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Nature Journal for Citizen Science?

Updated: May 5, 2021

Citizen Science - the City Nature Challenge 2021

The City Nature Challenge (CNC) is an annual four-day global bioblitz at the end of April. In For the 2021 City Nature Challenge "we want to embrace the healing power of nature and celebrate tens of thousands of people all around the world, searching for and documenting their local biodiversity, together in this event."

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, iNaturalist "urges all participants to carefully follow public health guidelines provided by their local governments. Individual safety and public health were and will be our utmost priority."

Important Dates - Starting Tomorrow!

  • Make and share observations: 30 April– 3 May 2021

  • Upload and try to identify all your observations: 4 to 9 May 2021

  • Results announced: 10 May 2021

What is iNaturalist?

I was introduced to iNaturalist while on a group walk in Palmiet Nature Reserve. We came across a plant in bloom with a flower that none of the experienced naturalists recognised.

A member of the group pulled out her phone and took a photo of the flower from a few angles, as well as photos of the leaves, stems and the general habitat. Within seconds, she submitted these observations to iNaturalist. Minutes later, an identification came back – Ceropagio! It was the first shared sighting of this unusual-looking flower in the experience of the local conservancy group. I was hooked.

How it Works for Me

I take photos as I nature journal. The photos and my nature journal entries complement each other. I cross-reference photo and audio recordings in my nature journal entries. I go between what I recorded on the page and what I notice and think about in reviewing the photos.

My field notes give context to digital recordings. My notes have the context for and conditions of my observations. My thoughts and feelings about the observations are also recorded in my nature journal entries.

With digital photos, I can zoom in to see more than I could with my unaided eye. So, my nature journal entries are richer and more complete by using information from the photos.

How nature journaling can Contribute to Citizen Science

On my phone and camera, I turn the settings on for date, time and GPS location. This makes my photo data. My nature journal entries are field notes that include information that is not in the photo, including size, context and conditions. This data is useful to science when I share it on a citizen science platform, like iNaturalist.

Like many people, I enjoy sharing my photos of nature with family, friends and social media networks. I post on citizen science social media platforms, like iNaturalist.

As an added bonus, I get an identification most of the time. It can take awhile, like with this one took about a year to have it confirmed as Ochna arborea.

When my observations receive research-grade level, they “… can contribute to biodiversity science, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed. We (iNaturalist) share your findings with scientific data repositories like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility to help scientists find and use your data.e

Look for, respect and photograph wildlife and habitats

Reflect on this section of the Nature Journalers’ Code of Conduct while making observations:

“I put nature first, above my wishes.

My experiences are a privilege;

the wellbeing of the wildlife and habitats are essential for the planet.

I observe with minimum interference.

When recording observations, I consider how my behaviour may be affecting wildlife and habitat.

If in doubt, I err on the side of caution.”

Why I connect my nature journaling with citizen Science

I contribute because:

  • I learn more about my observations including getting identifications from experts.

  • I contribute to stewardship which is integral to the ethical mindset for nature journaling.

  • It is fun!

Why participate in the City Nature Challenge?

"There is nature all around us, even in our cities! Knowing what species are in our city and where they are helps us study and protect them, but the ONLY way to do that is by all of us – scientists, land managers, and the community – working together to find and document the nature in our area. By participating in the City Nature Challenge, not only do you learn more about your local nature, but you can also make your city a better place – for you and other species!"

How to Participate in the City Nature Challenge 2021

You can join iNaturalist from your phone with app from AppStore, or Google Play

or computer the website.


Wherever you are, you can participate, by sharing those photos we all love to take. In South Africa, four city challenges are planned:

eThekwini - If you are not sure where to survey in eThekwini, check here for a list of over 150 project sites on the Open Spaces project which details all the sites across eThekwini that you can explore during the Challenge and beyond.

You can participate in the CNC 2021 even if your city, or area, isn't taking part this year. Just join the City Nature Challenge Global Project to have your observations count for the CNC 2021.

Keep Yourself and others Safe Read iNaturalist’s COVID-19 FAQ page for details. Be sure to follow all local guidelines about COVID-19 in your city or area.

Beyond the City Nature Challenge

You can keep contributing by sharing your observations and field notes on iNaturalist.

Have more questions?

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1 Comment

Megan Terpend
Megan Terpend
Nov 09, 2023

I love the third reason for doing this ... "it is fun" ... can greatly identify with the fun aspect 😊

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