Citizen Science – iNaturalist

The internet and digital photography have opened up wonderful opportunities for ordinary people to get involved in citizen science as observers of the natural world. Online meeting places and forums come and go but the best at the moment seems to be iNaturalist – https://www.inaturalist.org.

It’s a global project and the numbers are huge: 54 million observations by 1.4 million observers from nearly every country in the world when I looked recently. That presents a management problem, of course, which is solved by having countries run independent branches, e.g. https://inaturalist.ala.org.au/

Anyone at all can browse the content of the site but people have to sign up to participate. When that’s done (at no cost and very little trouble) they can upload their observations, help with identifying others’ observations, and join the discussion forums.  It’s a big and complex site but not too difficult to negotiate because it is exceptionally well planned and because there is no need to use most of its functions until you want to. (I have to admit there are some that I haven’t bothered with in the year I have been a member.)

And ordinary people can make very useful contributions to the project, especially if they (we) are outside the big cities. It’s obvious, looking at a map of Australian observations of butterflies and moths, that any life outside the big population centres is under-represented. Zoom in on North Queensland and the pattern is even clearer – and it’s the same for birds, and will be the same for all other life forms.

iNaturalist observations
iNaturalist observations – Butterflies and Moths

This means that if you visit Mount Fox, Undara, Einasleigh, or even Ravenswood and submit an observation of any species at all it is likely to be a ‘first’ for the location. We really don’t know what’s out there – and how can we look after what we don’t know?

Other projects

Encyclopedia of Life is a similar but older project. It welcomed citizen scientists from the outset but was almost overwhelmed by them for a while and now is primarily an inter-organisational data sharing project.

Atlas of Living Australia was a founding partner of EOL and now collects observations from iNaturalist. It is an open-access data resource, oriented more to the professional community than to citizen science.

BowerBird was founded in 2013 as a citizen science project of Museums Victoria and ALA but was folded into iNaturalist about 2019.

flickr is a photo-sharing platform which hosts self-managed Groups, some of which are wildlife-related. I joined (years ago) so that I could easily contribute to EOL (which collected sightings via one such group) but also enjoyed the Field Guide to Insects of Australia and the similar Australian Birds and Spiders groups. Each of them had (and probably still has) enthusiastic, knowledgeable members willing to encourage and support newcomers.

There’s no need to be bored!

Odd bird portraits

These are odd portraits of birds rather than portraits of odd birds, although the Jacana probably qualifies on both counts. I took them on a ride along the Annandale side of Ross River from Aplin’s Weir to the Palmetum a few days ago.

There are always swallows flitting about the weir, resting on the weir wall between excursions over the water in search of insects. I liked the contrast of the small-fragile-soft, but absolutely nonchalant, bird against the massive-brutal masonry. For the record, it’s a Welcome Swallow, Hirundo neoxena, our only resident swallow species.

Welcome Swallows Hirundo neoxena on Aplins Weir wall
Welcome Swallow, Aplin’s Weir

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Noisy garden

We live in a bird-noisy garden and suburb and we are usually suitably grateful. Our gratitude was somewhat strained, I have to admit, when this family of Blue-winged Kookaburras started calling at dawn, but I had enough goodwill left for them to spot them in the top of a neighbour’s eucalypt an hour later and immortalise them.

That’s Dad on the left, with Mum beside him and (presumably) their well-grown chick on the right.

They are very loud when they let loose. So are the Sulphur-crested Cockatoos which often pass overhead and sometimes pause in the Burdekin Plum tree. So are the Curlews which scream at night on our footpath and, at this time of year, the incessantly-calling Koels.

But we would be far poorer without them.

Birds along Ross River

The birds along the Ross River bike paths are a constant pleasure. Every time I ride there, there is something worth stopping to watch and (if possible) photograph. Here are three such highlights, all from the short stretch of river between the Nathan St and Bowen Rd bridges and all within the last month.

Pelicans

We often see one or two pelicans along this stretch of the river but larger groups are not so common. This group on the Annandale bank, opposite the end of Water St, had four or five members when I first saw it, late one afternoon, but more came in as I watched. I caught some of them doing weird things with their enormous beaks.

Pelicans on Ross River
Coming in to land

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No Laughing Matter

Guest post by Liz Downes

Early on Saturday morning my daughter heard a lot of scuffling going on in the leaves near the back fence and, through her bedroom window, saw two kookaburras locked together in some kind of struggle. After closer examination through binoculars she identified one as a Laughing Kooka and the other as a Blue-winged.  The latter, let’s call him Bluey, had more extensive and more vivid blue plumage and also a pale, “scary-looking” eye compared with the Laughing one’s deceptively gentle-looking brown eye.

What she discovered was that Laughing Boy had its beak jammed down the throat of Bluey, which in turn had its own beak firmly clamped down on the intruder, and they were dancing about like that apparently unable, or unwilling, to unlock themselves.

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