This post was written by David LeGros, Algonquin Provincial Park Naturalist.
Are you an explorer? Are you heading to the parks on a journey of discovery, eager to see what’s at the next lake, the transportation loop, or even what might show up at your campsite?
Me too. I love exploring the countryside on canoe trips and I love getting to know Algonquin a little better each time. I’m also an avid naturalist, so I like to identify the things I see when I’m out there (and no, I don’t know all the species).
I’ve become obsessed with iNaturalist lately (ask my wife). So when we were planning our latest canoe trip, I gently guided the route to reach a place where few nature nerds had set records before. For glory, but also for good and real reasons.
In case you’re not familiar with it, iNaturalist is a community science platform that wants your observations of nature, anything. From the smallest insects to the largest trees, everything is fine.
All you need to do is download the app/open the website (here’s how!), take a photo, and send it to iNaturalist. In doing so, it has just improved our understanding of a species’ distribution and helped Ontario Parks understand biodiversity in our parks.
Some brightly colored lichens growing on a rock in North Algonquin
The iNaturalist platform can record species anywhere in the world, but Ontario Parks has created special projects within the platform to track observations in each of our parks, from Polar Bear Provincial Park to Fish Point Provincial Park.
Marsh milkweed growing along a slow moving river
You can take pictures with your phone or digital camera. You can send it in real time if there is a cell signal (not likely in the field) or when you get home.
Take iNat to the field
The image below shows what Algonquin Provincial Park looks like on iNaturalist. As you might expect, most observations are concentrated around the Highway 60 area. That’s where most people visit: that’s where the main trails, visitor center, museums, and campgrounds are located.
A map of iNaturalist observations in Algonquin Provincial Park
Amazingly, there are already more than 50,000 observations of more than 3,500 species on Algonquin. But we have all this great countryside with canoe routes and backpacking trails that barely get any attention and have very few records on iNaturalist.
Do you want to help us solve it?
Next time you’re out in the wild, consider taking some photos of the wildlife, plants, mushrooms, or even fish you’ve caught, and submitting them to iNaturalist!
These huge white pine trees growing near our campsite were a real treat; the one on the right was more than a meter in diameter
On my last two canoe trips, I set myself the personal challenge of submitting 100 observations to community science platforms. On the first trip, I only got to 77, but on the second trip I managed over 120.
A native freshwater mussel.
Thousands of backcountry users visit Algonquin and other parks each year. Think about what the map would look like and what species might appear if everyone submitted even one record each!
you could change everything
Set a personal challenge, take some photos, and submit them to iNaturalist. Even a single observation can change what we know about our park; it could be a completely new location for a rare species, or draw our attention to an invasive species we didn’t know was there.
Even this awesome Harvestman on the Thunderbox counts!
To add to the fun, iNaturalist keeps track of which observations are yours, so you can watch them stack up.
Did I mention you can compete with your friends and family? Just today I made my 2000th observation; It was a cool moth, right in my own backyard.
Inspired to get started? Check out our recent blog post “The Cat and the Mudbug: A Guide to Using iNaturalist.”
Please respect wildlife and park regulations while exploring. This post shares some great tips on how to use your phone or camera responsibly in the parks.