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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

iNaturalist (1 Viewer)

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
The iNaturalist website has been mentioned in various threads already at many occasions, but I think it is about time we talk more in deailt about how great it is and specifically about how fun it is to use. This already is a warning: the site is not really well suited to the serious birder for example: if you go to your sites with a notebook, recording all birds "scientifically", then there is eBird and whatnot for you and you would probably pull or your remaining hair out trying to log anything reasonably on iNaturalist. If, on the other hand, you like to take things more casually, preferably while taking pictures of anything you see - and if you are interested in things beyond birds, iNaturalist is simply great and I don't think there is any other site that would come even remotely close to it.

For the people who are not familiar with iNat, as that's how we casually call it, it's a platform where you can post your observations of anything living. The by far easiest and definitely central way how to do so is to upload pictures. You can put in also undocumented observations, but those will be left at the sidelines and not subject to most of the functionality of the site. You can upload pictures from your cellphone using the app or you can upload them from the PC, even many years back. The default interface has you simply drag and drop any number of pictures - it then tries to get time, location and possibly the ID (if stored in filename or a proper tag) from the pictures. You can set locations manually, for one picture of for a selection, and you can give it an uncertainty of any magnitude, even thousands of kilometers, but that's obviously less preferable - but it means you can put in old pictures for which you have only a general idea of the exact site.

The site has a pretty smart AI that will give you its opinion on the ID, if it's not pre-written in the file by you. This AI is mind-blowingly good for some things, such as most of the birds, a little less good for difficult stuff like herps and if the photo is tricky, it may get even the kingdom wrong - so you have to check it. But even if you don't, the next great thing comes into play: everyone can see your observation and add their idea of the ID - the "community taxon" is then determined democratically from those IDs. And that's where it becomes awesome: many people who give out a lot of IDs, are experts in the field they have chosen to do IDs in. I knew nothing about corals going into iNat and now all my coral photos have been reviewed by a guy who wrote the most comprehensive book on Indo-pacific corals ever written - just like that!

This, in my opinion, is the core benefit of iNat and allows you to start getting smoothly into things you would never even think that you could start IDing. With iNat, you can just decide by a snap of a finger that you are doing fungi or plants or insects now ... anything you can point or have ever pointed your camera at! - with absolutely zero knowledge and just upload them all with the AI IDs and sit down and just enjoy the IDs coming, browse the taxonomic tree that's growing in front of you - and start learning about all the species you have inadvertently seen already! You can also discuss things with other people - especially those who gave you an ID - and most of the time they are very eager to do so and that's also a great way to learn.

To make it more fun, iNat allows you to see your own lifelist, even in a frankly little convoluted way (you can't for example quickly see number of species per category) and to make it even more fun, you can see the lists of other people. You can also search for observations of whatever you want in any region, country, or rectangular area - and you can also look up the 500 most active observers of that. It's sorted by number of observations, but you can sort those people by number of species - this isn't a perfect raking list (because people with very few observation per each species can get left out) but it works well for a lot of things, especially when restricted to a combination of taxa/regions with less contributors. You can also easily see some more statistics, such as overall number of entries and species for each taxonomical leaf in the tree.

Overall, there are now over 58 million observations in the database, 23 million of plants, 31 million of animals, out of which 12 million are of vertebrates and of those 8.5 million of birds. Birds are the "most explored" category on iNat, with astounding 9942 species already observed, which is the biggest covered fraction of any category - you can get a breakdown of this statistics across taxa in this blog entry. Amazingly, this huge coverage is really a collective effort as the best bird species collector there has "only" 4190 species - so many competitive listers have a clear opportunity to score a top position here - and if I ever manage to upload all my birds, I will be 9th in this ranking! This gets even better in other categories, when you select the conditions right - not only am I already 20th worldwide in mammals (and on the way to 10th position when I finish all my species), I am also for example already no.1 in mammal species in Poland :) (you have to order by species manually to see that).

In summary, iNaturalist is a great project and we have had enormous fun wading through all our photos from all corners of the world and discovering that we have already seen a plenty of cnidarians, so many kinds of insects and actually a really fair selection of world's butterflies. I want everyone to know about it in case they would enjoy doing the same and are missing out on the fun right now!
 

Sandy73

Well-known member
Evening

I agree INaturist is very good, I tend to use it only for sightings where I have a photo. Another use is for plants/ fungi, it gives me an idea of what family to look at.

Nearly all my sightings, whether there is a photo or not, go on Irecord and bird sightings are also loaded into the Birdtrack system.

Regards
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
After we have uploaded to iNat any non-bird animals that we could find photos of (finding many insect species along the way), we decided to also share birds there - it's not feasible to upload everything taken through the years, so we are mostly trying to at least upload all species from big trips and get our entire lifelist together. Recently, we went through photos from our Oman trip and that already increased the number of species recorded on iNat from Oman by 11 - birds are simply not very covered there, so one can make a reasonable difference by uploading birds! Actually we have added 13 species, but in the process, I noticed 2 bad IDs on other observations and that removed two species :)
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
Getting our entire life list on iNaturalist was not easy. We went through photos from many trips and uploaded at least all species from a trip, slowly covering the entire planet. Then we added some stuff from home, looked at what we miss in Europe, added that ... and we were still over 30 species short. It's not easy to find out what is missing, because iNat has different taxonomy and different names for many species than IOC - and it's still not really that well organized. So eventually we exported the list from iNat and I run some bash scripts on it to get some work automated - and well, it turned out that while uploading the Ecuador trip, I somehow skipped most of Yellow House in Mindo, which - as anyone who has been then can imagine - led to a great loss of species!

For iNat purposes, we count what either one of us got, so the total is 2182. On iNat, we have 2145, the difference is due to
  • 3 species we have no record of (so they can't really be put on iNat)
  • 8 acoustic records we are yet to find to upload (not sure how many we actually have)
  • 19 missing IOC splits on iNat
  • 4 IDs not decided (mainly because I found an error, but some overzealous IDer already confirmed the errorneous ID)
which leaves the difference of 3 which is so far unexplained :)

During the process, we have added new species for iNat to a lot of countries - 51 to Kuwait, 34 to Tajikistan, 37 to Poland, 9 to Czech Republic - the bird data on iNat are simply very scarce, so you can really improve it a lot even if you aren't the world's best birder!

It was also very useful to confirm and improve our IDs. Overall, after uploading on iNat, we
  • lost 6 species
  • gained 10 species
  • changed 10 other IDs (from one, henceforth lost, lifer to another)
 
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JTweedie

Well-known member
I'd been wondering if there was an app that uses AI to help you identify species from photos. So will this do the trick? Will it work with flowers? I normally try to use a traditional guidebook but unless you're already familiar with much of the lingo then this can be tricky, especially if you're trying to identify a plant before its optimum flowering period.
 

raymie

Well-known member
United States
I'd been wondering if there was an app that uses AI to help you identify species from photos. So will this do the trick? Will it work with flowers? I normally try to use a traditional guidebook but unless you're already familiar with much of the lingo then this can be tricky, especially if you're trying to identify a plant before its optimum flowering period.
iNaturalist has this and it (can) work with any organism. It also sometimes doesn't.
 

Swindon Addick

Registered User
Supporter
Wales
Always treat its automated IDs as suggestions rather than firm answers, but in my experience it has a fairly decent hit-rate. It will generally suggest a species or sub-family for things which need serious expertise to get to species level. If what you're after is a suggestion to get you to the right page in the field guide, which is pretty much what I tend to need with plants, it's very useful.
 

opisska

Jan Ebr
Czech Republic
iNaturalist AI is absolutely fantastic 80 % of the time, sort of meh 15 % (but it admits it to you in the process) and completely hilarious in the remaining 5 %. You have to keep in mind that it will only suggest species that it has at least 50 good photos of already - and that excludes some relatively common birds, if they are only common in areas where iNat is not very popular - we are working hard to get Sand Partridge cross the threshold for example :) But don't forget that there is the community ID as well - and it has some pretty good people doing it, so even if the AI fails you, the people usually won't. My strategy for things I don't know (generally non-tetrapods) is: if iNat AI is "pretty sure", pick that, unless even I can tell it's crazy - if not, go through the top suggestion and pick the lowest common denominator - this way the observation gets at least some hopefully relevant ID, which means that it pops up for people who are doing IDs of that family. So even if the AI is a bit confused, don't leave it as "animal" or "flowering plant", push it a little bit - even if it's wrong, it usually we be right enough that the right people will see it.
 
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia

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