ID's... ID'ing... An hour on iNat is an hour well spent. :)

“It is hoped that the student will regard the identification of a bird as but the first introduction which will lead to a growing intimacy. There is a keener pleasure as well as greater scientific value in knowing a few birds well than in habitually striving for long lists and seeking rarities and doubtful records.”
From Wyman & Burnell (1925) introduction in "Field Book of Birds of the Southwestern United States"

This was posted on Facebook by John Karges @johnkarges a while back, and I must admit, it has me thinking a lot about iNaturalist. I’ve been chewing on that quote for a bit…

Ever since I was introduced to iNat about 4 years ago (thanks to Derek Broman @dbroman and Cullen Hanks @cullen ), my eyes have been opened more to local biodiversity than ever before. For the past few years, every day I’ve gone out to make some iNat observations (inspired by James Maughn @jmaughn ). I get great pleasure from this – I’m daily reminded of the things that we share this planet with – the critters and plants that are just waiting to be appreciated.

I also get great joy when I see something new! "Travel is taxonomically broadening" (something I regularly quote from Chuck Sexton @gcwarbler ), and when I go off to a new place, I see LOTS of new things. My ‘life list’ grows and grows with each trip, even if the trip is like an hour drive away. What joy I get from this – seeing that new bug that I’d never seen before! After posting it on iNat and learning its name (usually with great guidance from the ID’ing community), it’s like I’ve gained a new friend – silly, I know. If I’m lucky to see the same critter again, I greet it with a “hey! I remember you!” (even though I may not always remember its name right away…)

Another thing that provides me with tremendous joy is identifying observations for others. Sure, I probably do this a bit more than I should (ask my wife!), and my ID’s may not be adding much (yes, I do agree with a northern cardinal that already has 10 agrees!), but I’ve also found something out by doing this. People like it when you give them guidance to an ID. I’ve interacted with these folks in ‘real life,’ and they do enjoy it when you ID or agree with an ID. It welcomes the observer and shows him/her that we saw what they posted. We appreciate that they documented that organism, and we validate what they spent time to upload by giving it an ID. Overkill, perhaps, but as I get to meet the observer in real life, he/she appreciates it.

As I ID things for others, I get not just joy, but I feel more knowledgeable about the flora and fauna. I am the first to admit that I’ve been wrong thousands of times… There are many ID’s that I’ve given that are dreadfully WAY off. It’s ok to be wrong. As I add more and more ID’s, I become more comfortable with the names of the plants and animals in a place. This is a cool feeling.

An hour spent ID’ing on iNat is time well spent – I really believe this. I encourage everyone to spend some time looking through what others see, giving guidance on ID’s, even agreeing with agreed upon ID’s! A lot of folks already do this -- they devote lots of time to this, and I'm extremely grateful for their time on my observations as well as the others on iNat.

How do you do ID’s? I like to filter the identify screen – I usually focus on TX stuff, although I want to spend more time on the surrounding states. I search for verifiable observations (I un-click the ‘needs ID’) from TX:

I’ve got a few field guides next to the desk, the Flora of North Central TX is always nearby, and I use bugguide advanced search a lot:

The species guides for specific regions on iNaturalist are getting better and better. For instance, the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) in DFW is pretty extensive:

Using those filters on the observation screen narrows down the search a bit.

With each and every observation and documentation, iNaturalist becomes more and more useful. As most people realize, I’m quite bonkers about this tool – and it feels good to use it. :)

Would love to hear how you spend time on iNat too. Hopefully you enjoy it and feel like it is a worthy use of time as I do.

Posted on 12 August, 2017 03:02 by sambiology sambiology


Thank you for your notes above. I am new to INaturalist and am really enjoying it. Your notes are very helpful!

Posted by ethykul almost 7 years ago

LOVED your comments. Many times, I have been hesitant to hit the "agree" button when I knew the ID of an observation (remember, I am an amateur), but hesitated if there were already three or more affirmations. My motto now: Heck, being #20 can't be too bad...
ID'ing species for others has become a fun activity and an even greater personal learning opportunity. Much more rewarding than entering a couple of my own awful photos and hoping someone might supply an instant ID.

Thanks to you and other iNat (way too numerous to name individually) identifiers, I have greatly increased my knowledge and enjoyment of nature since my initial iNat observations. You all have added to my amateur ability to make identifications for others ...
Sam, you are the epitome of a Texas TPWD employee / iNaturalist addict..... Please stay here with with us in Texas. We need you!

Posted by connlindajo almost 7 years ago

Sam, I love that you take the time to pop in on something on my posts that may need an ID or the extra info' that you provide as well. I am still learning. I also like the info' you posted from this journal feed. I love the input people have given me. I have been placing it in a file. This way I can look at it when I am trying to figure something out. I am terrible at remembering names of the different species I come across. I know I have seen them lots of times before. It drives me crazy I can't remember them. I may drive people crazy getting it wrong, but I keep trying. I love iNaturalist. I love seeing the different things that come across my computer screen that people have seen. I get so excited when I find something I have never seen before and am eager to get it uploaded on iNat; to find out what it could be. I also have to apologize to some. I have looked at the stuff people have ID on my posts. I try to research them to agree or disagree but then I forgot to go back to them and they did not come up again. A Month went by and I was going through my list and found I have not replied to a few, to agree or disagree. People have been kind enough to help me and I for got to go back to them. I am very thankful to you and everyone who have been kind in helping me with my findings. I am learning something new everyday.

Posted by walkingstick2 almost 7 years ago

Sam, I was trying to find the original source for the long-standing quip that "Travel is broadening", which I've shamelessly appropriated. I'm not sure I've found that origin, but I did find this interesting website which offers a lot of related--and inspiring--thoughts on the topic:
In particular, I liked #39 from Anatole France which seems quite relevant to iNatting!

Posted by gcwarbler almost 7 years ago

Sam, I've just come back from our regular morning walk to open the gate. It was already hot, hot when we took off, but I NEVER leave my camera behind when I go out the door. I never know what I may see along the way, and I've been walking along this way for a very long time. In 1963, I made my first exploration of this patch of wild Texas land. My aunt would encourage us children to take off for the pasture, creek or lake and see what we could find. I never knew the names of those finds, but I remembered what they looked like.
Fast forward a half century - now I can at least put some names to those exquisite creatures that inhabit my land. That ability is due to you in a great deal. Your encouragement and excitement about nature spurs me on. I make sloppy mistakes in my id's, but no one points that out, they just gently correct and we move on.
I especially love it when someone in another part of the world makes an id for me or leaves a comment. I can almost hear "What a Wonderful World" playing in the background.

Thank you for this very meaningful post.

Posted by itmndeborah almost 7 years ago

Sam, I'm always grateful for the guidance from you and so many others (European birders and snail lady come to mind). And I LOVE to see a red conversation bubble (or whatever it's called) indicating someone has noted something in my observations/records. It has completely changed my concept of "seeing red." ;-)

I had not used the phone app before a recent trip and it has changed my life. A recent trip almost doubled our observations. And writing about our travels (whether walking the dog or something more exotic) has been made so much easier. The long slog to id (or leave it out) has dramatically changed.

We also have discovered that we see with different eyes. The world is more alive to us. We notice.

AND I KNOW there is more to learn.

Hoarders that we are, we have a goodly number of guides of all types. They do tell our story - 9th grade insect collections - inheritance of parents' bird and wildflower books - and, recently, a forgotten gift . But the people are essential. The curators, biologists, and fellow amateurs here are wonderful, patient, and gentle with guidance.

Okay - I'm rambling. Whatever...

ID away, Sam! It is always good to hear from you and hear your ideas. I'm still hoping we can participate in one of the bio-blitz opportunities, but in cooler weather.

Posted by alflinn329 almost 7 years ago

Great quotes! One thing that I've been really struggling with lately is balancing my enjoyment for taking thousands of pics with trying to ID thousands of my uploads. I get frustrated when someone helps me with an ID and I find out I've already seen it before. I want to find a way to get beyond the "first introduction" and into knowing the uniqueness of what I've seen. Even though I enjoy seeing new things (a LOT!) I also enjoy observing behaviors and really taking time to appreciate the one particular species in front of me.

Posted by kimberlietx almost 7 years ago

Not as succinct as your quote Chuck, but Twain said it well:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

Mark Twain in Innocents Abroad

Or, if you prefer:

"Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up." - Ernest Hemingway


Posted by billdodd almost 7 years ago

Hello dear Sam -- I agree 100% with everything you said, in fact I feel as if you took the very words right out of my mouth! :)

I do own some field guides (not that many, although of course I have heaps of them for mollusks!) but I also rely on Google searches quite a bit when I am stumped -- I put in a succinct description and see what Google images pulls up, and then go page-hopping from there.

If I think I have a species correctly IDed, but I am still not sure, I will "ping" the person who is listed on the taxon page as having done the most IDs of that species, and often they will confirm or correct my ID. I try not to overuse that though, because I don't want to be tiresome. However, I do know several extremely helpful people on here who don't mind it if I ping them on the group that they specialize in.

I usually just work from my feed -- my dashboard -- and see what that presents me with. For example, when I see someone has posted a photo of a nice shell or sea snail, I also look at their observations page to see if it was part of a series of coastal observations that I may want to look at.

With the "Biodiversity of Randall's Island!" project (a park in my area NYC that I am currently very deeply into) I try to look at anything and everything that is posted there, and try to add IDs, or agree with IDs, wherever that is possible. I also round up stray observations that belong there. Trying to contribute as much as possible to that project in every way over the last few months is gradually making me into a pretty decent all-round naturalist:

The more you use iNaturalist, the more you learn -- it is a fabulous learning tool, even if that is not what you are primarily using it for.

I know very few naturalists in NYC. There are quite a lot of birders, but not too many other naturalists, and there are fewer still all-round naturalists right here in Manhattan, which is mostly intensely urban. However, with iNaturalist I my pocket I am part of a great big worldwide community of naturalists, and it is wonderful for me.

And the professional biologists who have an active presence on here are most of them really terrific -- they treat us Citizen Scientists with a lot of respect.

I am so thrilled to be living in an era where Citizen Science has finally become so valued!

Posted by susanhewitt almost 7 years ago

Thanks for writing this. ID's from people are so very helpful and instrumental in helping us grow and learn (especially us newbies). Keep up the good work, Sam, and same to all you other wonderful people.

I'm 100% borrowing the "Travel is taxonomically broadening" quote. Conversely, it reminds me of something @dare2bloom shared recently, which is that "the flowers are your friends." You travel somewhere, and invariably run into something familiar. It's comforting.

Posted by amzapp almost 7 years ago

Thank you, sam. You have helped me learn and grow in nature wisdom.

Posted by dantheman135 almost 7 years ago

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