18 September 2020

Photos are for the birds, but what else can you do with them?

| Larissa
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The New Holland Honey Eater

The New Holland Honey Eater. Photo: Larissa Dann.

Courtesy of the COVID-19 lockdown, many us have recently discovered an interest in our neighbourhood birds.

You may have pulled out your phone camera, or dusted off your ‘real’ camera, clogging up the device’s memory with photos of the antics of your feathered visitor.

Then what? What can you do with those pictures of the king parrot snacking on blossoms, or the kookaburra perched on a tree, eying off its prey?

I discovered my passion for all things feathered, furred, leaved, bladed, winged, legged, or fungus-like 18 months ago.

Friends knew that I liked to walk in our local nature reserve, pulled by my eager dogs, trudging along with my ears plugged into radio waves, my thoughts wandering around the world. Occasionally something would catch my attention – early morning sun glinting off diamonds of dew, outlining a silken spider’s web; an echidna snuffling into the ground, searching for lunch; and I would snap a photo or two and post on Facebook

“Larissa,” my friends implored, “put this on the Canberra Nature Map. We need to record the animals and plants of Canberra, when and where they appear.”

Trained as a scientist, I know the importance of data. But it was just too much effort. “Please,” they pled.

Finally, I visited the NatureMapr website. I trawled through its history, the helpful instructions on how to contribute, and in no time I had joined 3000-odd local Citizen Scientists.

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Now it was time to load up a photo or two. Drag, drop, location, number of birds, animals or plants. If they’re birds, are they nesting? Then report. So incredibly simple. Why hadn’t I done this earlier?

I am hooked. Totally, completely. Some (my family, for example) might even say obsessed. I sling my camera bag across my shoulder, my SLR on automatic (one day I’ll learn to use the camera to its full capacity), a dog lead, complete with dog, and I disappear. A walk that once took 40 minutes now takes two hours. As soon as I return, I download the photographs of my treasure – phone or computer – and record onto the map.

With a frisson of excitement, I wait for my sightings to be identified. What was that brown blur between the branches? Or that tiny bird with the scarlet breast, ebony wings and white blaze on its brow?

Expert moderators share their experience, giving their time to puzzle over the photos submitted, and my sighting is named and confirmed. I discover the blur was a wee bill (Australia’s smallest bird), the other a male scarlet robin, vulnerable and uncommon.

Since being involved in this Citizen Science community, my eyes are open to what lies outside the four walls of my house. I’ve discovered just how much I didn’t know, how much I don’t know, and how much there is to learn. Now when I load a photo, I try to identify the animal for myself. I open the Species tab and trawl through the photos, swelling with pride when I can name a creature.

Sometimes I visit the South Coast. As I wander along the bush tracks and notice honey eaters flitting around, and wattlebirds squawking, I wish I was back in Canberra so I had a reason to take photos.

Then I discover that the Nature Map has sister sites around the country. Gleefully, I join the Budawang Coast Nature Map and, relieved, I begin uploading photos of my latest finds. I know that if I were to visit further south, or the southern highlands, I could still contribute to a NatureMapr.

Now I have a purpose for my exercise. I walk mindfully, my ears on alert, my eyes looking up, down, across. I feel awake. I am acutely aware of the immense importance of our nature reserves, our national parks, and even the bush along the side of the road.

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I know that by adding my photos to the Nature Map, I am contributing knowledge and data that will be useful to scientists, to nature conservation organisations, to government to inform decisions.

Those bird photos you have of your new hobby? They’re valuable. By joining a Citizen Science project such as NatureMapr, you’ll be contributing to a knowledge base on nature. But be warned – once you begin, you may never stop. And where do you go from there? Well, for me, that’s another story.

Larissa Dann is a Canberra author and nature lover.

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Wow. It’s like looking in a mirror Larissa. I’ve been a bird watcher/photographer for years but after being introduced to Albury Wodonga Nature Map in Sept 2020 I’ve expanded into insects, mammals, spiders, plants, and all manner of the rest of nature. My going out time has trebled and I even sneak in some bushwalking after work if I can. I’m saving heaps of money and getting lots of exercise. I’d recommend it to anyone. And the latin names are like Harry Potter spells.

Great story Larissa, I have had a very similar experience and am also hooked on Canberra Nature Map and the other NatureMapr projects. It feels so worthwhile sharing my observations and contributing to our knowledge of the natural world. So important for the future, with the way things are going in terms of loss of biodiversity.

Thank you. And so interested to hear your experience mirrors Jacky’s and mine. I agree – it really does feel worthwhile to contribute – for the future.

Is there a Nature Map over the Merimbula area in NSW?

Jacky Fogerty10:37 am 20 Sep 20

Thank you so much Larissa for a wonderful article! As well as providing a precious record of our local flora and fauna and helping to protect their habitat, the Nature Map has added so much joy to my life, and is a fantastic way to find out about our wildlife and plants, and to benefit from a wealth of knowledge from other locals. The feature I like best is the maps that allow you to look at photos from your suburb or local park or reserve. And it is so easy to use!

Thank you, Jacky! So pleased to hear how the CNM has impacted on your life, too. A bit of a community happening out there . . .

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