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Natural Neighbors Project

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Curious about your “natural neighbors?” Ever wonder how many plants and animals live in your yard, the park down the street, or even in your house? If you answered YES, then you should join our Natural Neighbors Citizen Science Project! As a participant, you will take photos of living things you find in nature nearby, post them to the online app iNaturalist, and check out what others have discovered nearby as well. You’ll be amazed to learn how many natural neighbors you have!

Step 1: Sign Up for iNaturalist

  • Download the iNaturalist mobile app to your smartphone or device (iOS or Android from the AppStore or Google Play).
  • Create an iNaturalist account — If you’re on a phone, scroll through login pages until you get to a sign up page where you can create an account using an email address, a unique user name, and a password. It may be easier to set up your account on a computer. (If you are working as a family, you may want to create a user name for your group, for example, TeamSmith or NearbyNatureJones or something even more fun!)
  • Note: If you check “Yes, license my photos, sounds, and observations so scientists can use my data” this will allow scientists to use your photos for their research.

Step 2: Join Nearby Nature’s Natural Neighbors Project:

  • Click the More icon at the bottom of your screen and then click Projects. Use the Search icon to find Nearby Nature Natural Neighbors. When our blue logo and the project name appear, click on the project and then Join. Email us to alert us that you have joined the Project we can be sure your observations get included.
  • Now you are ready to post your own photo observations, as well as see what other people in the community are finding in their neighborhoods!

Step 3: Take Photos for iNaturalist:

  • The easiest way to connect photos to location is to turn ON the GPS (or Location) function on your phone or other digital camera before you start taking photos (you can always turn it back off afterward).
  • Go out in your yard or neighborhood and take pictures of as many wild living things as you can find. Your discoveries don’t have to be rare wildflowers or exotic bugs; but do try to focus on wild rather than garden plants and skip taking pictures of pets. (If you take a picture of a garden plant or non-wild animal, please mark it captive/cultivated when you send it to iNaturalist.) If you are working as a family, have children help find different plants and animals and tutor them in how to take good pictures. Here are few tips for what makes a good iNaturalist photo:
    • Get close (but not too close if you’re observing a wild animal!)
    • Try to center your subject and include just one plant/animal at a time
    • Take more than one picture of the subject (i.e. leaves and flowers, or body and head).
    • Feel free to take lots of photos, but share only those that are in-focus.

Step 4: Post Your Photos on iNaturalist

  • Open the iNaturalist app on your smartphone or device. (Do this when you have Wi-Fi and you won’t use data.)
  • Once you’re in the app, click Observe. Choose a picture on your phone and upload it to iNaturalist. To add additional photos to an observation, touch the + next to your first image. 
  • View the suggestions for what your photo might by by clicking “What did you see?” Click one if you agree, then click Share. It’s okay if you don’t know the name of what you found or if you just list “plant” or “bird” or “insect”. Other iNaturalist users can now see your photo and add an identification if one has not been made yet, or additional confirmations for photos you did identify.
  • Notice that you can see how many total photos you or your family group have added over time!
  • By visiting the Natural Neighbors project often, you will notice when other people identify your mystery photos and also what other folks have found in your neighborhood. Fun!
  • Note — If you don’t want the exact location of your photo to be visible to others (for example if your photo is in your back yard), click Edit when your photo is open, scroll to Geoprivacy (iOS) or Location Visibility (Android) under the photo, and chose Obscured. This will locate your photo within a general rather than a specific area.
  • If you would like to upload your photos from a laptop or desktop, see directions here.

Step 5: Beyond iNaturalist:

  • Want to learn more about your natural neighbors? Do some research online or in books about the living things identified in your neighborhood. For some Northwest natural history reads and resources, check out some of our favorite books and websites.

For additional iNaturalist tips and tutorials, check out the videos listed below. There are also MANY others online!

1. Simple introduction to iNaturalist –
2. How to Make an Observation on iNaturalist using the phone app –
3. How to upload from your desktop computer –
4.  How to take better photos for identification –   
5. How to obscure your location –
6. How to add photos or sound to an observation already submitted –
7. How to add Facebook photos to iNaturalist –
8. How to take good mushroom photos for iNaturalist –

Note: iNaturalist is open source software, it has free APPs for all smart phones, and the effort is backed by the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic. iNaturalist is used for many national efforts, is increasingly the standard for professional biologists, and is the biggest free citizen science data repository.