City Nature Challenge 2019: Cape Town's Journal

Journal archives for February 2019

14 February, 2019

Cape Town City Nature Challenge 2019: FAQ

Frequently asked questions:

Q? Do planted/captive organisms (excluding dogs and cats) count?
• Yes, all living organisms count. But the focus is on wild and natural organisms. Please mark any observations that you definitely know are planted or captive as such. Note that aliens and weeds are wild!

Q? What happens if my plant/goggo cannot be identified?
• Observations that cannot be identified to species level wont add to the species tally, but will still count to the number of observations score. It is important though to take several pictures of different features from different angles, with some closeups. This will help get precise identifications.
• We hope to get experts in many groups to help us with identifications. So with luck most of your observations will be identified to species level.

Q? I hope to do a 20Nm day birding trip to sea (weather permitting). Will the data be included within the City?
• Strictly we are using a 2Nm buffer to the city, but we have requested permission to include any Pelagic trips targeting marine birds, fish and mammals during the City Nature Challenge.
On land though, we will only include the city limits: note that Steenbras Dam, Helderberg and Dassenberg are included in the City, as is Cape Point and Table Mountain.

Q? Do the insects in my garden count to the totals?
• Most definitely. As do the plants and other animals that they are feeding on or associated with.
So do animals and fungi in your house: the ants, moths and other visitors also count. Please record them all. If you know that your garden or street trees are planted, please mark them as such.

Q? Do I have to register to participate, or is joining iNaturalist enough?
• All you have to do is join iNaturalist and make observations during the four days of the City Nature Challenge (26-29 April 2019) within the City of Cape Town limits - from Bokbaai to Kogelbaai and from Cape Point to Helderberg and Atlantis, and upload them on or before the 5th of May 2019.
• Some groups have special projects we are requesting them to use. So Scouts will add their Scouting project, CREW volunteers will add the Habitat project, and so forth. if you would like to add your own tags or notes you are most welcome.
• At the same time as contributing to the City Nature Challenge, observations will also automatically be contributing to the Nature Reserve, Greenbelt, and other places, checklists and projects. The iNaturalist website will handle that all automatically. All you have to do is photograph and upload with the iNaturalist app.

Q? What happens if the weather turns ugly and we cannot get out on those days?
• There are four days (26-29 April 2019). We will just have to try harder on the best days. In the very worst case scenario of four days of major Easter cold front storms with torrential rain, we will make up for it in 2020.

Q? Why are we having it in autumn, instead of spring when things are happening?
• A very good question. Some say we should organize our own southern hemisphere City Nature Challenge in our austral spring, rather than during the northern spring. Still we have enough biodiversity to match any northern city in spring during our autumn. Let us prove it. Doing it during our spring will just be far too easy.

Q? Who will identify my observations?
• We will have teams to help make identifications after the data collection period of the City Nature Challenge. So your observations will be identified over the next few days from 30 April until 5 May 2019.
• However, it will help if your observation contains good closeups of features, such as heads, legs, wings, and bodies of animals, and flowers, bracts, leaves and stems of plants, and views of the gills or undersides of fungi. Several pictures of different parts from different angles will help considerably with making an accurate identification.
• If you can help with identification, it will be appreciated. We need both experts who know all the local species in a group, as well as those who can help to put observations into families or genera. Please contact your nearest CREW or Botanical Society group to help us. Identifiers can be from all around the world, so please rope in your relatives overseas if they can help!

Q? By when must observations made during the 4 days be uploaded?
• After the four days ((26-29 April 2019)) are up there are a few days grace (until 6 May) to upload. However, we do need to identify the organisms, so as soon as is possible please - aim for the 4th May at the latest..

Q? I would like to photograph small things! How do I get good photographs?
• It helps to zoom in. Enlarge the image on your screen before taking the photograph. If you desire, you can use a magnifying glass in front of your smartphone lens.

• One can also buy magnifying accessories at many smartphone stores, that clip onto your phone and can make minute ants look huge. if you can get hold of one and focus on our really small life, it would be really cool!

Q? How can I track progress during the challenge to see how many observations and species and participants there are?
• Visit this project, or bookmark this link: It will continuously update as the challenge progresses.
Check out the competition here: - this is continuously updated, so you can monitor progress. Remember that we are near GMT, so almost half the world is ahead of us (starting with New Zealand 10 hours ahead) and half behind (ending with Hawaii 14 hours behind).

Q? How do I find out where a species has been recorded in the city?
• On the iNaturalist web page, choose "Explore", and add in the organism name (you can use common names) and the place (City of Cape Town) and you can look at the map, observations, species (if you have chosen a genus or family), and the observers and identifiers in the area. For instance:
King Protea:
Sparrows: (click on the species tab to see the species recorded)

Q? How do I find a checkist for a nature reserve or other place?
• On the iNaturalist web page, choose More, select places, and enter the name of the place you are interested in. On the page, choose the checklist option below the filters on the left. You can narrow down the checklist to any group, family or genus that your are interested in. For instance:
Helderberg Nature Reserve:
Constantia Green Belt:
Data for more places:
Blaauwberg, Bothasig Fynbos, Botterblom, Bracken, Durbanville, Driftsands, Edith Stephens, False Bay (Rondevlei), Harmony Flats, Helderberg, Kenilworth Race Course, Steenbras, Table Bay (Rietvlei), Table Mountain, Tygerberg, Uitkamp, Witsands, Wolfgat, Zandvlei
Constantia Green Belts, Jack Miller Danie Uys Park, Meadowridge Common, Rondebosch Common
Ardern Arboretum, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Tokai Arboretum
Strandfontein Sewer Works

Q? I am stuck at home and cannot get to the activities. What can I do?
• Your garden is a perfect biodiversity enclave. Record the visitors: bees, flies, butterflies, birds. Also your pests: aphids, millipedes, snails and caterpillars. Why not look for chameleons and lizards as well? And dont forget to include your garden plants, especially if they interact with pollinators, or fruit dispersing birds or are a food source for other wildlife. Even your pot plants: just mark them as 'planted'.

Q? Can several people take pictures of the same plant? Will it be useful if they did, or rather a waste of time? I guess it would add to the total observations but not to the total species observed.
• It is better if they dont. Why should they? There are lots of plants. Rather send the team or bioblitzers to find other plants.

Of course it will happen that several observers may photograph the same species on your excursion. If they are more than a few hundred metres away then the distribution information is useful. If they are less, then it is still useful information. But please discourage an entire class photographing the same bush.
Inevitably it will happen that a really special plant/goggo/bird/etc. is found. And everyone wants to record it to add to their life list. These things happen, and should not be discouraged. Not only will everyone want to photograph it, but some will want to come back and photograph it again. That is also OK, as it contributes to the phenology data - growth, flowering, fruiting, even flowering times during the day (or night): they data are always useful.

Q? If I photograph a plant and then see another of the same species nearby, should I photograph it? How far away should these be to qualify as different observations? (1m, or 5m, or 20m,..?)
• If you are going to photograph each species every 1m, then after 5 hours you will have crawled 50m and be exhausted. A rule of thumb is to think population-wise: try and get every population. So for some trees it will be 5km away. For some rare post-fire herbs, every 50m should be adequate. If it is rare, record every clump. if it is common, select a few places along your route.
it also depends on the projects. For Western Leopard Toads photograph each toad, showing its "finger print" markings on the back. For European Starlings, one photo per flock per week is almost too much.

Q? If I photograph a plant non-indigenous to our area (ie planted), how should this be labelled? A thumbs-down to "Organism is wild"?
• Yes, this is the correct thing to do. On the app, just click not wild. Note that if it is a special plant and you want confirmation of the ID, it might be wise to hold back marking it as planted until you get confirmation of the ID, because observations marked "not wild" go out of the "Needs ID" queue. For the CNC, this does not matter as one ID is enough for our purposes.
• Dont confuse "not wild" with "not indigenous": lots of alien and near-alien species are very wild! Not wild is for those plants that you know were planted, and those animals still captive.

Q? Identification - I assume this is needed to species level - genus level is not enough? What about common names - are they good enough?
• Identification. We have been caught napping. Our southern African common names are not yet on iNaturalist (we are waiting for the community to be installed before doing this). Otherwise the common name would give you the scientific name automatically (unless there were complications - like several species with the same name).

• For purposes of posting the ID, dont worry. Just add the name that you know (common, vernacular, scientific, pet name). The identification teams will mop up afterwards. Get the observation in the bag, and dont worry about identification during the four days of the challenge.

Q? How many "agree"s are needed for identification?
• Two agreements are needed for "research grade". But for the purposes of the City Nature Challenge, a single identification will suffice. But it wont suffice for us in Cape Town. We will endeavour to get two agreements for our critical observations - where a critical observation is one that gives us a name towards our species total. We dont want wrong Identifications. Some will undoubtedly occur, but we want to catch them as soon as possible. So the short answer is only one ID is needed for the CNC, but two are needed for Cape Town's contributions.

Q? Who determines whether the plant is correctly identified?
• We do. You and I and everyone else. If you see an incorrectly named observation, provide a correct ID. Even if you dont know what it is, if you know that it isnt that, then make an ID to a higher level.
An example. Someone posts an ant and uses the Image Recognition System to make an ID. All our southern African ants will be misidentified by this as North American species. If you notice this, just ID it as "Ant" (iNat will make it Formicidae - Ants: so don't worry about the vloekname), and choose, "I don't know, but it is definitely not North American Ant". The Ant team will then mop these up. If we don't have time during the challenge, we will work through them more leisurely afterwards.

Q? Will you be creating a "place" called Greater Cape Town or something like that for all the observations? Then we can look at that place only for the identification stage.
• That is already done.

The place is - - but that is not really useful, unless you add a time filter for the Challenge
The project is - - and that only shows challenge data, so is ideal. Not only that, but it gives the exact current total for the observations, species and observers.
• And during the identification parties we will be using the Curatorial Tool "Identify", filtered by the project: like so (it is empty now): - merely choose your group (e.g. Ericaceae) and open the tool by clicking on the first card.
We will have both courses and identification parties for those interested. But yes, there is no reason why one cannot work independently at home or coffee shop or with a friend.

Q? If I photograph, say, a Restio that I am not sure about - is it a good idea to take an educated guess as to the species, and which someone can correct if necessary, or to leave the identification as Restio?
• Firstly, in the field, leave it out. Leave identifications until after all your observations are loaded. Unless you are sure and it does not take much time.
• During the identification period: If in doubt leave it out. It depends how much you are not sure, and how many other choices there are. If you are not certain which Restio it is, but it might be gaudichaudiana, then perhaps just ID as "Restio". But if it is either gaudichaudiana or simples, then make the ID and in the comments say - "or possibly simplex".

• Note that anyone can help. We will need people to ID plants to families or genera to help the expert teams make species-level IDs.

Q? Are there any arrangements being made for the identification stage or are we each just going to do what we can when we have time?
• You are welcome to work on your own. But we will be having ID parties. Courses and details will be made available closer to the time.

Q? When getting the total score for each city, what weight is given to the three criteria: number of species, number of observations, number of observers? Surely the number of species should count much more than the others if they want to find the most biodiverse city?
• The challenge is much more than that. There are three separate criteria, and they are not merged. The winning city is for each category, and if a particular city wins more than one of these, then it is the overall winner.
• There are also other criteria reported on, but not on the challenge per se. These are the proportion and number of observations identified, and identified to species. And obvious additional criterion could be the number of identifiers, but these tend to be worldwide and not specific to the City involved. And then of course there are other possible criteria, like taxa (e.g. birds, mammals, insects plants (note that it is unlikely to be to families), fungi (ditto). And also marine vs terrestrial. And also wild versus planted. And additional perhaps: identified to research grade,
And we will probably look at additional criteria in the post-challenge evaluation. But we will summarize these here.

Q? So anything wild goes. Or invasive. Cool
But what about: Anything planted if in a park or Nature Reserve? I think of Strelitzia, Bauhinia, Gardenia, palm trees and oaks to name a few!
Or trees at Radloff Park and the urban open spades? Mostly planted.
And what about the lekker gardens now at Lourensford? Loads of Plectranthus, Dietes, Tulbaghias, etc?
Or the huge Heritage and Ancient Trees, such as the Camphor trees at Vergelegen? And the very huge Yellowwood tree planted yonks ago but planted!

• All count. Just mark them as planted. This will present a problem for the ID process as they wont be "Needs ID" if marked as planted. But we will get around that.
Not only do these count, they are part of our urban biodiversity and must be recorded. Please dont skimp on them. There is no ways we will meet our targets if we only do indigenous plants - the bulbs, annuals and hidden species are just too many: those are for spring! For now, we need all our urban trees and weeds and or champion and heritage species.
So yes. Indigenous - tick! Aliens - tick! Urban plants - tick! Plants planted to beautify our reserves, verges, and parkscapes - tick! (and ditto the animals and fungi!). Remember to mark planted (if you are certain it is planted and has not escaped).

Q? How does the counting work? If I see a chameleon, sunbird, skink, whatever each of the 4 days in my own garden and post an obs thereof each day. How would that count/work? Or for that matter a ibis on the side walk each day!
• That would strictly be cheating. The same chameleon (or even another) in your garden over a few days should count as one observation. But those in your aunt's, or niece's gardens would count as different observations. Similarly if you saw the Ibis in a different block or park or suburb, then those are definitely different observations and can (should?) be posted. Within a nature reserve a few hundred metres would suffice: unless you were monitoring "clumps", in which case each clump would be acceptable. Use your discretion: - distances to a new observation will be much smaller for a millipede than an eagle. .

Q? Hidden localities! We have lots of Red List species in Cape Town. Some 319 threatened and 67 near threatened species - 12% of our plant species. Quite a few of these are on the edge! If iNat obscures these, then they wont show up and count to the city, and that will put us at a considerable disadvantage? What should we do?
• No they will count. To see how look at the map for the City - - and note that the outliers are included. ((This only works for "official iNat" places, and not for places added by observers, so the data will be safe from "mining". Note that this map is all our data to date, not just the challenge data)) So there is no need to devise devious ways of getting our data in: they will all be counted - every single one.

Posted on 14 February, 2019 20:07 by tonyrebelo tonyrebelo | 1 comment | Leave a comment

15 February, 2019

Cape Town to take part in City Nature Challenge 2019

Cape Town will be participating in the City Nature Challenge for 2019.

This is the first year of the challenge that an African city is taking part (Nairobi - Kenya and Port Harcourt - Nigeria, are also participating in 2019).

Since we are the Mother City, and claim to be one of the most biodiverse cities on Earth, as well as indisputably the "Capital of the Littlest Kingdom", "Biodiversity Capital of the World" and the "Mother of all Biodisasters", it is only right that we put the City of Cape Town squarely on the Nature Map in the City Nature Challenge.

The task is not a small one. Over 150 cities are entering this year. And we are entering autumn, whereas many are in the throws of spring. No matter. We will rise to the challenge. It is up to us to showcase and display our fauna and flora.

The competition will run just after Easter in April from 26-29 April. Please diarize these dates now and make sure that you are in the city and available. We also need to start planning which reserves, beaches, parks and trails we will be exploring during those four days, and what groups we will focus on: birds, plants, insects, herps or fungi, or whatever.

The City of Cape Town’s Biodiversity Management Branch, Environmental Management Department and Table Mountain National Park are both inviting Capetonians to bioblitz our open areas and record everything alive. While the focus is on the wild plants and animals, we also want to record any alien invasives and parkscape inhabitants across the city. The WESSA Friends Groups, and Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) will be helping to coordinate activities in the conservation areas around Cape Town. Please join them on a Bioblitz and help compile species lists for our natural areas - all goggos, animals and plants are game. Please dont forget the school grounds and gardens, churches and halls, and even our houses and buildings: they also teem with wildlife - once you start looking! And the sea! if you dive, sail, sightsee or beachwalk, there is lots to record! And dont forget the night life!

How does it work? Simply take your smartphone and load the iNaturalist app (links at the bottom of this page ). Then sign up to iNaturalist. And you are ready. Do that now! Although the competition is in April, please practice in the meantime, so that you will be slick when the time comes.

All you need to do is make sure that your gps is on and then find something - a plant or animal, or some sign of it like scats, spoor, quills or remains - and take a photograph or two. The iNaturalist App will streamline the process. And send. To save time and data, you can leave the downloading for the evening.

Some rules (sorry there are always rules):
● No people please - definitely no selfies. Your domestic dogs and cats do not count either. Ideally wild animals please, but if in doubt, bag it.
● Use your zoom to take a closeup photo: to qualify we will have to identify your observation (we do that the week afterwards) and small images are impossible: please zoom in as much as possible.
● Only one species per observation. Dont lump them - we need as many as possible.

● Please only post one observation for a species at a place at a time - several photographs are needed for many plants and insects, so keep them on one observation. But if you are going to several venues during the day it is OK to photograph the same species of animals or plants again each time.
● Only observations made within the city limits between midnight and midnight between the 26 and 29 of April will count.

And that is it. Decide on which bioblitzes to join. Make your own teams. Stakeout your favourite natural or city areas. And get ready for the City Nature Challenge 2019. And do a little practising so that you know the ropes for the event.

The competition is worldwide, and over 150 cities are competing in 2019. All will be trying to showcase their nature and encouraging citizen scientists (that is you!) to participate in this endevour. For four days people all around the world interested in nature will be putting their biodiversity onto the map. The competition started between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2016 (Los Angeles won!). In 2017 it went national in the USA, in 2018 it went international and in 2019 Cape Town is participating. Last year in 68 cities, 17,000 people made 441,000 observations of 18,000 species on those four days (see details). The City Nature Challenge is organized by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles county and the California Academy of Sciences, and run on iNaturalist which is supported by the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic.

As we approach the event, we will post more information and material about the City of Cape Town Nature Challenge 2019. Please join this project for updates and bookmark it to see how we are doing (during the event).

Groups on board so far are:

  • City of Cape Town’s Biodiversity Management Branch, Environmental Management Department
  • CREW: Custodians or Rare and Endangered Wildflowers
  • WESSA (Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa) Friends of groups
  • Table Mountain National Park
  • Table Mountain Honorary Rangers
  • Kirstenbosch Branch of the Botanical Society of South Africa.
  • Scouts South Africa
  • SURG: Southern Underwater Research Group

We would like to get schools more involved. If you have any ideas, please contact us.

If you would like to participate, please tell us.

Posted on 15 February, 2019 08:08 by tonyrebelo tonyrebelo | 6 comments | Leave a comment

22 February, 2019

Media and Participation.

Organizations pledging support and posting media.

City of Cape Town - coordinated by Biodiversity Branch
Western Cape Scouts
Sun Valley Eco Watch:
Botanical Society of South Africa - Kirstenbosch Branch
Mountain Club
Two Oceans Aquarium


See our latest list of events here


Poster on how to participate - please feel free to use, or modify.





Posted on 22 February, 2019 11:35 by tonyrebelo tonyrebelo | 4 comments | Leave a comment