Journal archives for June 2020

02 June, 2020

May 2020 Photo-observation of the Month

Congratulation to Kyle Tansley for winning the May 2020 Photo-observation of the Month. He captured this American Mink moving her kits from one den to another. "She was moving her babies from one den to another," wrote Kyle. "When I arrived, I was told she had already moved two. I saw her move two more."

With more than 25,000 photo-observations submitted by 1,636 observers this month, it was extremely competitive. Click on the image to see and explore all of the amazing photo-observations.

Mink dens typically consist of long burrows near water in banks, holes under logs, tree stumps, or roots and hollow trees. They are typically about four inches in diameter and may run 10 feet and reach 2 to 3 feet deep when dug by a mink. But, they also use burrows dug by muskrats, badgers and skunks. The nesting chamber is at the end a tunnel, and is about a foot in diameter and lined with grass and sedge stems and feathers. The dens are characterized by a large number of entrances and twisting passages. There can be up to eight exits. These kits will stay with their mother until fall when they will leave to establish their own territories. Learn more about American Mink and see a map of reported occurrences at the Vermont Atlas of Life.

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 02 June, 2020 14:56 by kpmcfarland kpmcfarland | 0 comments | Leave a comment

03 June, 2020

The Bees of June

Spring often arises with a buzz in the air. After a winter devoid of humming pollinators, they suddenly seem to burst from every flowering shrub and clump of grass. Bees zipping among flowers must rank up next to bird song as one of the most celebrated signs of spring.

As spring begins to fade into summer, bee diversity shifts. In fact, June is a slow month for northeastern bee diversity—most of the spring specialists have come and gone, many bumble bee queens are underground laying eggs, and a majority of workers won’t appear in significant numbers until the end of the month.

Of course, there are still plenty of bees to find, and several genera appear for the first time in June. Visit the VAL website to learn more.

Posted on 03 June, 2020 20:54 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

09 June, 2020

Tech Tip Tuesday: Using Seek

And, we’re back! After much consideration, the VAL team has decided to make Tech Tip Tuesday a bi-weekly post. This will help us better prepare and identify new topics for each article. As the weather continues to warm, it will also give us all greater flexibility to tackle the outdoor projects that patiently waited for our attention all winter long. We still encourage you to reach out, ask questions, and suggest new topics! If you need a refresher on a past TTT topic, you can find those on the VAL website.

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

A couple months back, I wrote an article about using iNaturalist as a teaching tool. To me, iNaturalist’s greatest strength is its ability to make teaching about nature accessible to everyone. Between its A.I. and other users helping with identifications, and its taxa info pages providing background information, iNaturalist can be used for creating a well-rounded educational experience in nature, regardless of the instructor’s experience level.

The one downside of iNaturalist is the age limitation—users need to be over 13 years old or receive parental permission to join. While there are still ways to use it as a teaching tool with younger naturalists, there is another program created by iNaturalist that is better suited to those under 13. This program is Seek. Seek is similar to iNaturalist, however its identification process is simpler and it provides greater security for young users. Just like iNaturalist, Seek is free, although it’s only available on your smartphone.

Seek’s primary function is identification. To identify a plant, animal, or fungi using Seek, you open the camera through the app and point it at the thing you want to identify. Before taking the photo, it will start giving you feedback about what you’re seeing by either identifying it or offering suggestions about how to improve your identification. Once the identification is as specific as possible, you can take a photo and it will get added to your Seek observations. Seek will also provide links to additional information about the species you’re observing, similar to iNaturalist’s taxa info pages.

While Seek does share these similarities with iNaturalist, there are also some important differences you should be aware of. Unlike iNaturalist, Seek will not store or share the data you collect, nor will it collect personally identifiable information. It automatically obscures your location, hiding your exact location while still allowing you to receive accurate species suggestions. You also don’t create an account when you get started. All these measures are in place to ensure safety, making this app accessible to children under 13. If someone over 13 is using it, they have an option to sign into their iNaturalist account from Seek and share their observations.

Seek also has some additional features that make it more engaging for children. On Seek, users can earn badges for the taxa they encounter and take part in challenges. The challenge topics vary, and all are geared towards helping young users learn more about broader concepts in the natural world.

If you’re interested in using Seek with a young naturalist in your life, I highly recommend reading through the user guide. What I provided above was a very brief overview and there is so much more that you can learn about this amazing tool!

TTT Task of the Week

This week, I want you to consider trying out Seek with a young naturalist in your life, whether that be for a class or just a fun family activity. You can download the app from whichever store you generally use. Read through the user guide and try out one of the challenges. I won’t be able to see any of your discoveries, however I would be interested in knowing what you think.

That’s all for this week! Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity, stay safe, and happy observing!

Posted on 09 June, 2020 20:22 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

23 June, 2020

Tech Tip Tuesday: Dichotomous Keys and Other Identification Resources

I always find that in the summer it’s impossible to imagine the landscape in the winter and vice versa. Yesterday’s walk in the woods really drove this point home. Although spring’s lingering cold is a not too distant memory, it’s still hard to picture the days when I was worried about the vernal pools near my house freezing solid. Now, my afternoon forest explorations come scented with deep green foliage, the loud buzz of deerflies a persistent presence just one step behind. I try to remind myself that this is what I have dreamed of all winter long when the air feels like a hot, clammy towel draped across my neck.

The wildlife also takes pause in the heat, reemerging when the air cools and the sky begins to darken. Last week I was awakened late in the night by tapping and shuffling on my back deck. A porcupine had made its way onto the porch and was investigating the potted plants before lumbering back into the darkness. I hope that you’re all finding ways to stay cool and enjoy the natural wonders that summer has to offer.

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

If you’re escaping the heat by sheltering indoors, don’t worry, you can still enjoy iNaturalist. There are always plenty of observations needing identifications and you don’t need to be an expert to help out! I have explained before how you can simply add “animal” or “plant” to help an unknown observation move forward or help identify super common species that you already know. Either is a great way to contribute valuable information!

If you’re looking to challenge yourself and improve your skills as a naturalist, it may be time to learn identification skills through other sources. While iNaturalist is a great tool for helping to identify a species, it probably won’t help you learn identifying characteristics, unless you ask other identifiers what criteria they use. Field guides and other virtual manuals are great tools for learning a taxa’s identifying features. Field guide diversity is vast—you can find ones for specific regions and taxa, ones with color or black and white pictures, and ones with varying levels of written descriptions. Whatever your learning style and area of interest, there is a field guide for you!

While field guides are great tools for learning how to identify a species, they are by no means the only option available. Another resource commonly used by biologists is the dichotomous key. Dichotomous keys help you make an identification by providing a series of “either-or” choices that lead you toward a family, genus, or species. The choices usually start off broad and become more specific as you proceed, helping to narrow down the possible identifications. You can find a deeper explanation and example of dichotomous keys here.

If you look around, you can find dichotomous keys for many taxa. For starters, you can check out the keys on Go Botany, the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification, or Discover Life. When using a dichotomous key, it’s always good practice to verify the identification in a field guide to make sure that the answer is correct.

If you’re looking for an extra challenge, you can also create your own dichotomous key as you study different field guides and other identification resources, both as a way to reinforce your knowledge and to create a tool to use for future identifications. You can find a basic set of instructions for creating your own key here.

I recommend checking out the resource list on the Vermont Atlas of Life website. There is also a link to the list on the right-hand side of the VAL iNaturalist homepage. If you don’t see your favorite resource on the list, please let us know. We’re always looking for new additions!

TTT Task of the Week

This week, I want you to pick a species that is fairly common but that you may not feel comfortable identifying. Try to learn the species’ identifying characteristics (maybe even make a dichotomous key that will help others identify it). Once you feel confident in your knowledge, help identify observations of it on iNaturalist. By taking part in this activity, you will both learn something new and help verify observations that can later be used in conservation projects.

That’s all for this week! Thank you for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity, stay safe, and happy observing!

Posted on 23 June, 2020 21:11 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 1 comment | Leave a comment

30 June, 2020

Learn More About the World Around You With the Nature Now Series!

Want to learn more about mosses but don’t know where to start? Are you a veteran butterfly watcher but stumped by skippers? Wish you could tell a Confusing Bumblebee from a Half-black Bumblebee?

If any of these questions are true, or you are just looking for an enriching course on natural history in the northeast, then checkout the Nature Now Series run by North Branch Nature Center. Each class, taught by an expert naturalist, combines virtual content with your own independent study outdoors. And if you would rather not spend your precious summer free time in front of a screen, all the courses will be recorded and can be taken at any time - so bookmark them for those long winter evenings. Also note at the bottom of the page are three free botany classes taught by Jerry Jenkins!

For more information, visit:

Posted on 30 June, 2020 19:57 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2 | 0 comments | Leave a comment