We don’t do Facebook, but we travel (all over US and Canada) with access to the world-wide net. We have i-phones, but a point and shoot is what we use when paddling, hiking, stopping to enjoy the continent’s wild places and we use our laptops to post.
You don’t have to start a blog: there’s a much wider audience with administration and management done by someone else. All free.
Check out https://inaturalist.org
If you are going to Milton, forinstance, where Blackwater River State Forest is located, you may want a preview of all the natural wild things (flora and fauna) which have been posted by some of over 416,000 observers worldwide who post on inaturalist.org. You may want to know which is considered endangered, threatened or exotic. Of those exotics, you may wish to know which are considered invasives and learn why.
Or if you took photos while visiting Blackwater River State Forest and want to be able to identify a flower, or a mushroom, or a bird or salamander, just sign on to the site and post your own photo. Once you get your photo loaded as an observation, click on the first box below which identifies the plant: through photo recognition, a list of suggested species will be offered. If you click on the right side of each suggestion you will be led to a display of other photos, a map of where that species has been found, and additional information on that suggested plant. Comparing that with your photo, you can select from the suggestions.
Ahhh…but it doesn’t end there. So, you’re not sure, eventually and hopefully within 24 hours (in some locales and some species you may have to wait longer), you will get someone (remember there are not quite half a million users) who will either verify your ID or say, they disgree and suggest another species name. Or they may know what the genus is, but not exact species, but they know for certainty it’s not the species you have named. Well, that’s a whole lot more certainty than when you initially posted. Eventually, if your photo(s) of that wild thing is clear and has good taxonomic detail, you’ll get a full scientific identification (genus and species) for the item you have photographed.
What you post has to be wild. It can’t be continuous photos of your cat or your constant companion dog. They’re family — you can’t post family. Unless it’s a chimpanzee.
You can post sounds also, but I haven’t tried that. Like the sound of a hoot-owl which you can’t see. Or a frantic hawk if you’re too near their nest, which you can’t see. inaturalist.org can be a sound translator. Raucous sounds from the campsite next to you after curfew don’t count; they have to be wild non-humans and non-domesticated animals. I’m not sure whether a cow could be posted; try it and see if you get a comment. I did get one once from someone who said I had posted the identical photo twice. I marveled that anyone had the time to review over 2,500 observations I have made. Who would want to?
A few pointers: don’t use generic terms on the ID. You’ll wait and wait and wait and no one may respond to you. To get the quickest response, get at least to the genus level (see taxonomy for each suggestion offered when you post); better yet, make a wild guess and put the whole uncertain scientific name in. Someone will disagree with you and this is a great situation to be in, for you will get a proper ID faster by starting out wrong. People seem to have a trigger instinct to correct rather than affirm. Lucky for you.
The posting will ask for date and location. If you have a camera with a built in GPS it’s great (smart-phones do) because if you don’t the site will ask for the location of each posting. If you have a camera with a built in date recorder, you don’t have to enter the date of the observation, either. Yes, this site is made for contemporary electronics, but you’ll see the value of those little bells and whistles in your camera soon enough.
You, too, can be an identifier — to turn the tables around and identify a post from someone who wants to know if the name they have selected for the item posted is correct.
You may say, “Me? I don’t know one daisy from another!” Yes, but if you know deer, or know a Florida anhole from a common house gecko, you can identify that. Or if your instincts say, “It’s not that.” But be ready with a correct ID if you disagree. Don’t worry, if you’re wrong somebody will correct you (remember there are nearly half a million users). You’ll find enough that you won’t just get PhD’s (not indicated) biologists verifying your posts — anyone can verify who feels confident to identify a particular species. And some of the best identifiers are those who have lived with these plants and animals all their lives.
This is a half a million people collaborative to build an inventory of all the wild creatures and plants and everything in between. Love mushrooms? Post the lichen and mushrooms you see; there are variations of seaweed, too. Start with your backyard (ignore your dog). You can learn the names of everything which inhabits your private ecosystem!
The purists among you will say of a system that considers a valid species name if two people agree to it, preposterous! No credentials needed, just two people. It could be your child, who is at an age when everything you say is right, or your mother, who does the same. Neither of which knows a lily from an iris. OK…it’s going on strictly collaborative, faith in the statistics of well meaning and honestly-seeking-the-right-name-people to affirm an identification. But think about it — if you had to wait for the few real experts you’ll never get a large data base with over 14 million observations affirmed. There is always a margin of error in any statistical set of data anyway — let the researchers worry about the methodologies; just post.
And…if you are absolutely sure you have the right ID and you’re getting the “I disagree…it is this species.” There is a comment box which you can use to bring the naysayers to the right ID. This is particularly true if posted an endemic species, one that has only been observed in a particular area and through the scientific filtering is found to be a different species. Any area has some endemic species: we have the cowcreek spider lily which is found only in Wakulla and Franklin counties. There is a endemic species of mussel, Ochlockonee Moccasin Shell mussel, which can be found below the dam on Lake Talquin and just recently at the mouth of the Upper Ochlockonee where it empties into Lake Talquin. This is where this posting gets fun. Stand your ground!!!!
I post because I want my observations to mean something, not just an ephermal look-see on a blog site, but adding to hundreds of others who are creating a huge data base. One University of Florida researcher, tasked with the job of determining which native flowers are visited by which butterflies, found inaturalist.org postings a gold mine of information. He didn’t have to hire a gaggle of undergraduates to go looking for them –and they wouldn’t have gone into the wilds of Tate’s Hell State Forest looking for them either. Are you skeptical about whether a species is threatened or endangered? Well, if you see one, photo it and post.
This data base allowed, in Canada, the Alberta Invasive Species Council to spot where invasive species were being photographed (remember the GPS location?). It allows one to track endangered and threatened species. You can restrict GPS information to only the curators of the site, if you’re afraid that plant robbers will confiscate the plants or go hunting for a truly endangered mammal. But for researchers this is important information: other species than us also migrate and enough postings can track these migrations.
I posted a dying moth in front of a post office and the identifier noted that this was the first documented photo of the species being in this area. That was exciting! Many interesting encounters may await you — who thought adventures could be yours personally just from your smart phone?
Try it…you’ll get more than just perfunctory “neat”, “pretty”, “wow” comments. You’ll get an ID or “I disagree with a suggestive ID”. If you’re lucky, and that’ll happen as you post more and more, you’ll get an expert explain to you using vocabulary you never saw why the species is what that expert thinks it is. You’ll have experts disagreeing whether one ID was correct or whether another may be more suitable. And you started that whole dialogue!!! When you see how serious and thoughtful some of the ID’ers are, you’ll appreciate that your efforts are seriously being noted. You are part of the group of citizen-scientists whose efforts will form essential data bases for understanding the world around us — not human, and not your dogs and cats.
And if your spouse or other or parent or children consider your penchant to photograph wild things, just tell them you’re practicing your civic responsibility by documenting what is around you: that’s what citizen scientist means. It’s not a gratuitous phrase. Not if you share it on a site which is gathering data for future scientists to use.
And you know: for those who are still looking for a compatible companion, you may find one on this site, although this is not the intent. Go on web fungi seeking adventures together and who knows where that’ll take you.