May 04, 2021

My Personal Experience of the City Nature Challenge

Congratulations to the 803 New Yorkers who participated in the 2021 City Nature Challenge! Team NYC is in the top 95 percent world wide for observations and observers. We have a week to upload any remaining nature sightings and put names on everything. I have some bird recordings to upload and I’m going to scan through the rejects from the last four days for any that are identifiable. Results will be announced May 10.

The CNC has become the highlight of my year. For four days I’m totally immersed in nature. It’s like camping right here in the City or a retreat in the Catskills. From sunup to sundown I’m outside with the plants and animals, listening to bird song and reveling in our spectacular park landscapes. There are no scandals, no horrific tragedies, just the rhythm of life unfolding as it should.

Mother nature is in charge. Rain or shine, hot or cold, everyone is provided for and there are no favorites. I eat nuts and seeds like a bird (no insects!) and drink rainwater thanks to our amazing aqueduct system. Like the Turkey Vultures floating above, I’m always moving, always looking for something interesting. I go to sleep good-kind-of tired and wake up invigorated and excited by the day ahead, outside somewhere in the 300 square miles of New York City. My six senses are stimulated simultaneously, but not in a contrived way meant to inflame my emotions or put me to sleep. A whole years-worth of fat accumulation melts away, right where it counts. My mind is active too. “Did I already get that species of Hawkweed?”, “Was that Pelham Bay or High Rock Park where I saw the Swamp Loosestrife?” “I can’t forget to add a note that the Woodpecker was in the Shagbark Hickory, south of the trail leading to the meadow.”

It’s nature therapy for the mind, body and spirit. The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku. Forty percent of New York City is open space and we are blessed with a diversity of forests, wetlands and seashore. Spending time in the fresh, nature-infused air lowers blood pressure, boosts the immune system, slows heart rate and calms the mind. After four days, I am reset physically, mentally and spiritually and the benefits last a whole year.

I’m grateful to iNaturalist, the California Academy of Science and the Natural History Museum Los Angeles County for organizing the City Nature Challenge, bringing Nature lovers around the world together to celebrate life on Earth. And we should all thank the New York City Parks Department for their great work protecting nature in New York City.

The May EcoQuest challenge is VERIFY VERONICA. If you find the Pink Ivy-Leaved Speedwell (pictured below) anywhere in New York this month, your observation will be cited in the publication.

Register here for the May 17 presentation by Dirk Albach The Genus Veronica (Speedwells) - In 15 Million Years to New York








Posted on May 04, 2021 14:34 by danielatha danielatha | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 03, 2021

Calling All New York City Nature Lovers

Who says New Yorkers don't love nature? Over 700 of you have observed 1,343 species of Sponges, Fish, Snails, Crabs, Clams, Insects, Birds, Mammals, Plants and Fungi. Out of 400 cities, NYC is number 11. The competition ends at midnight tonight. Can we finish ahead of Boston and North Taiwan for a spot in the top ten?

Try leaving your photos on the camera roll and uploading them later using the desktop program. Drag and drop as a batch is quicker than uploading one by one with the mobile app. You'll spend more time enjoying Nature and less time looking at your phone!

Global Leaderboard
Battle of the Boroughs
Park-by-Park Competition
Short Training Video
Longer Training Video
City Nature Challenge 2021: New York City Project page managed by Kelly O'Donnell at Macaulay Honors College
Virtual Events

Besides having fun, breathing fresh air and getting better acquainted with the wild inhabitants of New York, the City Nature Challenge has scientific and conservation benefits as well. In 2019, Lynette Lewis @lynalew found the Pink Ivy-Leaved Speedwell, Veronica sublobata (pictured below), a species never recorded for New York State. Here's how she described her experience....

"I went to Staten Island that day because of the City Nature Challenge! I was in college when the CNC started; Dr. Kelly O'Donnell recruits & trains Macaulay student volunteers to help. That year I was the only one who signed up to make the trek down to Staten Island. Very long commutes are nothing new for me, given my suburb is isolated from gentrified Brooklyn. But I underestimated how much time that trip would take. As a volunteer, I tried making as many observations as possible while traveling to & from events. During the CNC, my main goal is to make more observations than I did the previous year/go somewhere new. Not looking for a specific species allows me to be more open to everything around the space."

Lynette's observation was later identified by the World's Veronica expert, Dr. Dirk Albach @albach and the three of us will soon publish a paper together registering the species for New York State.

The May EcoQuest challenge is VERIFY VERONICA. If you find the Pink Ivy-Leaved Speedwell anywhere in New York this month, your observation will be cited in the publication.

Register here for the May 17 presentation by Dirk Albach The Genus Veronica (Speedwells) - In 15 Million Years to New York

Posted on May 03, 2021 12:33 by danielatha danielatha | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 02, 2021

Calling All New York City Nature Lovers

Help New York City stay in the top ten worldwide. We are almost 500 strong! With two days left (Sunday and Monday), if we each make twenty-five observations per day, we'll be number one!

Try leaving your photos on the camera roll and uploading them later using the desktop program. Drag and drop as a batch is quicker than uploading one by one with the mobile app. You'll spend more time enjoying Nature and less time looking at your phone!

Global Leaderboard
Battle of the Boroughs
Park-by-Park Competition
Short Training Video
Longer Training Video
City Nature Challenge 2021: New York City Project page managed by Kelly O'Donnell at Macaulay Honors College
Virtual Events

Besides having fun, breathing fresh air and getting better acquainted with the wild inhabitants of New York, the City Nature Challenge has scientific and conservation benefits as well. In 2019, Lynette Lewis @lynalew found the Pink Ivy-Leaved Speedwell, Veronica sublobata (pictured below), a species never recorded for New York State. Here's how she described her experience....

"I went to Staten Island that day because of the City Nature Challenge! I was in college when the CNC started; Dr. Kelly O'Donnell recruits & trains Macaulay student volunteers to help. That year I was the only one who signed up to make the trek down to Staten Island. Very long commutes are nothing new for me, given my suburb is isolated from gentrified Brooklyn. But I underestimated how much time that trip would take. As a volunteer, I tried making as many observations as possible while traveling to & from events. During the CNC, my main goal is to make more observations than I did the previous year/go somewhere new. Not looking for a specific species allows me to be more open to everything around the space."

Lynette's observation was later identified by the World's Veronica expert, Dr. Dirk Albach @albach and the three of us will soon publish a paper together registering the species for New York State.

The May EcoQuest challenge is VERIFY VERONICA. If you find the Pink Ivy-Leaved Speedwell anywhere in New York this month, your observation will be cited in the publication.

Register here for the May 17 presentation by Dirk Albach The Genus Veronica (Speedwells) - In 15 Million Years to New York

Posted on May 02, 2021 10:38 by danielatha danielatha | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 01, 2021

Calling All New York City Nature Lovers

We need your help to reach the top ten worldwide

New York City is currently number eleven in the World
Our New Jersey neighbor and part-time New York City team member, Sara Rall @srall is the number four identifier in the World
Sara Rall, Sandy Wolkenberg @sadawolk and Chris Kreussling @xris are the number one, two and three identifiers for NYC
Daniel Atha @danielatha is the top observer in the World
Daniel, Sara Rall and Kelly O'Donnell @klodonnell are the top three observers in NYC
The Bronx has the most observations in New York City
Manhattan has the most observers
Manhattan has the most species

Global Leaderboard
Battle of the Boroughs
Park-by-Park Competition
Short Training Video
Longer Training Video
City Nature Challenge 2021: New York City Project page managed by Kelly O'Donnell at Macaulay Honors College
Virtual Events
Events Preview

Posted on May 01, 2021 10:51 by danielatha danielatha | 1 comment | Leave a comment

April 30, 2021

Calling All New York City Nature Lovers

Posted on April 30, 2021 17:07 by danielatha danielatha | 1 comment | Leave a comment

City Nature Challenge, April 30 through May 3

Posted on April 30, 2021 12:39 by danielatha danielatha | 1 comment | Leave a comment

April 01, 2021

CHECK FOR CHERRY

The April EcoQuest Challenge is CHECK FOR CHERRY



How many Cherries can you find by April 30?

Flowering Cherry Trees (Prunus spp.) are synonymous with spring, but the clouds of pink and white flowers that appear in early April are produced by exotic species introduced in the 20th century, a few of which are emerging invasives. Our native species such as Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) and Beach Plum (Prunus maritima) bloom in May and June, well after the leaves have fully developed.

Photograph Cherry Trees anywhere in New York City. Be sure to include a bark photo with your observation. Note also the base of the flower below the petals (receptacle and calyx) for hairs or glands. If there are leaves, photograph and note the pinhead-like glands at the top of the leaf stalk (petiole) that characterize all Cherries and distinguish them from the closely related Apples (genus Malus).

See the Guide to Cherries and Plums (Prunus) of New York City for more information about our wild Cherry trees.

Posted on April 01, 2021 10:49 by danielatha danielatha | 1 comment | Leave a comment

March 01, 2021

BROWSE BRYOPHYTES

The March EcoQuest Challenge is BROWSE BRYOPHYTES



How many Bryophytes can you find by March 31?

Bryophytes are diminutive plants related by a common ancestor to Algae and forming three distinct evolutionary lineages: Liverworts (Division Marchantiophyta), Mosses (Division Bryophyta), and Hornworts (Division Anthocerotophyta). Like other plants, they make their own food from water and carbon dioxide via photosynthesis, but unlike flowering plants, they lack complex vascular tissue and reproduce by spores, not seeds.

Bryophytes are ecologically important as pioneers of barren surfaces. They are often the first to appear after volcanic eruptions, tree falls, floods and ice scour. They can absorb and retain many times their weight in water and help mitigate sudden downpours. They retain water and release it slowly into the environment where it can be used by other organisms. They contribute to nutrient cycling by trapping and absorbing minerals from water and air. They can form crusts with Lichens on old dunes, helping to stabilize the sand and build soil leading to succession by other plants. They provide niches for other organisms, especially tiny invertebrates such as Snow Fleas who are in turn consumed by larger invertebrates and so on up the food chain. Fallen logs first become encrusted with Bryophytes and in time the moist, nutrient-rich carpet may become an incubator for fern spores and seeds of flowering plants. Bryophytes are highly sensitive to small differences in humidity, UV radiation, pollution and characteristics of the underlying surface (substrate). Whether in the city or a primeval forest, dozens of microhabitats may occur in just a few steps. Bryophytes were on earth long before flowering plants and mammals and have evolved survival strategies to ensure they remain long after.

It is estimated that there are 617–637 Bryophyte species in New York State (Finger Lakes Native Plant Society), but there has never been a complete catalog or inventory for the state or City. Your observations will help achieve that goal.

A 10x hand lens and good light are often enough to identify many Bryophytes. However, species distinctions are sometimes made on the basis of cell shape and their arrangement and other microscopic features. For some a microscope and fresh or rehydrated samples are required for confident species identification. A good field guide for our region is Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts, a Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast, by Ralph Pope (Comstock Publishing Associates, a division of Cornell University Press, 368 pp. 2016).

See the Guide to the Bryophytes of New York City for more information about the City's Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts.

Visit the Bryophytes of New York for Bryophyte observations in New York State.

The Finger Lakes Native Plant Society has some general information about Bryophytes in New York State (How many bryophytes are there in New York and are any of them rare?).

Posted on March 01, 2021 20:41 by danielatha danielatha | 1 comment | Leave a comment

February 16, 2021

Half-a-Million Milestone

Wohoo! Congratulations, New York City!


A major milestone––

Who says New Yorkers don't love Nature? One half million plants, animals and fungi is a lot of affection! Five hundred thousand observations in just four years is pretty remarkable. How does that compare to other urban areas? Climate, total area, population, regional biodiversity, and other factors make direct comparisons difficult. But just for fun... Our neighbors up the coast in the Greater Boston Area (GBA) are also doing well with 480,000 observations. The GBA is four times the size of NYC, but has about half the population. On the opposite coast, the San Francisco Biodiversity Project, home of iNaturalist, has "just" over 211,000 observations. When will New York City reach 1 million observations? The charts and graphs here provide some clues.



The Chipmunk did it!––

Congratulations to Elliotte Rusty Harold (@elharo) and the Eastern Chipmunk for getting us over the half-million mark. When not laboring in his secret identity of a mild-mannered software developer, Elliotte Rusty Harold watches birds, photographs insects, and writes stories. His short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Crossed Genres, Daily Science Fiction, and numerous anthologies. He’s also authored over twenty non-fiction books, most recently Java Network Programming, 4th edition, and JavaMail API, both from O’Reilly. His house is Ravenclaw. The Chipmunk, when not foraging for acorns, fungi and berries, is busy enlarging its underground burrow, making room for winter food stores and a growing family.



Less than a Coon's age––

This graph shows the cumulative number of iNaturalist observations made in New York City since 2017 and the projected growth following the trend line. The New York City EcoFlora got started in the spring of 2017. Under the stewardship of then- project assistant, Ben Mertz, long-time NYBG volunteers were recruited and trained to use iNaturalist. They began making observations in earnest about May of that year which can be seen in the steady rise in observations. Every month an average of 15 new members join the New York City EcoFlora. On average, throughout the year, more than 1,000 New Yorkers make 10,000 observations per month. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, 2020 saw a doubling in the rate of increase, rising from about 100,000 observations per year to 200,000 per year in 2020. In January of 2020, four hundred and thirty observers made 3,498 observations. In January 2021, five hundred thirty-two people made 7,764 observations. Based on the data to-date, our very rough estimate is that we will reach 1 million observations on Tuesday, March 14, 2023 at 9:23 AM. It's too early to say who the critter will be.



As season for everyone––

As expected, the average number of observations (and observers) rises during the warmer months and plunges every winter with sharp monthly peaks corresponding to outreach efforts and nature events. April and September are the months with the highest average number of observations and observers, corresponding to spring and fall bloom cycles, bird migrations and outreach events. Could they be related? Overall, the number of observers and observations each month are rising steadily year over year. The City Nature Challenge is a global competition to see which community can make the most observations, record the most species and engage the most number of participants. Originally between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the challenge went national in 2017 and global in 2018. Kelly O'Donnell of CUNY'S Macauley Honors College has led the New York City effort from the beginning. Every year, more organizations throughout the City join the fun. The competition was paused in 2020, but New Yorkers still participated by making observations inside their homes and gardens. This year, the event will take place from April 30 to May 3, 2021. Coordinators in every borough should be sought in your local New York City Park and nature center. Numerous organizations in New York City sponsor bioblitzes and other outreach activities encouraging more New Yorkers to use engage with Nature and use iNaturalist. EcoQuests, developed by the New York City EcoFlora and launched in August of 2017 are month-long events focused on a particular plant species or group of plants (like a genus or family) and their role in the ecology of New York City. Informed by in-depth and accessible information about the plant(s) in focus for that month, community scientists search their neighborhoods (and beyond) for as many individuals as they can find. Email alerts (sign up here) and EcoFlora journal posts are released on the first of each month with instructions on how to participate.



Conservation is fun––

In August 2017, the New York City EcoFlora launched the first EcoQuest Challenge, MONARCHS AND MILKWEEDS. Seventy observers made 325 observations of Monarch Butterflies and five species of Milkweed plants. The first EcoQuest Challenge was followed by POKEWEED PURSUIT. One hundred and fourteen participants made 1,109 observations of American Pokeweed throughout the City, driving a definite spike in the number of observations (see chart above, A season for everyone). The July 2018, TRACKING TREE OF HEAVEN EcoQuest challenge was followed in October of that year by WATCH FOR WHITE SNAKEROOT in which 181 participants observed a whopping 16,373 White Snakeroot plants. The emerging invasive Italian Arum was thoroughly documented during the ARUM ALERT EcoQuest which resulted in publication of the first report of the species as invasive in North America. Wrongly maligned as a cause of hay-fever, Goldenrods are a diverse group of fall-blooming wildflowers providing vital nutrients to pollinators late in the season as other food sources become scarce. One hundred and sixty-four New Yorkers participted in the GO FOR GOLDENROD EcoQuest, making 1,670 observations. The State of New York City's Plants 2018 catalogs nineteen Goldenrod species recorded since 1819. Keen observers found seventeen of them, including two species that had not been seen in decades (Elm-Leaved Goldenrod, not seen in New York City since 1964 and the Cut-Leaf Goldenrod, not seen since 1936). In the first project to document the uniquely urban habitat of walls in New York City, the CLIMBING THE WALLS EcoQuest challenge, documented 283 species, including eighteen species of ferns, four of which are quite rare in the City, and many plants not previously recorded as wild (e.g., Butterfly Bush, Oak Leaf Hydrangea, Russian Sage, Japanese Painted Fern and several others). For the first time ever, the February, 2021 EcoQuest challenge, SALUTE SKUNK CABBAGE has gone two weeks without a single observation. Read about these plant's amazing powers and their ecological role in the species summary here. In total, 1,136 EcoQuest participants have made 72,392 observations of 500 species. Some of New York City's super-naturalists like Kevin Sisco (@nycnatureobserver) and @elizajsyh have contributed tens of thousands of observations to every EcoQuest and are among the City's top observers and species spotters. See the EcoQuest umbrella project page here.



Battle of the Boroughs––

Is it surprising that Manhattan has twice as many observations as the next borough, the Bronx? Does Manhattan have the highest concentration of naturalists in the City? Does it have more species than any other borough? Could Central Park have anything to do with it? These are intriguing questions worth asking. The data presented here are accurate, but lack the precision necessary to reach firm conclusions on these questions. Keep in mind that observers and species are not exclusive to each borough. Multiple observers made observations in many or all of the five boroughs, so these observers and species are counted more than once. That's why the number of observers in each borough exceeds the total number of observers for New York City (17,645). Likewise the species numbers exceed the 9,223 species observed in the City. Nevertheless, with a little analysis, we can make some general conclusions. As can be seen in the table below, 123,853 of the 500,000 observations (25%) were made by the top five observers. And it just so happens that all five live in Manhattan. Staten Island accounts for less than 10 percent of the observations, but nearly equals Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx in the number of species observed. The borough also has by far the fewest number of observers. This suggests that either the diversity is so much higher on Staten Island that a handful of observers can record the same number of species as Brooklynites who are five times more numerous. It could also mean that the few observers on Staten Island concentrate on finding unique species (eg., @cbarron). Maybe it's both. These are fun and interesting findings and they point to fruitful lines of inquiry regarding outreach, engagement and the distribution of biodiversity in New York City.



Top Observers

Top Species Spotters

Top Identifiers

New York City's super-naturalists––

The naturalists in the charts above are some of New York City's super-naturalists. They account for 41.4 percent of the total observations made in New York City. Note that some observers have made relatively fewer observations but found significantly more species (e.g., @zihaowang who is number 25 in observations, but number 3 in species). And note who tops both the observer and species lists (@susanhewitt)! Susan has a keen eye for species and boundless enthusiasm for the wild members of our community. She has discovered several new plant records for New York State, all non-native species either escaped from cultivation or introduced inadvertently and hiding in plain sight. Not all of New York City's super-naturalists live in the five boroughs. Our top identifier, Sandy Wolkenberg (@sadawolk) actually lives in New York City's sixth borough, New Jersey as does another of our top observers and identifiers, Sara Rall (@srall). Wayne Fidler (@wayne_fidler), New York City's third top identifier is originally from New York state, but currently lives at Guantanamo Bay. To date, more than 17,600 individuals have observed at least one plant, animal, fungus or other organism in New York City. During the summer and fall months, around 2,000 people make an average of 15–20,000 observations per month. Through all the months of the year and from year to year, the number of observations per month, divided by the number of observers is remarkably constrained at about 13 observations per individual per month. Super-naturalists not withstanding, is there a way to increase this number? More and better outreach?



New York City's notorious twenty––

These are not necessarily the most common or abundant Aves, Amphibia, Reptilia, Mammalia, Actinopterygii, Mollusca, Arachnida, Insecta, Protozoa, Plantae, Fungi and unknowns in New York City. They are the ones we humans photograph the most. Every one is a wild member of our community and all adults and school children should be able to identify them. Note the dominance of plants among the top twenty. Plants and Fungi comprise 61 percent (303,331) of the 500,000 observations.



Notorious non-plants––

These are not necessarily the most common or abundant non-plants and fungi in New York City. They are the ones we humans photograph the most. Fourteen of the top twenty are indigenous to NYC. It's a myth that there are more Rats than there are people in New York City. These data don't prove that, but just so you know, the Brown Rat comes in at number 86 with just 325 observations.



Notorious plants and fungi––

These are not necessarily the most common or abundant plants and fungi in New York City. They are the ones we humans photograph the most. All but two of these (Violet and Dandelion) were the subject of EcoQuest challenges. Thanks to the Clean Air Act, passed in 1970, Lichens have made a remarkable comeback in New York City. Highly susceptible to air pollution, only a handful of species could be found in the region before 1970. In recent years, community scientists have documented ninety-seven species. See the Lichens of New York City project for more information. Looking for intact salt marsh habitat? Let the plants be your guide. The Groundsel Tree is a native tree or shrub that typically grows around salt marshes, just above the high tide line. At the water's edge, inundated by the tides twice a day are Cordgrasses and just behind them (at the highest tide line) is the Marsh Elder shrub. And just out of reach of the highest tides, inland of the other two is where you'll fine the Groundsel Tree. Have you ever wondered why the forest in your park has a large grove of Sassafras trees? These pioneer species with their thick, corkey bark are adapted to fire and wherever you find a large, even-aged stand is a good indication that the area had burned sometime in the past. The age of the trees can be used to approximate the date of the fire. Did you know there are eleven species of Milkweed indigenous to New York City? Only five are commonly found today. Learn more about New York City's Milkweeds here. Tree of Heaven is the preferred host of the dreaded Spotted Lantern Fly, a recent import from Asia with potential to cause great harm to parks, farms and forests. Nearly 6,000 trees are documented in NYC with pin-point accuracy, enabling pest managers to monitor where outbreaks of the pest might occur.

Thank you––

The New York City EcoFlora is a community resource. You, the naturalist community of New York City are the main contributors and beneficiaries. You decide what to observe and what it means to you. The New York City EcoFlora helps organize the information and inspire more New Yorkers to get outside and discover Nature. iNaturalist is the world's leading platform community scientists use to document Nature. It's free, easy-to-use tools enable us to share our sightings and communicate with Nature lovers around the world. Where would we be and what could we do without it? Love iNaturalist as much as we do? Please consider becoming a monthly supporter. The New York City EcoFlora was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MG-70-19-0057-19].



Posted on February 16, 2021 15:58 by danielatha danielatha | 6 comments | Leave a comment

February 06, 2021

SALUTE SKUNK CABBAGE

The February EcoQuest Challenge is SALUTE SKUNK CABBAGE


The remarkable Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is native to the northeast, occurring in swamps and wet woods. A member of the Arum family, most of the plant is underground, anchored by active, contracting roots that pull the buried stem downward. The flower clusters are thermogenic, producing enough heat to melt snow and enable the plant to bloom in winter.

See the link here for more information on these remarkable plants. Visit the iNaturalist project page to see observations and stats.

Posted on February 06, 2021 21:05 by danielatha danielatha | 2 comments | Leave a comment