Girl taking a photo with a cell phone
Bioblitz A girl takes a photograph of a species of plant to upload to iNaturalist. © Devan King/TNC

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City Nature Month Opportunities

Learn about the world around us, no matter where you are.

Students, educators, and families looking for learning opportunities to do from home are invited to try out the free app iNaturalist and take part in City Nature month, a citizen-science focused event encouraging people to use their smartphones to make scientific observations from wherever they can safely do so during April. 

The iNaturalist app uses a smartphone’s camera to help aspiring naturalists and curious users identify plants and animals they encounter and contribute to a growing global database helping scientists study a huge range of issues.  The Nature Conservancy is an organizing partner of the annual MD/DC area event.

April was previously the month the annual “City Nature Challenge” took place, which is a global competition to see what cities could make the most species-observations over a set period.  In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, local organizers have changed the event from a competition to an opportunity for everyone to creatively connect with nature from wherever they are safely able to: inside their homes, through windows, in backyards, in basements, from balconies, or in their neighborhoods all while following social distancing guidelines.  Everyone is invited to take part, regardless of geographic location.

Participation is easy:

  1. Find wildlife. It can be any plant, animal, insect, fungi, slime mold, or any other evidence of life (scat, fur, tracks, shells, carcasses!) found in your area.
  2. Take a picture of what you find. (Be sure to note the general location of the critter or plant if you are not using a phone or camera with built-in gps.)
  3. Share your observations by uploading your findings through ​iNaturalist​.

The app is easy to use, but for those looking for a bit more in-depth guidance, organizers will also be offering live webinars and recordings throughout the month of April covering everything from how to take a good picture to how to choose the right identifications.  There will also be a special session for educators looking for guidance on helping students learn from it.  Information and registration links for confirmed upcoming webinars being hosted by MD/DC organizers are as follows:

Exploring Nature with Kids: Virtual Learning with iNaturalist & Seek
Thursday, April 16 
5:00 – 6:00 p.m. EST

This "train the trainer" session is designed for teachers, scout leaders and parents. Hear from area teachers and environmental educators on how they use the apps iNaturalist and Seek to engage kids with nature for fun and learning.
Register for the session here.

How to Take Quality Photos with iNaturalist
Thursday, April 23
7:30 - 9:00 p.m. EST

Katja Schulz, program coordinator at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, is a nature photography wiz and is here to share with you some basic tips and tricks that will not only elevate your own nature photography, but will also make your observations more likely to be identified by citizen scientists.
Register for the session here.

Last week, organizers also hosted an introductory webinar call iNaturalist 101, which can be viewed or downloaded here. Further information on upcoming webinars can be found here

The Nature Conservancy also recently rolled out its “Nature Lab” online learning platform, which provides free curriculum and other educational resources for all grade levels to help students and their families learn the science behind how nature works.  The platform can be accessed from any internet connected computer, tablets, and phones, and also provides bonus “virtual field trips” exploring coral reefs, rainforests, and more.

More than 850 million children and youth—roughly half of the world’s student population—have to stay away from schools and universities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As schools around the world shut down to in response to COVID-19 and parents work to balance the demands on their time and energy, we know that students will have very different learning experiences over the next few months,” said Kate Ireland, director of Youth Engagement Programs at The Nature Conservancy. “I’m proud that The Nature Conservancy, with our newly relaunched Nature Lab curriculum, can offer families some support and open up new worlds for young people.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.