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Citizen scientists, armed with new apps, put technology to the test at Grant's Woods

Group learns virtues of eBird and iNaturalist
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Mike Burell helps members of the Orillia Naturalists’ Club learn more about citizen scientist apps such as eBird and iNaturalist. The next day, the citizen scientists were loosed on Grant’s Woods, where they put their new knowledge to use. Contributed photo

Mike Burrell spoke to the Orillia Naturalists’ Club March meeting at the Orillia Museum of Art and History and challenged those in attendance to become citizen scientists. He shared information about two very useful apps to use as tools for this endeavour. 

Burrell, a zoologist for the Natural Heritage Information Centre in Peterborough, provided an excellent introduction to two popular mobile software applications: eBird and iNaturalist

Traditionally, sources for this data have included museums, literature reports, field surveys (e.g. MNRF, Parks Canada, professional biologists with private corporations,) but as funding for these drops over the years, the contributions of citizen scientists becomes very important, Burrell said. With the advent and uptake of apps, in particular eBird and iNaturalist, the data has accumulated exponentially in the last few years.

eBird relies on individual birders going out into the field and using the app to record their checklists. eBird then disseminates the information for professional interpretation and use, and back to the citizen scientist with a tally of his/her bird sightings as well as cumulative sightings.

It serves both beginner birders and advanced birders, alike. The beginner has checklists to reference for the area in which they are birding, telling them whether the bird they think they see is likely at that location and at that date. Postings that are unusual are reviewed by experts.

iNaturalist is a more recent app, beginning in 2008, and it is also growing exponentially. It tracks all species, plant and animal – not just birds – and maps the occurrence (time and location). However, the community vets each posting, and there are some keeners who spend an hour a day or more just reviewing posts to “agree” or offer other suggestions. An unknown find can be photographed, sent to iNaturalist and an expert will likely identify it for you.

Burrell fielded a number of questions after his presentation. He assigned homework for the 20 naturalists who planned to attend his workshop the following morning. That group met at Grant’s Woods, armed with computers or phones, and were amazed at the amount of data available for those who participate in these programs.

The next meeting of the Orillia Naturalists’ Club will be on Wednesday, April 4, at 7:30 p.m. The guest speaker will be Arni Stinnissen on the topic Icebergs, Puffins and Whales. Enjoy an evening of fine art photography and stories with club members Arni and Dianne Stinnissen, who explored Newfoundland for five weeks last summer.