An Interview with silversea_starsong

Last year, in August, I had a chance to hang out with James Bailey (@silversea_starsong), iNat's leader in species observed, when he visited the Bay Area from his home in southern California. I'd met James the previous spring at the Southwest Texas iNat-a-thon, and he was kind enough to spend some time talking with me about iNat (and cicadas). So, over a year later (I'm sorry James!) I finally cut together a little video of our talk. I also made a separate one for our discussion about cicadas here.

I often don't have the patience to stop and take notice of every organism around me, so it was good to be reminded about how much there really is to see out there.

An Interview with @silversea_starsong from iNaturalist on Vimeo.

Posted by tiwane tiwane, November 27, 2020 20:30


Congratulations to James for doing a great job finding different species!

Posted by milliebasden over 1 year ago (Flag)

Probably not a smart question but what is silversea_starsong ? And Southampton is in UK ?
hmm.. No Shame...i am afraid i am getting to old for it. but years ago i would agree

Posted by ahospers over 1 year ago (Flag)

"Silversea starsong" is just an evocative and beautiful screen name. And yes, Southhampton is a town in England.

Posted by susanhewitt over 1 year ago (Flag)

Congratulations James :-)

Posted by anudibranchmom over 1 year ago (Flag)


Posted by dan_johnson over 1 year ago (Flag)

Nice work, would love to see more interviews with iNat users in the future.

Posted by kemper over 1 year ago (Flag)

Loved the interview! Nice to have met you in the Sky Islands, James- All those creatures on the dorm building walls at night!

Posted by kayspurlock over 1 year ago (Flag)

Amazing finds too
Job well done 👍👍

Posted by ck2az over 1 year ago (Flag)

Quite the inspiration. Thank you, James!

Posted by jmaughn over 1 year ago (Flag)

Lovely! Thanks for sharing this!

Posted by andreacala over 1 year ago (Flag)

Super cool!

Posted by biosam over 1 year ago (Flag)

He does a great job of connecting the species with others.

Posted by shahrzadasa over 1 year ago (Flag)

Terrific! James is a legend. He's still one of the top New Zealand observers and that's just from a one month holiday here. :-)

Posted by jon_sullivan over 1 year ago (Flag)

I am so grateful that I got to hang out with James, an amazing iNaturalist, at that 2018 Southwest Texas iNat-a-thon! I look forward to future adventures together.

Posted by gcwarbler over 1 year ago (Flag)

@silversea_starsong What lenses are you using?

Posted by tonyrebelo over 1 year ago (Flag)

" No Shame" ... I love that notion ;-D
I can relate a lot to what you say. I love the ecology site of things as well and often get lost in the microworlds of nature out there. But I am also often surprised how comparably seldom some very common species are documented, I guess because it is so easy to overlook them. I am for sure guilty of this as well, looking at my list and seeing extremely common species in the counry I am from somewhere at rank 20+.

Posted by ajott over 1 year ago (Flag)

i remember when he blew past me in Santa Monica Mountains observations long long ago :)

Posted by charlie over 1 year ago (Flag)

Awesome! Shows a great view on how iNat can help people discover nature

Posted by safron over 1 year ago (Flag)

@silversea_starsong will always be absolutely iconic of iNaturalist in my mind.

Posted by gbentall over 1 year ago (Flag)

Wonderful interview, and a wonderful inspiration for all of us!

Posted by artemis224 over 1 year ago (Flag)

Fantastic interview! So many of us can identify with the willingness to find ourselves in awkward positions in order to get that shot ("no shame"). Thanks for doing this and for giving us all a chance to get to know @silversea_starsong better.

Posted by pliffgrieff over 1 year ago (Flag)

That's awesome. Since I was a kid I had wanted to travel the world looking at plants. Now that I'm older, I really haven't done that, but it's still a passion I wish I could pursue. Thanks, @silversea_starsong, for the inspiration!

Posted by chrisbrant47 over 1 year ago (Flag)

I can't respond to everyone individually at the moment but I appreciate the support! This hobby has been a blessing to me and I'm happy to inspire others. It can be daunting at first, but it's well worth the journey. There was the remark about rusts and psyllids, which are host-specific to certain plants. Sometimes you won't find everything just by casually looking, it can require a proper scavenger hunt, in this case, remembering to check that host plant every time I'm out.

@tonyrebelo I run with a telephoto and a macro. Some people take two separate cameras but I go with one and switch lenses. It can be a bit risky in poor weather for instance, but it generally works well enough for me. My telephoto is 100-400mm, and the macro is 60mm, both Canon lenses.

@ahospers silversea_starsong is a fanciful name that came about from my writing. A lot of my creative passion went into creating fictional worlds and stories, and it was most prominent around the time I had to decide a screen name. In particular this one comes from some of the ocean stories I had written. The "Silversea" serving as a "place between" two different worlds, and "Starsong" a title of dolphins that travelled between them.

Posted by silversea_starsong over 1 year ago (Flag)

Have your stories been published? Would love to read!

Posted by kayspurlock over 1 year ago (Flag)

I've been lucky to be out in the field with James a few times -- always a great time. One of the best things is when coming home, I get to see the observations of what James spotted -- usually unique stuff that all of the rest of us missed! :) Not just that, but James always has such high quality photos. Just incredible stuff.

A fond memory of one of the outings: at the southeast Arizona iNat meeting a few years ago, I was driving with James and @treegrow , and we went through a border crossing. We had practiced some American sayings for when the border patrol asked if everyone was a citizen. We ended up going with "Where is the nearest Whataburger at?" Passed through border patrol without an issue. :)

Posted by sambiology over 1 year ago (Flag)

Sam, you're forgetting all the neat things you also see on those days, that I, (in jest), throw a fuss about not seeing finding and seeing myself :)

Posted by silversea_starsong over 1 year ago (Flag)

So great and inspiring James - no shame and nothing but respect!

Posted by loarie over 1 year ago (Flag)

Oh my goodness, I had no idea, James! I thought you were just my personal inaturalist consultant. :) I have always been grateful for your help. Congratulations and take care!

Posted by robinellison over 1 year ago (Flag)

I have had the privilege of being in the field with James several times, and he is a person like none other. I cannot properly put his abilities and knowledge into words here - you just have to experience it. And if you ever have the opportunity, I encourage you to do so.

James is a walking, talking encyclopedia of the natural world. But what is truly amazing is his deep knowledge across assorted taxonomic Phylums and Orders. The best field biologists generally work with a relatively small group of organisms, and after decades become experts in their area of study. But James can walk a trail and quickly move from snails to lichens, to vascular plants, to birds, to single cell protozoa, to arthropods, to fungi, to mosses, to amphibians and to almost everything in between. And he can identify and discuss them and their distinctions in depth and with incredible accuracy. If that sounds too unbelievable, he can also do this with reasonable precision over diverse geographic areas.

James is a natural science savant, and I mean that with the highest respect.

On top of all this natural history prowess, James is an incredibly nice and gentle person. Glad to call you my friend James!

Posted by ronvanderhoff over 1 year ago (Flag)

Yeah, i really wish i got to go poke around the santa monica mountains with you! I thought i was a good botanist/ecologist, but i think you blew past me at some point there. Come to vermont some time, when corona virus is gone...

Posted by charlie over 1 year ago (Flag)

@silversea_starsong you were among the first to help me with IDs when I first arrived on iNat and continue to be a huuuuge inspiration! Thank you for being you!

Posted by ocean_beach_goth over 1 year ago (Flag)

What a cute interview!!! A truly inspiration!!

Posted by diegoalmendras over 1 year ago (Flag)

Wonderful interview, James! Enjoyed meeting and iNatting with you in South Texas. You're an inspiration to all of us.

Posted by tadamcochran over 1 year ago (Flag)

The interviews are fun. Would love to see more of them.

Posted by janetwright over 1 year ago (Flag)

I second @janetwright that I look forward to more interviews! It was lovely to hear @silversea_starsong articulate what so many of us iNatters feel about the natural world--that while it's fun seeing the numbers of species and observations on our accounts go up, observing all the different macro- and micro-organisms that make up an ecosystem or habitat drives us, and is an utterly absorbing and engaging pursuit!

Posted by chyroptera over 1 year ago (Flag)


Posted by suhandan1 over 1 year ago (Flag)

Wonderful to see this interview. I hope to see you in the field again!

Posted by kimssight over 1 year ago (Flag)

A very enjoyable interview! I love that iNaturalist brings together people from all over the world who share the joy of biophilia. We learn so much from each other. Thanks, James, for all your contributions! No shame :)

Posted by weecorbie over 1 year ago (Flag)

I remember when I unknowingly met James at SWRS in southeast Arizona. I had just cleaned a cabin and found a dragonfly covered in dust, so took a picture. He saw my observation, sought me out and told me what a cool dragonfly it was. Very cool interview James!

Posted by dylapodiformes over 1 year ago (Flag)

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