When you spend a lot of time talking to people about spending time outside, you often hear folks say that it'd be better if most people, especially young people, spent less time on their phones. However, there's a way you can spend time on your phone and it can make you a better naturalist. It works for young people, and it even works if you're middle-aged, like me.
I'm talking about iNaturalist. iNaturalist is an app for smart phones and a website. You upload a picture, and it suggests an ID using artificial intelligence. Then, you can confirm the ID, or enter a different one. Other users can identify your observations, and you can suggest identifications for theirs. Identifications with enough support receive a higher rating, and are accessible to researchers.
It's brilliant. It's like Pokemon, but with real plants and animals and fungus.
And, like Pokemon, you can make it into a competition.
The City Nature Challenge, or CNC, is a competition between metropolitan areas around the world. Philadelphia competed with Pittsburgh, and competed with Los Angeles, and competed with Cape Town, South Africa. Contestant cities are ranked according to number of observations, number of total observers, and number of species identified.
LandHealth Institute participated in this year's City Nature Challenge with a walk at Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center, located along the titular creek on the western edge of Philadelphia. I led us through the varied habitats of Cobbs Creek park, and we raked in a number of observations, including giant fungus like Dryad's Saddle, trees such as American Sycamore, fish including White Sucker, and a variety of native and exotic plants including Common Milkweed and Common Mugwort.
Our walk was not just part of the City Nature Challenge, but also part of SouthWest Fest, a joint venture including not just Cobbs Creek CEC but also neighboring green spaces Bartram's Garden and John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Buses ran between these sites all weekend offering connections between a trio of locations in South West Philadelphia all bursting with plants and animals, many of which people in those locations were also logging into iNaturalist as part of the CNC.
The observation period for this year's CNC ended midnight on Monday the 29th, but the period for uploading and identification won't be over until May 6th. There's still time to get involved and help determine the yet uncertain outcome. One thing is for sure, though. We're definitely going to beat Pittsburgh.