Written by Paul (Mac) Consigny, Cohort 2
In 1999, a team of Tohono Chul volunteers, the Saguaro Huggers, began measuring the height of the main stem of specific saguaros within Tohono Chul Park. A total of 251 saguaros were measured for the first time between 1999 and 2001. By 2018, the heights of 186 of these saguaros were still being measured.
In 2019, the growth rate of each of these 186 saguaros was determined using Excel’s linear regression function and graphics as depicted in the figure below for Saguaro G006. The slope of the blue dashed line is the growth rate (mm/day or mm/year). The mean height was calculated according to the equation:
The figure demonstrates that saguaro annual growth rate is directly related to mean saguaro height. The increase in data scatter as mean height increases and a bending of the curve suggests that other variable besides height come into play. Those variables could include: arm development; injuries from freezing, insects, bird holes etc.; variations in weather including precipitation, temperature, evapotranspiration, etc.
A second study, based on the first saguaro growth study above, was focused on the effects of weather on saguaro growth. To reduce the variability in the data, we restricted this analysis to the fastest growing saguaros. This restriction was based upon the hypothesis that the fastest growing saguaros would be more sensitive to the effects of weather than the slowest growing saguaros.
Eleven saguaros were chosen for this study. The average height of these saguaros ranged from 1139.5 mm to 2581.0 mm and the growth rates ranged from 111.2 mm/year to 200.6 mm/year.
For our analyses of weather, we chose to use data for the Tohono Chul location obtained from the Climate Engine database (ClimateEngine.com).
Precipitation at Tohono Chul occurs annually over two seasons, the summer monsoon, and the winter season. We first needed to define the duration of each season (start and end days). For this definition, we first calculated the average daily precipitation for each day of the year for the years 1999 through 2018. This analysis revealed that minimum precipitation for these years occurred June 8/9 and Nov 17/18. Having identified these minimums, we created the following definitions of precipitation:
We determined the correlations between annual growth and summer, winter, monsoon, CYP, and PYP for the 11 fast-growing saguaros. The results of these analyses are summarized in the table below.
A correlation coefficient greater than 0.205 is considered statistically significant (p<.05; N = 92). Therefore, all correlations in the table are statistically significant. Also, the closer the correlation is to 1.0, the stronger the correlation.
The linear relationship with the highest correlation, annual growth vs CYP, is depicted in the graph below.
Another factor that could influence saguaro growth is evapotranspiration, the process by which water is transferred from the land and other surfaces to the atmosphere by evaporation and by transpiration from plants. We obtained evapotranspiration data for the Tohono Chul location from the Climate Engine (https://ClimateEngine.com). The data was expressed as a reference ETo – the estimated evapotranspiration from a well-watered, full-cover grass surface, 8-15 cm in height. Factors that influence evapotranspiration include surface water (area, depth, temperature), atmospheric temperature and humidity, topography, and vegetation.
We determined the correlation between calendar year ETo and saguaro annual growth for the 11 fast-growing saguaros. The correlation coefficient was 0.4746 (P < 0.001) with a negative slope suggesting that as ETo increases annual growth decreases.
Since both precipitation and evapotranspiration affect plant growth, we combined these two variables into a ratio (calendar year evapotranspiration /calendar year precipitation) where we expected that growth would increase as this ratio decreased. The linear correlation is depicted below.
Note that the correlation between annual growth and the CY ETo / CYP ratio (0.4976) was less than the correlation between CYP and annual growth (0.6369) suggesting that the addition of ETo as a variable failed to improve the correlation.
The scatter in the graph above suggested that another variable or variables should be included in the analysis. Since our first study demonstrated that growth rate is directly related to average height, we normalized / adjusted the data to correct for average height differences. The graph below shows the linear relationship between CY ETo / CYP and annual growth after correction for height.
The graph below shows the curvilinear (exponential) relationship between CY ETo / CYP and annual growth.
All three of the above graphs demonstrate that as numerator calendar year ETo increases and / or the denominator calendar year precipitation decreases, annual growth decreases. Correcting for differences in saguaro height reduces data scatter and improves the correlation coefficient (0.4976 to 0.7113). Fitting an exponential relationship to the height-corrected data further improves the correlation coefficient (0.7113 to 0.7633).
The results of this study demonstrate that multiple factors affect the annual growth of saguaros. These factors include average saguaro height, precipitation, evapotranspiration (factors that contribute to evaporation including soil moisture atmospheric temperature and humidity, and topography, and factors that contribute to transpiration including saguaro surface area, density of stomata, opening of stomata, and timing of the opening of the stomata). Other possible factors not analyzed include sources of water other than precipitation, presence/absence of nurse plants, presence and number of arms, and presence/absence/magnitude of disease or injury.
Mycology of Mount Lemmon
Blogpost written PCMN Josh Skattum, Cohort 3
The incredible diversity of Arizona can be observed due to changes in topography as well as a change of seasons. Since this last July I started exploring a diverse “kingdom of life” within one of Tucson’s local Sky Islands. I found myself climbing our mountainous terrains, wading through the overspill summer monsoons, and kept my eyes to both the ground as well as towards upright trees for the glimpse of a fleshy, spoor bearing, living structure. Fungi!
This blogpost is not intended to be used as a resource for identifying edible mushrooms. However, many hobby mycologists enjoy embarking on ventures in search for their own personal consumption. There are many online resources and communities for delving into that content, starting with the Southwest Arizona Mushroom facebook group. Instead, this is intended as a personal narrative as an Arizona Master Naturalist exploring a new topic of interest as well as sharing the educational resources used during this experience.
According to several sources, it’s estimated that there’s over 144,000 identified species of fungi on our planet. Many scientists still aren’t sure on how many more unidentified species there actually are. Here in Arizona, and especially Tucson, we experience a strong change in topography in the form of “Sky Islands”. Tucson’s Sky Islands are surrounded by the Sonoran Desert. This region’s change in topography, resulting in 8 distinct biomes along the Catalina Highway, is also characterized with change of season by summer monsoon rains. The intersection of this diverse topography and weather results in an array of microclimates as observed with the emergence of Southwest Arizona’s fungi.
I had very little to no knowledge on mycology and I am still learning each time I set out to look for mushrooms. Several educational resources have been used during my forays including: a gifted book called “The Complete Mushroom Hunter”, inaturalist, and gleaned information from the fb group disclosed above. I learned quickly from inaturalist that for an easier experience making identifications, photographing certain characteristics is needed for a completed identification. For example, for amanitas mushrooms, photos should be taken of both the annulus (if any) as well as the base of the mushroom. There is also an in depth guide found on inaturalist.
My book Mushroom Hunter also shared some naturalist perspectives used for mushroom forraying:
Know your habitat type. Hiking through various habitats, such as mixed hardwood forests, can help broaden the kinds of fungi you will find by exploring diverse spaces. Understanding the kind of “micro” and “macro” ecosystems your mushroom grows on can help narrow in on your searches. Questions that can help with this includes: Does this mushroom typically grow on top of the ground? Below the ground? Along a vertical (possibly living) tree? Does it grow into a decomposing tree? What species of trees can it typically be found on?
Searching during the perfect season. The portion of the mushroom that we come across is the fruiting body of the organism. Most of the fungus lives below ground and we are selecting to find them during a specific period of their life history. Understanding that timing and what you’re looking for will impact what you find! Typically our ideal timing here in Southwest Arizona coincides with our end of summer monsoons tailing into October.
Sight, Taste, and Smell?! More than just your sense of sight can be used for identifying mushrooms. Some experienced foragers may also use their sense of smell, investigating for a specific or similar aromas, as well as their sense of taste. I did not venture that far with my identification skills as being new to this topic.
Mushroom Field Groups. Using this guide helped me learn about different “Mushroom Field Groups”. I enjoyed this part of the book the most as it helped me start to develope a pattern of identification while piecing together various natural history as well as physical characteristic’s of fungi. These groups included: Morels and Cup Fungi, Truffles, Chanterelles and Black Trumpets, Tooth Fungi, Coral Fungi, Boletes, Polypores, Jelly Fungi, Mold Fungi, and Giant Puffballs.
I made over 30 iNaturalist observations documenting various fungi while hiking Mount Lemmon. They range from “research grade identifications” to “pending at various levels”. You can view some of my favorite observations below! Mycology identification is still a learning process for me. While writing this blogpost I even came across a project group called “Mushrooms of the Santa Cantalinas 2022”. I’m excited for next season and to continue to delve into more content while contributing to similar projects. You can also learn more by navigating through my iNaturalist observations, assisting with identifying and documenting these species! By clicking on the URL title above each image below you’ll be taken to that specific iNaturalist observation! All you will need to do is log into your account via the links and you can then also join in on the fun!
“Smoky Polypore”: Was noted that to assist with this identification, may need to know tree species as well as a spore print/ID.
Blogpost written by PCMN Kathy McLin
Just before turning onto the Catalina Highway from Mt. Bigelow we pulled the car to a halt to observe and photograph a gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk…….An unexpected surprise.
Our plan was to find a lunch spot and as we traveled down the Highway a picnic and camp ground across from Middle Bear proved to be a treasure of forest life. In this pine/ oak woodland we encountered:
Black-throated Grey Warbler
This area was criss crossed by a sandy wash, oaks and alligator pines, and low shrubs. A cacophony of noise from Mexican Jays and Acorn Woodpeckers greeted us and provided excellent photographic opportunities. A cliff chipmunk took a dust bath in the wash while a Hepatic Tanager hopped from one shrub to another. His yellow feathered mate flew past but stayed hidden.
After lunching a House Wren scurried past and landed on the picnic bench along with a Spotted Towhee. And, in a shrub packed area by where we parked a Black-throated Grey Warbler was dining on bugs.
A big surprise was the Female Arizona Woodpecker. A true one of a kind browb-backed, speckled- breasted bird with a white eye patch. She effortlessly climbed the bare pine much like a nuthatch.
Fall is the perfect time to catch sight of birds as they prepare for colder weather. Consider a trip up the Catalina Highway, and maybe I’ll see you there!
Written by PCMN Kathy McLin, Cohort 3
Fall is definitely in the air and birds are beginning their migrations to warmer climes. If you have even a passing interest in birds, then a trip along the Catalina Highway is a must.
My destination with birder friends took us first up Mt. Bigelow at an elevation of 8,552 ft. Tall pines and carpets of ferns tinted with fall color dressed the landscape. About a quarter mile up we parked and listened for the sounds of birds. Within a few feet we spotted three species of nuthatches, Pygmy, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, and the Mountain Chickadee.
Walking further along the road Stellar Jays were flying about and in a well wooded pull off, a bird I’d never seen before flew into the tree next to me, a female Hermit Warbler. Her mate appeared a short distance away with a yellow head so striking in appearance I was dumbfounded! What Luck!
There were Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and a mass of wildflowers, paintbrush, parish goldeneye, hairy seed bahia, and more.
On the summit, painted lady butterflies danced atop the parish goldeneyes. And, sitting on a huge rock was a juvenile Turkey Vulture, feathers resplendent in the morning light.
Part 2 to follow as I share our exploration of a lower elevation and it’s delights.
Written by Dave DeGroot, Sept. 20, 2022
More than 40 species of big “hawk moths” or “sphinx moths” live in the mountains and deserts of Southern Arizona. Until the Master Naturalists’ “Bug Night” on Sept. 15, only two of these big moths had been documented in the Tortolita Preserve. During Bug Night, a third and then a fourth species were positively identified. In addition, the smaller cousin of a really big moth species made an appearance.
The previously seen hawk moths were White-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata) and Rustic sphix (Manduca rustica). On Sept. 15, Master Naturalists observed the Carolina sphinx (Manduca sexta) and the Carolina’s close relative, the Five-spotted hawkmoth (Manduca quinquemaculata). In addition to these, it is likely that there are many more species of big moths in the Preserve’s 2,400 acres. Efforts to document the nighttime insects and arachnids in the Preserve are just getting started.
Another interesting and previously undocumented moth among the hundreds that showed up on Sept. 15 was the beautiful Hubbard’s silk moth (Syssphinx hubbardi), a small cousin of Asia’s massive Atlas moth with its 12-inch wingspan.
The Sept. 15th event featured Dr. Marguarethe Brummerman, a professional entomologist, photographer, and artist who brought her blacklighting equipment to the main gate of the Preserve and helped identify many of the hundreds of insects and arachnids that were attracted to the bright lights. Sixteen Master Naturalists attended and earned Advanced Training hours.
“This is only the second time anyone has tried black lighting in the Tortolita Preserve,” notes organizer Dave Degroot. “All these initial observations make me wonder what other big or amazing night flyers are out there, just waiting to be discovered!”
On Saturday, November 19th, Master Naturalists will play a key role in a big Bioblitz within the Tortolita Preserve. Watch for volunteer sign up information from Franklin Lane, Dave DeGroot, Penny Miller, or Josh Skattum
By Franklin Lane
The Pima County Master Naturalist (PCMN) quarterly membership meeting was held on Tuesday, September 13th. Thank you Josh Skattum (C3) for recommending Three Canyon Beer and Wine Garden on Sabino Canyon Rd. It’s a beautiful outdoor venue. Although there were some early light showers to ‘appreciate’, it turned into a lovely evening with a typically stunning Tucson sunset.
Approximately twenty-five members, and some guests, from all cohorts attended the gathering. Special appreciation to those members who traveled from the far west side! Unfortunately, a lot of Chapter business has been conducted electronically of late, so it was nice to be able to connect some new faces with names. The public venue offered good food and beverages, so we didn’t have to impose on anyone to host. And no cleanup!
The business portion of the meeting started with a welcoming from Chapter President Melissa Fratello (C5). Melissa has assumed the role of President a few months early to give Jan Schwartz (C4) a well-deserved break. Thanks Jan for your leadership on the Board of Directors and for your incredible work with cohorts 5 & 6. Deb Petrich (C1) will also be re-assuming oversight of the Chapter’s Volgistics account until a new administrator can be identified. Thank you Dre Hoerr (C3) for your service to our members the last two years. As always, please get your hours in!
ALSO NOTE; the majority of the current Board of Directors is reaching its term limits (December) and the Chapter really needs other members to consider helping with administration. Admin service for the Chapter is easy, rewarding, and ensures that the organization stays relevant. “If not me, who? If not now, when?” Please contact Melissa or any Board Member with your interest.
The remainder of the evening was dedicated to a discussion of the Tortolita Preserve BioBlitz scheduled for a Saturday, November 19th. Dave DeGroot (C2) explained the history of the Preserve, the importance of the joint effort, and PCMN’s partnership with the City of Marana to conduct this first ever biodiversity inventory of the area.
Dave also recently attended a planning meeting at the Preserve Trailhead on Moore Rd. (picture below). The City of Marana was represented by Jay Grodman (Natural Resources Supervisor) and Kim Warner. Other partners include Scott Sprague, Arizona Game and Fish as well as Carolyn Campbell and Jessica Moreno from the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. Mark Johnson representing the Tortolita Alliance will handle the advocacy side of the things, allowing PCMN to do what we do best, simply identify the flora and fauna.
INaturalist will be the application used for the BioBlitz. The Preserve has been designated a “Project” within the App. INaturalist is fun and SO EASY, see cheat sheet below. Here is also an online resource on how to use this application. It’s as easy as just downloading the program and you can start practicing in your backyard!
One should also be aware that there is a ‘No Photo’ option within INaturalist. This is helpful for those fast-moving birds and butterflies that can’t be snapped. However, we will need to try to identify them the old-fashioned way! So, bring your field guides. Unfortunately, without photo verification the sighting only receives a ‘casual’ grade.
Marana hopes to have the BioBlitz ‘signup form’ online in early October. We will get that out to the Chapter as soon as it is available. In the meantime, Jay Grodman encourages everyone to register as a volunteer here: https://www.maranaaz.gov/volunteer
It’s a simple process. Just put BioBlitz in the Comments section.
While details are still being sorted, it is anticipated that small groups of participants (armed with INaturalist) will be led through various parts of the Preserve by designated ‘Guides’ familiar with the approximate 9-mile Loop and the area diversity. Several Master Naturalists have already volunteered for these leadership roles.
Kathy Balman (Maricopa Chapter)
Jenna Marvin (C3)
Olivia Carey (C3)
Paul Stillman (C3)
Vicky Ettleman (C3)
Marcia Lambert (C5)
Dave DeGroot (C2)
Wow Cohort 3 way to go!! If you are familiar with the Preserve and would like to participate as a guide, please let Franklin Lane or Dave DeGroot know. For those members who’d like to be involved but would rather not tromp around the desert, Kathy Sudano (C3) will be looking for folks to staff a Table at the event. Good opportunity to identify those new interns for C7 and/or C8.
The next opportunity for the Chapter to assemble as a community will be for the Annual Membership Meeting in early December. It will include selection of new Executive Officers:
President-Elect (2024 term), Treasurer and Secretary (2023-24).
Finally, this red spotted toad joined us at the bar and was welcomed by Jan Schwartz (C4), Carrie Barcom (C3) and Angela Seidler (C6). Ever the Naturalists!
By: Franklin Lane
The annual SE Arizona Birding Festival, sponsored by the Tucson Audubon Society (a PCMN Partner Organization), was held from August 10-14 this year. The Pima County Chapter has traditionally staffed an education and recruitment table in the main ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel along with vendors and other natural science, outreach organizations. This year’s event organizer Kathe Sudano (C3) increased Chapter participation by arranging two field excursions led by Master Naturalists. On Thursday, Chapter President- Elect Melissa Fratello (C5) and Franklin Lane (C1) led a group of Festival attendees on a Desert Discovery Hike in Sabino Canyon. On Friday, Karen Vandergrift (C3) and Franklin led a Sky Island Discovery Drive/Hike up Mt Lemmon. Details and pictures are below. According to Kathe, the Chapter’s increased footprint this year really helped to “put us on the map.”
Volunteers over the long weekend also included Chapter President Jan Schwartz (C4), Dana Hook (C6), Peggy Ollerhead (C3), Kathy Mclin (C3), Carol Anderson (C1), Marcia Lambert (C5), Penny Miller (C2) and Jane Davenport (C1). These Chapter Members spoke directly with (169) Festival attendees and responded to (14) serious requests for information about the Chapter’s next class in 2023 (C7). This year’s tabling effort was particularly challenging because the Chapter was simultaneously supporting ‘Critter Night’ at The Mission Gardens. This overlap required additional exhibitry and volunteers. These outreach opportunities are fun and an easy way to acquire service hours. They also allow members from different cohorts to get to know one another. Everyone should consider responding to the next ‘call for volunteers’ from the Outreach Committee. The Committee itself can also use additional help. Note, you do not have to be a Board Member to participate on any Chapter committee. Contact Kathe Sudano or Peggy Ollerhead if interested. The Communications Committee (Josh Skattum C3) and Advanced Training (Penny Miller) are also looking for volunteers. Contact directly or through the Board of Directors: firstname.lastname@example.org
Melissa and Franklin met (5) Festival participants at the Bear Canyon Trailhead at 0600 on Thursday 8/11. A total of eight, the maximum, had signed up but the monsoon weather may have scared a few off. The morning was indeed threatening but paid off with great cloud cover throughout the excursion. Hikers were from as far away as Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to being introduced to the overall ecology of the Sonoran Desert, Melissa was able to identify (24) different taxa for the birders.
9 White-winged Doves, 3 Purple Martins, 4 Mourning Doves, 1 Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, 3 Greater Roadrunners, 1 Rock Wren, 4 Anna’s Hummingbirds, 5 Cactus Wrens, 1 Broad-billed Hummingbird 2 Curve-billed Thrashers, 1 Turkey Vulture, 1 House Finch, 1 Red-tailed Hawk, 1 Lesser Goldfinch, 2 Gila Woodpeckers, 3 Rufous-winged Sparrows, 4 Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, 7 Black-throated Sparrows
1 Pacific-slope Flycatcher, 1 Abert’s Towhee, 1 Bell’s Vireo, 2 Yellow Warblers, 13 Verdins, 2 Pyrrhuloxias
The 2.7-mile hike included an introduction on the Bajada Loop Nature Trail then out the Esperero Trail. Dropping down the Bluff Trail to Sabino Creek, the hikers were truly amazed by the transition from Desert Scrub to the Riparian Biome. With the erosive effect of the recent strong rains, Sabino Creek flowed like chocolate milk.
On Friday 8/12 participants were met at the Doubletree at 5:30 am for the Sky Island trip. The Festival organizers provided a van and snacks. There were (7) birders on this trip from Seattle, San Francisco, Florida, and a couple of locals. They first received an overview of area geology and Sky Island biomes at Babad Doag. Next stop was Windy Point and then a great visual appreciation of the ‘Basin and Range Geological Province’ at San Pedro Overlook. Catalinas, Galiuros, Pinalenos… Interestingly, the most rewarding birding opportunity was near the parking lot next to the Lemmon Trailhead. Unfortunately, just short of halfway through the planned hike (Lemmon Loop) some scary weather closed in, and the group was moved at ‘faster than birder speed’ back to the van. Heavy rain and hail blasted the drive down from Summer Haven to about Rose Canyon Lake. To compensate for the lost opportunity Karen suggested a stop at Molino Basin. The following is a list of what she was able to help identify for the participants.
3 Mourning Doves, 1 humming bird species, 2 Gila Monsters, 1 Verdin, 2 Cactus Wrens, 3 Black Footed Sparrows, 1 Rufous-Crowned Sparrow, 2 Spotted Towhees.
1 Cassin’s/Western Kingbird, 1 Mexican Jay, 1 Spotted Towhee.
1 white-throated swift, 2 broad-tailed humming-birds, 1 red-tailed hawk, 1 hairy woodpecker, 1 northern flicker (red shafted), 2 cordilean fly catchers, 1 warbling verio, 1 stellar jay, 2 common ravens, 6 mountain chickadees, 2 red-breasted nuthatches, 3 white breasted nuthatches, 10 pygmy nuthatches, 2 american robins, 2 lesser goldfinches, 11 yellow-eyed junco, 2 spotted towhees, 1 grace’s warbler, 1 black-throated gray warbler, 2 townsend’s warblers, 4 hermit warbler, 3 red-faced warblers
1 Anna’s hummingbird, 1 Woodhouse’s scrub jay
2 House finches, 2 Canyon towheees, 2 Abert’s towhees, 1 Hooded Oriole
Both Melissa and Karen have been able to share these lists with the Birders.
Blogpost written by PCMN Kathy McLin and Joshua Skattum, Cohort 3
Comes the Monsoon
“Comes the monsoon
Whose arrival is announced by nature’s percussion, with deep drum rolls and cymbal clashes, grey sky and lightening shows.
A welcomed performance, one of pure life. Anointing the land, hastening the flow of rivers and streams. Filling ponds and pools and seeping in to the earth from which seeds and roots issue flowers and trees, all the green things that nourish body and soul.
PURE LIFE…..where creation begins and fulfills its part in the circle of life. Drink in that which is given to sustain and reawaken, to nurture and grow, to heal and caress this land, our home.
Comes the Monsoon, comes New Life.”
Kathy Carterr McLin
Receiving only 3 to 15 inches of rain per year, the Sonoran Desert is amongst some of our most dry and arid landscapes on our planet. When visualizing this region, many picture it as a desolate space. And yet every summer Arizonans look to the sky and recognize a transition of seasons and a burst of precipitation. We become mesmerized and inspired and enjoy a new season setting in, monsoon season.
The word Monsoon comes from the Arabic word mausim, meaning “seasonal”. It describes the system of winds that change throughout the year, bringing in wet and dry periods. This process is fueled by the Sea of Cortez, creating a biseasonal precipatory system delivering dynamic bursts of summer rainfall and slow long winter rain. As plants and animals have adapted to the dry and hot months of May and June, they relish for the anticipated rain. A burst of life is observed.
The Arizona Upland subdivision of the Sonoran Desert is our wettest desert region. A stark comparison to Yuma, one of the driest places on Earth, averaging only 3 inches of rain each year. The past three years we’ve experienced how rainfall in the desert is unpredictable. Plants and animals here have adapted to wait, reserving energy for when resources are most available to procreate. In 2020 we experienced a drought, receiving only 1.62” of rain for the entire summer monsoon season. This was followed by one of the wettest Julys on record, bringing in over 12 inches of rain for the 2021 July season. According to the National Weather Service, June 2022 has been the 5th warmest and 38th wettest monsoon season. You can also track our current 2022 monsoon reports via the NOA website!
Phillips, Steven J., et al. A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 2015.
Blogpost written by PCMN Josh Skattum, Cohort 3.
Have you ever came across an unfamiliar plant, fungi, or animal and just became engaged with interest and wonder? You might ask yourself what that biota might be? Maybe you’ve heard a bird song or a frog call and wished an expert could help identify that particular species. As part of a community of Master Naturalists, we seek learning opportunities through volunteer work and advanced training due to our interest and passion for the outdoors. Many of our members seek volunteer leadership roles with non-profits, becoming immersed within settings where we are able to advance our knowledge and skills. What if I wrote that there are more resources that at your fingertips, through your hand-held device, such as a smart phone!
As an avid hiker and a community science volunteer, I find myself continuing to find plants and animals that are just completely unknown to me! It’s exciting and fascinating! During my hikes I have came across applications that have assisted me with not only identifying the unknown, but also provided me with information on the said species at hand.
For this blog I am touching on three applications including Seek, Inaturalist, and Merlin birding app! I’ll also be sharing some fun observations while sharing some of my own thoughts and experiences!
Seek and inaturalist basically go hand in hand, but are two separate applications that you can download. What I love about seek is that you can take photos of the biota in front of you and watch the algorithms narrow in on that said species. When you identify the discovery that you have, you have an option to open up a Wikipedia page listing their natural history! As you identify more plants and animals you also collect fun little badges!
Seek also can sink with your inaturalist account contributing your observations into an online database of information! This can be great for troubleshooting for more difficult observations. Sometimes your photos might not register making it difficult to identify. That’s when inaturalist can become even more helpful! Inaturalist has a community of professionals with expertise and they are here to help you narrow in on your findings! You can also upload photos after taking them with your smart phone. This is a nice feature in case you don’t have time or the ability for an in person seek ID. Many smart phone photos contain meta-data including the date, location, and time in which your photos were taken. This information can help professionals narrow in on the species at hand while also providing important information about your sighting!
I will be honest that I am not much of a birder at all and using the Merlin Birding ID app has been a fun experience as I ease into this hobby! I love being able to identify and learn about a new species while observing it. My favorite feature of this app so far is using the sound ID. All I have to do is hit a button and watch birds while letting my phone share with me the acoustics that it is picking up on! I believe that this app also sinks with ebird and will create a “life list”.
One tip that was given to me was to also get a visual confirmation while doing the acoustic ID. My last outing I even took a camera out to back up my observations. So far my favorite experience was using Merlin ID to identify a cooper hawk calling. The following day I visited to take photos of the birds that I had ID’d acoustically and I learned that there were actually 3 cooper hawks nesting along a stream by Lower Sabina Dam!
While using these programs on my phone, I have been able to identify and learn about the plants and wildlife in my surroundings wherever I go! I also get to help contribute to science! The Merlin birding app contributes to the ebird data-base. You can learn more about the research and conservation applications via this link here! Inaturalist also share’s their findings with scientific data repositories allowing scientists find and use your discoveries for research! You can learn more via a link here!
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