotsford, BC, Canada) edited the iNaturalist training for organizers down to a useful iNaturalist training for CNC participants.

Subjects and time stamp in the video are as follows:

  • uploading observations from an iPhone (0:00)
  • uploading observations from an android (9:30)
  • uploading observations on the website (16:00)
  • information on obscured/vulnerable observations (22:45)
  • how to use the identify feature to ID observations (25:00)

If you still wish to refresh your skills watch the basic iNat help videos.

Posted on March 11, 2024 12:32 AM by mkkennedy mkkennedy | 0 comments | Leave a comment