Journal archives for October 2019

01 October, 2019

September 2019 Photo-observation of the Month

Congratulations to Kyle Tansley for winning the September 2019 Vermont Atlas of Life iNaturalist photo-observation of the month. The image of jousting Great Egrets in flight garnered the most votes. With a whopping 15,640 photo-observations submitted by more than 1,200 observers this month, it was incredibly competitive (check out the top images). But this scuffle in blue skies over Delta Park on Lake Champlain captured the most attention.

Great Egrets have been observed with increasing regularity in Vermont, especially during late summer and fall as they disperse after breeding. They were first confirmed breeding in 2004 and again in 2010 at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in Vermont. The recovery of Great Egret populations are a conservation success story. Their white, dazzling breeding plumage made it a popular target during the 19th-century by plume hunters, who supplied purveyors of the latest ladies' fashions at the time, causing their populations to drop by more than 90 percent. Today, thanks to legal protection during the last century, their populations have rebounded.

Visit the Vermont Atlas of Life on iNaturalist where you can vote for the winner this month by clicking the  ‘fav’ star on your favorite photo-observation. Make sure you get outdoors and record the biodiversity around you, then submit your discoveries and you could be a winner!

Posted on 01 October, 2019 15:01 by kpmcfarland kpmcfarland | 0 comments | Leave a comment

15 October, 2019

Tech Tip Tuesday: Using Annotations

Ah, fall. That time of year where the air is crisp, the leaves are so bright that looking at them dazzles the mind, and all food items suddenly come in pumpkin-spice flavor. All across the state, the hills echo with the honks of geese and the exclamations of camera wielding foliage enthusiasts anxious to capture the fleeting splendor. As a Vermonter, I’ve always found this to be the perfect time of year to be outside. Between the cool sunny days, stunning scenery, and distinct drop in biting insect populations, it’s hard to stay indoors. I welcome this change of season, despite knowing that endless dark and cold months will follow.

Animals too sense this change and are busy preparing for the long winter ahead. As I write, Vermont’s vast array of biodiversity is scrambling to make their final arrangements before the deep freeze. This makes autumn an excellent time of year to make observations before curling up near the heater to watch the snow fall.

Hello and welcome to our new weekly column - Tech Tip Tuesday (TTT), where we’ll offer tools to take your observations to the next level. In the coming weeks, I invite you to ask questions and send suggestions of topics that you would like to see covered in a weekly TTT post. Beyond tech tips, some weeks we’ll suggest tasks that you can easily tackle, and help science too. These tasks will either build on tech tips that we’ve touched on in previous weeks or provide inspiration for you to get out and explore Vermont’s natural heritage.

This Week on Tuesday Tech Tip

The change of seasons offers a great opportunity to learn about adding annotations for iNaturalist observations, specifically those focused on sex, life stage, and phenology. Phenology refers to an area of scientific study exploring the relationship between seasonal or climatic changes and biological events, such as migration, mating, and flowering. In iNaturalist, you can indicate the sex of a plant or animal, an animal’s life stage, and whether a plant is fruiting or flowering. Although often overlooked, providing this information when possible helps scientists track animal and plant population dynamics, and their response to changes in their habitat. By providing annotation information in iNaturalist, you can help us at VAL keep a more detailed record as conditions change over time.

Many of you may already record this data. If so, skim through to the task at the end! Entering annotations on iNaturalist is relatively simple, however many users miss this vital step for one main reason: you can only add annotations to the final uploaded observation. Adding an annotation is possible both on your desktop computer and your android phone (sorry iPhone and iPad users, it’s still not available). To add an annotation, go to the observation on iNaturalist and locate the “annotation” bar either at the bottom of the page (android) or on the right-hand side (web). From there, you can select any information that applies to your observation.


Desktop Computer

A note: please only record the information that you know for sure, similar to when identifying your observations. For example, if you’re not sure whether an observation is male or female, leave it blank and perhaps another naturalist will help you.

Identifiers can also add annotations to an observation. To find observations that are missing annotations, select “filters” and then “more filters” on the “Identify” page to locate observations missing a certain annotation. Once you have filtered your results, click on the observation you want to edit, go to the “annotations” tab, and make a selection.

Filter results

Select annotations tab

TTT Task of the Week

While this step isn’t always easily thought of, since you can’t complete it during the recording step, it’s vitally important to monitoring flora and fauna. Your task this week is a choice between two things (or both):

  1. Go out and locate at least two observations that you can annotate. Fruiting shrubs, deer, the final Monarchs preparing to make their way south – it’s all waiting for you to catalogue!
  2. Help annotate other naturalists observations. Search through VAL’s observations and find at least two observations lacking annotations that you can confidently add.

Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s web of life and happy observing!

Posted on 15 October, 2019 21:04 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 1 comment | Leave a comment

22 October, 2019

Tech Tip Tuesday: Duplicating Observations

I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but the trees in our pocket of eastern Vermont are starting to look a little bare. Although plenty of color still dapples the hillsides, the high winds and heavy rain we caught at the end of last week has knocked a lot of foliage off the trees. Although we avoided more extensive damage, we know that other areas of New England were not as lucky and hope that efforts to clear debris and restore power were successful.

With the leaves dropping more quickly and the nights falling below freezing more frequently, the cold grey days of winter are becoming a starker reality. The woods are filled with frantic squirrels putting some of the final touches on their food supplies and the fruiting shrubs are offering their last abundant harvests. Now is the time to catch the last glimpses of the late-season migrators and early hibernators before they both vanish until spring.

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

Many people (myself included at first) are under the impression that uploading the same photo twice is poor iNaturalist etiquette. I understand why: as naturalists, we want to contribute new information, making us feel uneasy about doubling up on the same observation. It can feel a bit like cheating. However, many photos have at least one other species hiding in the background, waiting for us to identify it. This is especially common with pictures of birds, butterflies, and other critters that we often photograph on or among plants. Many of us are unconsciously biased towards identifying the cool animal, often leaving the equally cool plant unnamed. By duplicating observations with more than one species present, you will contribute a fuller picture of the biodiversity found at that particular location.

There are two ways to go about duplicating your observations to identify new species. The easiest way is by getting iNaturalist to duplicate it for you. To do this, click on the observation that you want to duplicate. Once on the observation’s iNaturalist page, click on the dropdown menu for the blue “Edit” button in the top right corner and hit “Duplicate”. Then, begin entering the information as you normally would and click “Upload”.

Select duplicate

The second way is more time-consuming for you, but easier for iNaturalist to identify. First, locate your original photo. If possible, I recommend cropping your photo to focus more on your new focal species. Once you are satisfied with the photo, make it a new observation on iNaturalist just as you normally would.

As you can see, both of these methods are fairly easy and won’t take up too much of your time. And they are also incredibly helpful. Just think about all of the new species that you can add to your list by taking the time to identify the flowers that your butterflies are sitting on!

TTT Task of the Week

Now that you know how to duplicate, go back through your observations and see if you can duplicate any. Some ideas of what to look for include: a flower or tree, a prey species, or a caterpillar host species. This is a great activity for a cloudy day when the weather is too rainy or cold to go outside.

Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s web of life and happy observing!

Posted on 22 October, 2019 17:23 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

29 October, 2019

Tech Tip Tuesday: Common Mistakes When Identifying

November is an underappreciated month in Vermont. After the stunning reds and golds of October, November hangs limp and drab, waiting for the first snowfall. Many see winter as a blank canvas, however I believe that November is the true canvas. In “stick season”, the landscape is stripped bare, waiting for the first snowfall to cover it back up again.

As autumn draws its last remaining breaths, the scurrying begins to fade and animals large and small make their final preparations. Some finally embark on their southbound journeys, some disappear underground or into hidden corners of the landscape, and some don their winter wear. The stillness and darkness make it seem as though the world around us is going to sleep, waiting to wake when the days begin to lengthen again.

If you are like me, this season may make you desire deep rest, warm food, and the comfort of soft indoor spaces. However, Vermont’s hills and valleys still have plenty to observe. If you are curious about what you might see at this time of year, check out the Vermont Center for Ecostudies’ blog for your Field Guide to November. If you would rather stay inside and live vicariously through others out wandering the barren woods, there are plenty of observations on the Vermont Atlas of Life that need to be identified!

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

For those of you opting for the latter, this week I will provide you with tips on how to be a superstar identifier on iNaturalist. For those of you who have never used the identify feature before, this handy tool allows you to confirm, contest, or suggest identifications with ease. When done properly, identifying photo-observations is vital to creating confirmed observations that we can use to monitor species here in Vermont or around the world. When an observation reaches “research grade”, meaning that it has received two or more concurring identifications, it is shared with the Global Biodiversity Research Facility (GBIF) where it becomes part of an enormous international biodiversity network that is free to use by scientists, policymakers, and anyone else who may need it. Through these contributions, folks who use iNaturalist contribute important information that helps support science and conservation everywhere. However, when observations remain unidentified or are not identified correctly, valuable data is left behind.

The good news is that there are always opportunities to improve this data and it is never too late to amend an observation’s identification. For this reason, it is important to add identifications to research grade observations as well as observations below research grade. Misidentifications will sometimes slip by and become research grade. Adding additional identifications to an observation that has already achieved research grade will improve our confidence in that identification and increase the likelihood of catching a misidentification. As we see it, the more IDs an observation has, the better!

Below is a list of common mistakes that people can make when identifying observations on iNaturalist which can lead to misidentification.

  1. You feel like you have to identify an observation to the species-level without knowing that it is correct.

iNaturalist is an amazing tool capable of great accuracy when identifying observations. Even if the right species is not listed, the correct genus often is. However, every once in a while it struggles to identify an observation. In these moments, it is tempting to guess or unquestioningly follow all of iNaturalist’s species suggestions when recording your observation. I understand that no one wants to look like they do not know what they are seeing. However, it is perfectly ok if you leave your identification at the genus or even kingdom level. If all you know is that you are looking at a plant, great! The problem is, if you take a guess when identifying something and get it wrong, it is possible that no one will catch it. But, if you just write “plant”, you will likely draw in people who are looking through the plants and trying to make observations more specific. So, when in doubt, stick to what you are positive you know. iNaturalist is a team sport and no reasonable user will put you down for not knowing how to identify something.

  1. You never use the suggested id feature.

Some people for one reason or another choose to opt out of letting iNaturalist suggest identifications for them. If you do not know how to use this feature, please shoot me a message and I will happily help! If you know how to use it but are still choosing not to, then I highly encourage you to start. Like I mentioned in tip #1, iNaturalist often offers great suggestions, allowing users to at least confidently identify their observation to the genus level. Unless you are an expert in your field or observed something very common, you will probably benefit from iNaturalist’s suggestions. This feature exists to support you as a naturalist and I highly recommend that everyone use it, regardless of skill level.

  1. You identify someone else’s observation to the species level without all of the necessary information.

When identifying other people’s observations, you may feel tempted to make an identification on a species that requires a microscope, elevation data, or a similar tool or piece of information to make a positive identification. In these cases, it is best to identify to the level you can confidently determine without that information. If you are curious, you can also message the observer and see if they can provide you with the information that you need to make a better identification.

  1. You go along with someone else’s suggested ID.

Unless you know for a fact that this person is an expert in whatever they are identifying, it is important to think independently instead of just agreeing with their suggestion. This is where a lot of errors occur. Whenever you approach an observation with an existing suggested identification, whether it is your own observation or someone else’s, it is important to do your own investigation. There are plenty of field guides and websites that can help you learn what a particular species looks like. I recommend turning to one of these before hitting the agree button.

These are four basic tips for improving your identification skills, however many more exist. Keep a lookout for more on this topic in the coming months!

TTT Task of the Week

Now that we have talked about some common mistakes when identifying, it is time to go practice! Your task for this week is to find at least 2 non-research grade observations and 1 research grade observation in VAL and suggest an id. Remember to stick to what you know and look up a species in a field guide before hitting ‘agree’. If you need help using the identification tool, there’s a great tutorial that will walk you through it.

As always, thank you for helping us map Vermont’s web of life and happy observing!

Posted on 29 October, 2019 20:27 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 1 comment | Leave a comment