October 26, 2022

I'm getting a little burnt out on making IDs

So I thought I'd discuss making identifications here in a journal post and see if any of you want to comment.

A year or so ago, I committed to making lots of IDs for other people on their iNat observations. Currently, I've made over 80,000 IDs, almost all on Needs ID observations (rather than on observations that are already at Research Grade). Yay, me!

But the combination of winter coming on here in New England, no fun trips on the horizon, and the daunting prospect of enormous piles of observations needing IDs has got me down. So, this is a plea for help. Not help in the sense of my mental health, but in the sense of asking you to help with making IDs.

I'm curious: if you've never made IDs for others, why not? Do you think you need to be a expert to help? Nope, you don't; I'm certainly not an expert in anything. (Which reminds me - thank you to everyone who corrects my mis-identifications!) Are you just too busy with work/school/family/the day to day detritus of life? OK, you're excused; go play outside whenever you do get a chance. Are you just ... anxious about making IDs? I hear you - I'm just beginning to learn to ID an easy fly and I'm all worried I'll screw it up. But, really, a few mistakes do not matter.

If you'd like to try making IDs and want some hand-holding, I am more than willing to help. Just send me a private message or comment on this post and I'll do what I can.

Another thing you can do to make the lives of identifiers easier is to improve the quality of your observations. I'm not just talking photo quality here, although photos in focus are always appreciated. I'm talking about remembering to add an initial ID when you upload an observation. Even a very general ID like Birds or Mosses will get your observation in front of bird and moss IDers more quickly, and it means generalists like me don't need to spend time adding a general ID to observations that are labeled Unknown.

It also helps if you can do a little research, on or off iNat, about what characters are needed to ID certain species and then try to remember to photograph those characters when you encounter the species. For example, I learned that one of the identifying characters of Black Oak is the hairiness of the vein angles on the undersides of the leaves. Now, I try to remember to photograph not just the overall shape of the leaves, but also a close-up of the vein angles on the undersides. Again, if you're new to all this, feel free to ask me (or, indeed, most IDers on iNat) what resources to use to ID an organism to species level. (Hint: for plants in New England, use Go Botany.)

Keeping up with the ever-increasing flood of new observations needing IDs is something a lot of hard-core identifiers discuss often in the iNat forum. Right now, there are close to 1.8 MILLION observations just in New England that are at Needs ID. Sure, many of them can never reach Research Grade, but I bet at least half of them could be IDed to species. Indeed, around 750,000 are already at species level, just needing an agreeing ID to reach Research Grade (or a disagreeing ID, if the species ID is wrong).

So, think about helping. I'd love it if you have any comments on this, either publicly on this post or privately via message. Thanks!

Posted on October 26, 2022 13:13 by lynnharper lynnharper | 11 comments | Leave a comment

July 10, 2022

MIIDGE 2022

I promised you a link to MIIDGE 2022, the Massachusetts Invertebrate Interlude Days with Great Expectations - here you go: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/miidge-2022-massachusetts-invertebrate-interlude-days-with-great-expectations

Come join us!

Posted on July 10, 2022 18:25 by lynnharper lynnharper | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 01, 2022

Mid-Summer

July 1, half-way through the year. Another beautiful sunny day here, but I'm hoping for lots of rain tomorrow, because it's really getting dry around here.

This post is a random assortment of things on my mind...

The Athol Bird and Nature Club is putting on MIIDGE again this year - the Massachusetts Invertebrate Interlude Days with Great Expectations. We're coordinating with National Moth Week and the infamous Moth Ball; MIIDGE will be Friday, July 22nd, through Sunday, July 24th. Once I get the iNat MIIDGE project set up, I'll post another reminder here. The Moth Ball will be the evening of July 23rd; contact Dave Small (davidhsmall on iNat) for details. Let's hope for good weather!

I had so much fun doing the City Nature Challenge in Massachusetts' Pioneer Valley this spring that I volunteered to help coordinate it for next year. If you live in or near Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties, put April 28 through May 1, 2023, on your calendar, and we will have FUN.

Species Distributions
When I go out iNatting, I try to make an observation of every species I think can be identified, because I think iNat data are often most useful as records of species distributions. Of course, iNat data are heavily biased by where observers are looking. For example, here's a map of Eastern White Pine observations (both RG and non-RG) in MA: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=2&subview=map&taxon_id=52391. What this map really shows, at least at this moment, is the distribution of iNaturalists - most of the records are in the greater Boston area, where most of the people are - even though Eastern White Pines are essentially everywhere across Massachusetts in reality.

The map for Eastern Newt, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=2&subview=map&taxon_id=27805, gives a quite different impression. Here, most of the observations are west of the City of Worcester. There are three things going on here, I think. First, in southeastern MA, Eastern Newts usually don't transform into red efts and go walkabout in their early adulthood; they usually go directly from larvae with gills to aquatic adults. This is probably because much of southeastern MA is sandy, too dry to make an eft happy. Since most people who post observations of newts are photographing red efts, the adult newts in southeastern MA are under-counted, so to speak. Second, the urban and dense suburbia of greater Boston is no longer good habitat for newts, particularly when they are red efts - too many roads, too many cars! That's also true for many parts of southeastern MA, alas. Third, when people go hiking in western MA and DO see an eft, they're thrilled and take a photo for iNat. (I mean, they really are cute, let's face it!)

Now, there's a lot more going on with the apparent distributions of even just these two common species, but you get the idea. Sometimes, I daydream about a ten-year project that would be a fine-scale atlas of the plants of Massachusetts. There are already floral atlases at the county and (I think) town scales, but what if we could map the plant species in every square mile (or kilometer, or whatever)? What would that show us? How would the map look different in 50 years or a century? What would it take to motivate naturalists to participate in what promises to be a pretty intensive project?

Anyway, daydreams like this drive me to photograph every species (but I really should learn graminoids) and to go walk places I've never been, especially if there aren't many iNat observations in those new places.

Which is just what I'm going to do for the next half-ear and beyond. Enjoy summer!

Posted on July 01, 2022 16:53 by lynnharper lynnharper | 5 comments | Leave a comment

April 14, 2022

Two Weeks from Tomorrow

You know what starts in two weeks, yes? It's the City Nature Challenge! Go look at how many areas around the globe are participating: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/city-nature-challenge-2022.

Four days of tromping everywhere, looking at everything, getting wet and muddy and, I hope, not tick-ridden, uploading hundreds of observations, confirming IDs on hundreds of other people's observations, and glorying in SPRING! It's FUN!!!

Also, there might be ice cream. And you can ignore the garden and housework without guilt, because this is for science (for a loose definition of science). It's at least raising environmental awareness, which is, frankly, more important.

But I'm torn this year. In the last three years, I've mostly done the Boston City Nature Challenge (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/city-nature-challenge-2022-boston-area ; it includes much of eastern Massachusetts), either as myself or as Mass Wildlife when I was still working. In 2020, I spent two days in the Boston area and two in the Pioneer Valley City Nature Challenge area (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/city-nature-challenge-2022-pioneer-valley ; the three counties through which the Connecticut River flows). The Boston CNC is very well-organized; over 1,800 people participated last year. The Pioneer Valley CNC, which was started in early 2020 out of UMass Amherst, has been hampered by the pandemic; only 189 people participated in 2021. They are looking for people to help organize the Valley CNC, but it's too late this year to get up and fully running.

I don't live in either CNC region (anyone want to start a Worcester County, MA, CNC?). Doing the CNC in the Boston area involves a minimum of an hour's drive, up to three hours one way to get down to the Cape. That's a lot of driving in four days - not terribly environmentally sensible. I can drive 15 minutes and be in the Pioneer Valley CNC area; the farthest reaches of that area are maybe an hour and a half drive.

What I'm inclined to do is work the Valley CNC for four days and call it scouting for next year, 2023, when maybe I'd be foolish enough to work on organizing the colleges and universities, the environmental groups, and the local iNatters to do a full-on Valley CNC. In the my dreams, I'd like to see more City Nature Challenge regions in Massachusetts: greater Boston, Worcester County, the Pioneer Valley, and the Berkshires. Not unreasonable, and why not have more CNCs across New England while we're at it?

What do you all think?

Posted on April 14, 2022 13:01 by lynnharper lynnharper | 2 comments | Leave a comment

February 02, 2022

New England Plant ID-a-thon, Feb. 25-27, 2022

If you're interested in plants in New England, or just want to learn how to make IDs on iNaturalist, this project is for you! Come join the project at https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/new-england-plants-id-a-thon-feb-25-27-2022

If you've never joined a project before, look for the Join button towards the top right of the page I just linked to. Click that, answer a couple of questions from iNat (the answers don't matter for this project), and you're in! You definitely don't need to be an expert to make IDs on iNat (I'm not), but if you can identify Queen Anne's Lace or Pickerelweed or Striped Maple or Oriental Bittersweet or other common plants like that, you can help out. Making IDs on other people's observations on iNat is an important part of the process towards getting more people involved with the natural world, plus you'll learn a lot.

And what else are you planning for a late February weekend during a pandemic, anyway?

Any questions, feel free to ask!

Posted on February 02, 2022 17:52 by lynnharper lynnharper | 1 comment | Leave a comment

January 01, 2022

Onward! To Wherever We're Going!

Happy New Year, everyone! Let's hope 2022 is better than 2021 and 2020.

I love to make plans. Carrying out those plans - maybe not so much, but making the plans is great fun. So, I am going to set out here some plans, goals, ideas for 2022.

First, let's note where I was this morning in terms of iNat statistics: I'm up to 23,131 observations, 44,686 identifications for others, and 2,362 species in total. Off-iNat, I made 83 reports of state-listed or uncommon plants and animals to the Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program, and one or two similar reports to Vermont's Natural Heritage. (By the way, except for rare occasions, I don't post observations of MA-listed species on iNat. Uncommon, non-listed species - yes.) I am happy with those numbers, especially because I had an absolute ball going all over the place this past year.

Now, numbers like these don't mean much in terms of appreciating the natural world or contributing to Real Science, but they are easy to track, so here are my goals for 2022: I'd like to make 10,000 more observations (so 33,131 in total). I'd like to make twice as many identifications for others as my own observations, so that's a goal of 66,262 IDs in total by the end of 2022. That means I need to make 21,576 IDs this year, or about 60 a day. (This is where carrying out my plan starts to get tricky.)

I'd like to do more moth trapping this year - moth-attracting, really, since I very rarely collect specimens. Last year, after the wash-out that was July, I hardly attracted anything to my trap, so I kind of gave up on the end of the season.

I bought a new tent in the spring of last year. Did I use it at all? No. That is going to change in 2022. Ditto the kayak I haven't paddled in at least a decade. Think of all the fun floating around in a pond, photographing aquatic plants and damselflies that alight on the boat and the occasional turtle who pokes their head up.

I want to make more day trips to other New England states and to New York, since trips farther afield are still likely to be on hold because of COVID. I went on four or five such day trips last year, and they were fun. Feel free to tell me where to go!

I'd like to begin to learn fungi. I've started by learning that slime molds are no longer part of Fungi, as they were half a century ago when I learned basic biology; now, they are part of Protozoa.

I've gotten lazy about plants. I know some, but I've stopped carrying field guides into the field and looking up, say, how to tell the ashes apart. Or the elms. Maybe I'll tackle asters or goldenrods this year. And someday, I will learn once and for all how to tell Carpinus from Ostrya (maybe). I should make a list of plants (and other species, for that matter) that I've never seen and make an effort to go find them. Green Dragon, for example.

Finally, I'd like to encourage and train other iNatters how to make IDs on other peoples' observations. Go read iNat's blog post from May of 2020 on the occasion of iNat reaching one million observers, here: https://www.inaturalist.org/blog/35758-we-ve-reached-1-000-000-observers Note especially the part where they say, "To put in perspective what a small fraction of the iNaturalist community of identifiers is, ... 51% of users have posted an observation (blue and yellow), but only 4% have made identifications for other people (yellow and pink). Nonetheless, these 107,000 identifiers have generated 53 million identifications for other people compared with 43 million observations generated by 1,265,000 observers (from now on I’m [the writer] counting all observers, not just observers of verifiable observations as I prefer to do because the data were easier to fetch, but the patterns are the same)."

To that end, I'm going to start with running an ID-a-thon for New England plants towards the end of February. Give me a couple of weeks to get organized, but after that, I'm going to make some journal posts in the project about how to make IDs - not how to tell plants apart, but walking the reader through the mechanics of the clicks and such that make up an ID. Feel free at any point to ask me questions, even questions you think are stupid questions, because, trust me, it was a bit of a learning curve for me, too.

And I plan on having fun. Going places I've never been before. Maybe meeting - safely, in the field, no huddling over field guides - other iNatters. Eating more ice cream than I should. Finding weird galls and leafminers. Watching eagles and Somatochloras soar overhead; ditto for fish and turtles under my kayak. It'll be grand. I hope to see you out there!

Posted on January 01, 2022 20:56 by lynnharper lynnharper | 5 comments | Leave a comment

December 16, 2021

I've Been Thinking

And those of you who know me in real life know that I'm good at getting myself in trouble once I start thinking - for some definitions of trouble.

So, I just participated in an ID blitz: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/id-blitz-december-2021, which concentrated on Unknowns and Kingdom-level observations. It was loads of fun! I worked solely on Unknowns and made more than a thousand IDs over the course of the 48 hours. In total, 54 people made almost 31,000 identifications for the blitz.

But it got me thinking: what if we concentrated on making identifications that moved observations to Research Grade, and thus out of the Needs ID pile? The enormous Needs ID pile, to be exact.

I'm thinking of organizing a two-day ID-a-thon focusing on moving observations to Research Grade in New England, probably sometime in February. Anybody up for helping out? We could concentrate on plants, if that's what people prefer, or keep it wide open (anybody out there know your bacteria to the species level?). Right now, there are just over 560,000 species-level observations in New England that need IDs, 296,000 of which are Plants. (Assuming I've filtered properly; feel free to correct me!). By "species-level," I mean that someone, usually the observer, has narrowed the ID down to a particular species; these observations aren't stuck at Kingdom or Genus or anywhere in between. One more ID could bump these to Research Grade.

I'm happy to set up the project, write journal posts to keep up the enthusiasm, provide some help with how to make IDs if you've not done it before, and try my best to figure out how many IDs we all make, etc., etc.

Any questions? I'm happy to answer any question as best as I can, or find out the answer elsewhere, if there is an answer.

Posted on December 16, 2021 15:26 by lynnharper lynnharper | 6 comments | Leave a comment

November 20, 2021

Let's talk about identifications

Now that it's mid-November, my desire to go out hiking every possible day has quieted down a bit, plus I've had a couple of weeks here and there without a car, for various reasons. Thus I've been working on making identifications of other observers' observations. A LOT of identifications. And I have a few things I want to say about that.

First, it feels as though I am barely making a dent in the ever-growing flood of observations coming into iNat from New England, so I'd love some company. I know, I know, you feel as though you don't know enough, that you're not an expert, that you'd just embarrass yourself. Well, get over that. Anyone who is reading this (meaning people who follow me on iNat, I would guess) knows enough to be able to take a mushroom that's currently labeled Unknown and move it into Fungi. In fact, I bet almost all of you can ID a blooming Purple Loosestrife, or a decent photo of a Wood Frog, or even a Monarch caterpillar. I mean, I'm not an expert and I can do that!

So why did I start making IDs on other people's observations? Well, it occurred to me that the fact that other people were making IDs on my own observations, back when I started on iNat, was definitely one of the reasons I kept going and got so into hiking new places and making lots of iNat observations. I want other people, particularly people who are new to iNat or even new to looking at the natural world, to have that same sort of positive feedback. Plus, I think that the dataset that iNat observers are assembling is simply extraordinary and will become even more useful with climate change. So I resolved to make as many IDs for other people as I made observations of my own.

Second, I want to emphasize to observers (and you, dear reader, probably don't need this advice, but here goes anyway) that there are a few "rules" about making good, useful observations for iNat. Learning to use iNat has a bit of a learning curve, and it's easy to miss learning some of these rules.

iNat is primarily for wild organisms. Not pets, not garden plants, not zoo animals, not humans. If you do observe something that's not wild, mark it as such when you post it.

You can take several photos of an organism and include all of them in one observation. Conversely, each organism should have its own observation. In other words, don't photograph a squirrel, a tree, and a mushroom, and post all three photos as one observation. In such cases, no one can ID your observation properly.

When you post an observation, make sure it has an identification, even if it's something general like Animal or Plant or Fungi. Otherwise, it's labeled as Unknown by iNat and somebody like me has to go through and guess at what you observed. The easiest way to check if your observations have any ID at all is to look at the website after you upload photos. I think that it's pretty easy to forget to add an ID to an observation when you're using the phone app, as the app will upload observations whenever it has an internet connection, before you've had a chance to add an ID.

Here's a URL filtered for my Unknowns: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&user_id=lynnharper&iconic_taxa=unknown You can substitute your user name for mine and see if any of your observations aren't IDed. Note that Unknowns include bacteria and observations labeled Life, where no one knows has a clue about even what Kingdom was observed.

Once you've uploaded some observations, come back in a day or so and see what other people have added as IDs. If someone has added a more precise ID, that's a learning opportunity for you! Or if other people disagree with your ID, they might be right; again, that's a learning opportunity - or maybe you just made a mistake. I think I've IDed my Sweet-Fern (Comptonia peregrina) photos as Sweet Fern (Pteris macilenta) several times, for example, and I always appreciate being corrected.

When in doubt, go re-read iNat's Help documents here: https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/help Or ask me questions - I'm happy to help.

OK, enough preaching to the choir - back to work making identifications!

Posted on November 20, 2021 15:11 by lynnharper lynnharper | 5 comments | Leave a comment

July 07, 2021

More than One Million!

More than one million verifiable observations in Massachusetts have been posted to iNaturalist! I think that's worth celebrating! (Break out the ice cream! Or the gin and tonics! Or both - go wild!)

Almost 14,000 species! Getting close to 40,000 observers! Almost 14,000 identifiers!

These are numbers to admire. I didn't grow up in Massachusetts; I moved here around 25 years ago. But it warms my heart to see how much Massachusetts citizens value their environment. This state has strong wetland and rare species protection laws. It has a very strong and active land trust movement, which has done extraordinary work in protecting so much of the Commonwealth, along with municipalities, the state conservation agencies, and the federal National Park Service and Us Fish & Wildlife Service. The Native Plant Trust, Mass Audubon, the Trustees of Reservations, and other groups do so much to educate interested naturalists about the natural world. It's all just great.

I've been spending many of my days recently, whenever it's not pouring rain or thundering, traipsing over hills and bogs with like-minded friends, finding cool plants and bugs and little waterfalls and beautiful views. It's been wonderful - thank you to Dave and Karro and Maryanne and Michael and Nancy and Ted and Tom and Tony and all my naturalist friends I haven't seen yet this summer - so much fun! If there's a moral to this journal post, it's that I recommend you neglect the housework, the lawn, the paperwork, all the trivia of being an adult, and get out there, everywhere, anywhere, in Massachusetts and enjoy this beautiful summer!

Posted on July 07, 2021 13:41 by lynnharper lynnharper | 4 comments | Leave a comment

June 14, 2021

I make lots of mistakes; maybe you should, too?

I was pleased to notice yesterday that I have contributed over 17,000 observations to iNaturalist - and then I was rather shocked to notice that over 100 people follow me on iNat! I'm shocked because, while I know I post lots of observations of all sorts of species (OK, I admit it, I'm obsessed), I don't think of myself as an expert, so why are you all following me?

Yeah, I have a biology degree and, yeah, I worked for MassWildlife for twenty years, but I'm not an expert in anything. I can never keep Yellow-rumped and Magnolia Warblers straight. Female Common Whitetail and Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonflies: one has a solid yellow line down the side of her abdomen, one has a series of slanted yellow dashes, but do you think I can remember which is which? No, I cannot. Red and White Baneberry: something about the thickness of the pedicels separates those, but it took me till last week to come up with the mnemonic that wiiiide pedicels means Whiiiiite Baneberry. (Boy, I hope that's correct.)

In short, I don't know everything, and those of you who follow me should remember that I might not always be correct in my IDs. But it gives me so much joy to observe and learn something new almost every week - really, almost every day in the summer - and that is all due to iNaturalist. A couple of days ago, a friend and I were walking in a Black Tupelo swamp nearby and I noticed that some of the tupelo leaves had ruffled edges. (Here's the iNat observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/82815564.) While I was sorting and uploading that batch of photos to iNat, I happened to notice that billmac had seen and posted something called the Tupelo Leaf Edge Gall Mite (here's his observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/80658794). Lo, that's what I had seen! That's a species I didn't even know existed and I got to see it in the town next to mine. Who needs to go to the tropics when you can go to Petersham? (Well, I do WANT to go to the tropics....)

I've been starting to learn lichens and moths over the past year and I have really appreciated it when other iNaturalists correct my clumsy attempts at IDing a lichen or a moth. And that's why I titled this post what I did: it's only by making mistake after mistake that I learn, and I encourage you to get out there and do the same. Plus, it's FUN!

Posted on June 14, 2021 13:28 by lynnharper lynnharper | 5 comments | Leave a comment