Community Science with iNaturalist at the Denver Audubon Nature Center and Trails
By Rick Kenney and Tom Loucks
When Kate Hogan asked us to add to the Denver Audubon Nature Center and Trails iNaturalist project, we were happy to take on the challenge. We would need to make observations in the area that surrounds the Denver Audubon Nature Center property, and we looked at this project as another opportunity to put our Audubon Naturalist training to good use. We plan to make observation trips to the Nature Center area throughout the rest of the summer and into the fall to see how many species we can add to the iNaturalist database for this project.
The iNaturalist website describes their effort as “an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature.” Entries into the iNaturalist database are made using the iNaturalist app on handheld devices or through the website (www.iNaturalist.org). Many organizations use the information collected by community scientists to provide biodiversity data for scientific studies as well as to help manage natural spaces throughout the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.
Our first survey occurred in June in the area stretching from east of the nature center to the South Platte River. During this survey, we made over 50 observations of plants, birds, insects, and mammals. Specifically, we identified 37 plants, 12 birds, 4 insects, and 1 mammal. These observations can be viewed in iNaturalist in the Denver Audubon Nature Center and Trails Project under our observer names (cwkenney and loucksta). In addition to Rick recording observations in real time using the iNaturalist app, Tom captured high-quality photos and Rick later added them to the appropriate observations. When a participating iNaturalist Identifier (an individual with specific knowledge of the observed species) confirms one of our observations, the observation is moved from “Casual” or “Needs ID” grades to “Research Grade.” As we write this, many of our observations are now Research Grade.
One of our most interesting observations relates to sighting a possible hybrid Eastern and Black Phoebe, commonly observed on the north edge of Audubon’s property late this past Spring and into early summer. As Hugh Kingery wrote in his July 16 edition of Backyard Birds, “Much discussion of this bird resulted in a verdict of a hybrid Eastern/Black Phoebe. Later, Scott Somershoe, our local eBird coordinator, said on Cobirds™, “In Jefferson County, I am aware of three pairs of birds trying to breed where both birds of the pairs are hybrids! I am not sure where all these hybrids are coming from, but this phenomenon is worth thoroughly documenting. This is really fascinating, and I encourage everyone to look more closely at their ‘Eastern’ Phoebes and get photos, if possible.”
A sampling of our other observations is shown in the accompanying photos, and we’ll post more soon. (click on the images for identification).