Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

Today’s post comes from David LeGros, Algonquin Provincial Park Naturalist.

Although our parks are currently closed, I have noticed that people continue to submit observations to iNaturalist.

At first I was a little worried about people coming into the parks during the closure, but upon closer inspection I was pleasantly surprised.

A natural fit

Nature people and park people are a special group. It is unusual for people to voluntarily subject themselves to the rigors of nature. Long hauls, insect bites, thunderstorms, sleeping on the ground and much more await the outdoorsy camper.

Despite these challenges, people still go on these adventures because the rewards far outweigh the discomfort. Anything worth doing is usually not easy!

person holding maple leaf

Among the many rewards of camping and adventure are what you’ll see: wildlife encounters, special moments with loved ones, or peaceful, powerful landscapes.

Maybe you took some photos while you were there…

Observe and report

A boy uses iNaturalist to identify a bug

If you’re like me, you have a ton of digital photos from past adventures and you may not know what to do with them.

Many people are now going through their old digital photos (and even scanning old film photos) to add them to iNaturalist!

In recent years, several online platforms have emerged as ways to record your observations. Among them, iNaturalist is the most popular. It’s easy to use and really fun!

You can submit observations in real time and a community of users confirms your sightings.

This all adds up to a bigger picture of biodiversity on Earth, and specifically in our parks.

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If you know the date and location, and have a photo depicting an organism, it may be an iNaturalist record. In fact, almost 6,500 of the more than 193,000 observations made in Ontario Parks’ iNaturalist project date back to before April 27, 2000!

person taking a photo of a treeiNaturalist was created in 2008 and didn’t really catch on in this part of the world until around 2014. Most of the recent observations uploaded to iNaturalist in our Ontario Parks project are from earlier this year, last year, and in some cases, from decades ago. Good job everyone!

Our park users are truly dedicated to our landscape. We are proud to serve our visitors and help protect the landscapes we all love. Even though we can’t be in parks right now, we can still help document the biodiversity there.

Backyard Biodiversity

Remembering an incredible trip and observations is great, but how about making new ones? Well right now you can provide tons of records about what lives close to home.

birds in the treesA pair of American robins feeding on mountain ash berries

We often think of protected areas as islands of biodiversity, but our entire province is important. We challenge you to go out and discover what lives around you.

Here are some tips:

Set your expectations.

You are unlikely to see wolves and bears, but you can easily find wolf spiders and woolly bear caterpillars. Delight in the little things.

Move slowly and get closer.

Many of the organisms you will find are small and slow moving. Kids are really good at finding them too!

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slug in the potA Dark Slug found in a broken flower pot. Some creatures give you enough time to take a good photo. Slugs are usually cooperative.

Be creative in your searches.

Try going out on the lawn at night with a flashlight or looking around the porch light. There is a night shift of creatures we don’t normally see.

spiderThis crab racer spider was found hiding under a brick, delighting this nature lover!

The mundane was transformed.

Sometimes when you see the same things every day, they just become part of the background. Even the weeds growing at the edge of your garden or in the cracks of the sidewalk become much more interesting once you know their identity. Get to know them!

Test it!

You don’t need much to get started.

A smartphone with the iNaturalist app is a big help. If you are a real enthusiast, a flask and a magnifying glass will help you too!

A curious mind is perhaps the most important equipment. iNaturalist uses a combination of artificial intelligence and other users to identify your submissions, and will even keep track of your “life list,” which is how many observations and species you have recorded.

lichenLichens growing on a rock in the yard. They are fascinating symbiotic organisms; Fungi and algae live together to create lichens! They come in a dazzling variety of shapes, colors and use a variety of habitats.

Like I said, nature and park people are a special bunch and we all miss our special places.

Let’s all use our free time to help protect them.