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Top 10 Citizen Science Observations of 2021

By December 29, 2021December 30th, 2021No Comments

What’s happening in iNaturalist and what’s in it for you?

by David Cook, NANPA Conservation Committee Volunteer

In 2021 NANPA created regional collection projects in iNaturalist where members can load their observations of the natural world.  The projects are valuable resources for nature photographers; you can research the types of species found in a specific geographic area at a specific time of year, for example, to help you prepare for a photo trip.

NANPA’s Umbrella Project summarizes all of the regional collection projects, so we dove into the data to share an end-of-year snapshot with you. In 2021 the NANPA iNaturalist projects recorded 19,016 observations of 5,354 different species from 82 observers in 38 different states across the U.S.!

Screenshot from NANPA’s Umbrella Project Dashboard in iNaturalist

Top Ten Species

The top species observed were:

  1. Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
  2. Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)
  3. House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)
  4. American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
  5. Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
  6. Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens)
  7. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
  8. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
  9. Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
  10. Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis)

Top Ten Mammals

The top ten mammals observed were:

  1. Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)
  2. White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
  3. Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger)
  4. Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
  5. Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii)
  6. Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)
  7. Coyote (Canis latrans)
  8. Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
  9. California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi)
  10. Common Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

Threatened Species

NANPA members also recorded 605 observations of 233 species considered threatened, including:

  • Snowy Plover
  • Monterey Indian Paint Brush
  • Button’s Banana Slug
  • Tiger Salamander
  • American Alligator
  • Coast Redwood
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Yadon’s  Rein Orchid
  • Reddish Egret
  • Common Box Turtle

Why do nature photographers love iNaturalist?

I’ve already mentioned one way that iNaturalist can help nature photographers—enabling us to search a geographic area before we go out to photograph to get an idea what we might be able to capture at a particular time of year. But there are lots of other benefits, too.

iNaturalist helps us identify the subjects that we photograph. When you enter your image, iNaturalist’s artificial intelligence technology will suggest an identification for your subject. You can use that or insert your own text. Other users can then confirm or suggest alternative identification.

iNaturalist serves as a field journal, helping us accumulate a record of observations we’ve made, species we’ve photographed, and places we’ve been. Here’s a snapshot of my own 2021 Year In Review in iNaturalist:

I can even view my observations on a map. You can see below that most of my observations are near my home in Texas. If I want to go out and photograph a particular subject, I can zoom in and remember where and when I’ve spotted that species before:

But iNaturalist isn’t just for photographers. It also connects us with a community of scientists and researchers. As citizen scientists, we are often the eyes and ears in the field for researchers. Our images enable researchers to observe and monitor biodiversity, identify species characteristics and behavior, and track important changes over time. One of my images—of a crested caracara—was added to a US Federal Threatened and Endangered Species research project, a signal to me that the data was valuable to scientists and can possibly help influence policy related to issues that are important to me.

Observers are notified when their images are added to collection projects, one signal that the research data is valuable.

I can control what permissions I give when I upload my images, so I am confident I’m not giving up my rights to a photo that has significant publication or income potential. That’s not typically the type of photo I upload to iNaturalist anyway. There are better venues and ways to share those images.

Join us in iNaturalist in 2022

If you aren’t already active in iNaturalist, give it a try in 2022. Join the NANPA collection project in the region(s) where you photograph and start uploading your observations, especially if you’re active in a region without a lot of representation. I’m looking at you, friends in the Mid-Atlantic and New England areas!