by Tim Kennelty
Taghkanic resident, Tim Kennelty is a Master Gardener and Master Naturalist volunteer through Cornell Cooperative Extension, and is the co-host of Cornell’s weekly Master Gardener podcast, Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley.
Column #1 – iNaturalist and Seek
This is the inaugural edition of Tools of the Trade, a new recurring feature of the TGazette that highlights a website, app or book that we gardeners find to be essential resources. For the winter months it is replacing Good Plant/Bad Plant. GP/BP will return again in the Spring to highlight more plant heroes and villains.
One of the most frequent inquiries we master gardeners receive is about the identification of a plant or insect. While there are many wonderful field guides and other identification resources available, the go-to resource for many gardeners is an app and related website called iNaturalist. iNaturalist is one of the world’s most popular nature apps that allows you to identify and record plants, insects and animals.
iNaturalist is a social network of naturalists, citizen scientists and biologists built on the concept of mapping and recording observations of biodiversity. It is both a website and app that allows you to record observations of plants and animals in nature using photographs. It also allows you to share what you’ve found and contribute to a global database of biodiversity information used for both science and conservation. iNaturalist was first developed in 2008 as a masters final project. Eventually the developers teamed up with the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic to create what is today one of the most popular nature resources.
Finding and making observations is as simple as exploring, being curious, and taking photos of plants, insects and animals. You can also take photos of evidence of specific organisms, like tracks, nests, shells, or skulls. iNaturalist uses Artificial Intelligence that suggests a list of possible identifications, and then if you upload those observations, the iNaturalist community works together to refine and confirm the identifications. iNaturalist helps anyone explore their surroundings, improves their observation skills, and connects them to a naturalist community.
The iNaturalist app and website are completely free with no hidden charges or upsells. To get started, you simply download the inNaturalist app from the Apple Store or Google Play. The app is compatible with both IOS and Android smartphones. Once you have downloaded the app you need to set up an account with a username and password.
Now you’re all set to get out there and make observations. You might want to start with some plants in your garden. Find a subject and tap the “Take Photo” button. You’ll be given options to retake the photo and add photos. When you’re ready, tap the box that says “What did you see?” If you have a wifi connection, the iNaturalist artificial intelligence will provide possible identifications based on your photograph. You can quit here or save the observation for the iNaturalist community to review the photo and confirm the identification. iNaturalist has many other features and I’ll include a link to the “Getting Started Guide” so that you can explore further.
If you want an even simpler ID tool, download the “Seek” app. Seek was created by the same folks who developed iNaturalist. Seek uses the same artificial intelligence, and is a good choice if you don’t want to create an account or share your data. It is especially good for beginner nature observers and kids.
Whether you decide to use iNaturalist or Seek, you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn….just get out there and start observing.
That’s it for this edition of the Tools of the Trade. I’ll be back again next month to tell you about another great gardening and nature resource.
Links for Episode 1.
For more about gardening and nature, listen to our Master Gardener podcast, Nature Calls, Conversations from the Hudson Valley, available on all major podcast platforms and at https://ccecolumbiagreene.org/gardening/nature-calls-conversations-from-the-hudson-valley