Discover Tahoe’s flora & fauna with iNaturalist

My son Anikin has a keen interest in science and a curiosity for how it is applies to life. When we go on hikes, we look for wildflowers, insects and unique rocks. But our knowledge is limited, and we often don’t know the names of the things we see. Now, with the iNaturalist app, we can fill in the blanks.

The iNaturalist app was created in a joint initiative between the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic Magazine as an interactive tool for data collection and species identification. Through the app, users around the world record observations of local plants, animals and insects and share the data with a network of more than 400,000 scientists and naturalists. These observations provide a large and broad range of species information, an invaluable resource that helps scientists understand how best to protect nature.

The app is free and easy to use. Use it to get your kids outside learning about science and its relation to everyday live. By observing, collecting and sharing data about local plants and animals, kids contribute directly to science while learning environmental stewardship.

To test it out, we headed to Ward Creek Park to identify wildflowers. The 180-acre park is located south of Tahoe City along State Route 89 on the West Whore. The extensive trail system includes connections to Stampede Rock, Stanford Rock, the Tahoe Rim Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.

For our journey, we park at nearby Kilner Park and head south on the bike path. The trailhead is shortly after you pass over the Ward Creek bridge. We followed the trail along the bluff above Ward Creek. Along the way, Anikin picked out plants and used the iNaturalist app to record his observations. The steps are simple: open the app, select the Observe option to use the camera to take photos and save. While we were in the field, we were not able to sync the data because there was no cell or Internet connection. The app allows us to save the photos to upload later.

Following the trail to the southwest, we passed towering Jeffrey pines and cedar trees, eventually coming to a wooden boardwalk. The boardwalk led to a group of meadows where we were welcomed by an array of wildflowers. Anikin collected more plant data here in between rounds of looking for insects, jumping between rocks and balancing on fallen trees.

We finished the loop around the meadows and headed back toward Ward Creek. We stopped at the bluff where a set of steep stairs brought us to the edge of the creek. Anikin threw a few rocks in the water and we marveled at the volume of spring snowmelt.

Feeling satisfied with the data we collected, we headed home. At home, we opened the iNaturalist app and it started to sync the photos. Once uploaded, the app offered suggestions for what the species might be. For one of the plants we recorded, the app suggested it might be small Camas Lily. Within minutes we also received suggestions from the members of the iNaturalist community and they agreed with the app’s suggestions. We were also able to identify another one as Mountain Phlox — and pictures of Anikin’s face and hand as Homo sapien.

As we explored the app, we saw that there were various guides for a variety of species and locations around the world. Anikin was intrigued when he realized the app can identify insects; he immediately rushed outside to take photos of ants in our yard. He was excited as we uploaded his photos and received feedback.

What a fun and easy way to learn about the natural world. It will be a useful tool for many of our future adventures. | inaturalist.org