I used to go hiking and paddling; now I go iNaturalisting. I love the peace and beauty of wild places, and the pastimes that put me there, but my favorite hobbies have become more interesting thanks to getting to know the names and habits of plants and animals, with help from an app and website called iNaturalist.
The St. Croix River and the nearly 8,000 square miles of Minnesota and Wisconsin that drain into it are rich in life. There is a broad range of plants, birds, fish, insects, reptiles and much more that call this region home. It includes numerous endangered and rare species, from mussels on the riverbed to birds flying overhead.
You can explore it all from the comforts of your home using iNaturalist, a tool to learn about your natural neighbors and deepen your connections to the river and its watershed.
When you start to know the innumerable forms of life that can be found in, on, and around the St. Croix, you start to appreciate just how special it is, how healthy it is, and how important it is to protect.
With iNaturalist you can record your own sightings of anything from fungus to waterfowl, and see what others are finding. iNaturalist will even help you identify organisms you photograph, thanks to artificial intelligence and photo recognition. While field guide books and other identification methods are great, this can be an excellent way to get started learning what lives here.
I love another unique feature on the site too: you can choose to only see what has been observed in the St. Croix’s big and beautiful watershed. This has helped me better understand my home turf.
View my presentation slides.
I’ve written about iNaturalist on St. Croix 360 a few times before. This week I gave a short online presentation for local leaders in the lower watershed, organized by Angie Hong of the East Metro Water Resources Program, the Minnesota and Wisconsin DNRs, Washington County, and the St. Croix River Association.
My presentation was focused on exploring the natural treasures of the St. Croix watershed. This post is meant to extend the reach of that presentation, giving instructions on getting started using iNaturalist, and exploring some of the wildlife that has been observed in this beautiful region.
If you are coming here after the presentation, welcome, and I hope you sign up for St. Croix 360’s weekly email newsletter. If you’re a regular reader who is interested in the creatures that call this place home, this post should share the main points of my presentation and help you get started exploring — and potentially adding your own observations.
Watch the complete seminar below. It also includes Angie Hong talking about planting for wildlife, and Laurie Schneider of the Pollinator Friendly Alliance talking about policies to protect pollinators. My part starts at about 34:30.
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iNaturalist is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, existing in its current form since 2014. It currently has 2.6 million users, who have made 40 million observations of 280,000 species.
iNaturalist includes all forms of life, all around the world. There are several more specific similar sites that may be helpful if your are interested in a certain slice of life: eBird, Bumblebee Watch, Odonata Central, HerpMapper, and more.
An observations include evidence of a species (photo or sound recording), with the date and location and other helpful data. Other users review the observation and, if they agree, it is labelled “Research Grade.” This reviewed data is helpful for scientists.
The observations in iNaturalist are an important tool for research and understanding wildlife and ecosystems. This huge database can help scientists now and in the future understand when and where wildlife can be found, or if populations are growing or shrinking.
To make an observation, create an account (you can use your Google or Facebook account), upload a photo, add the location where it was found, and away you go! If you use your phone, it will automatically know when and where the photo was taken.
But you don’t have to create an account or add your own observations to have some fun. You can explore the more than 2,000 species of life found in the watershed just by clicking this link.