GODFREY — Low-tech nature met a high-tech nature app on Saturday as volunteers with The Nature Institute at 2213 S. Levis Lane in Godfrey kicked off a socially distanced weekend of measuring the area’s flora and fauna using anybody with a smartphone, a good eye for detail and curiosity about the natural world.
Participants in the Backyard Biodiversity Weekend on Saturday and Sunday don’t even have to be at The Nature Institute to take part, as the real-meets-virtual event allows users of the free iNaturalist app to upload images that help scientists get a much better idea of the living things in the Riverbend area.
“All you have to do is take a picture on your smartphone and put it on the app and it helps identify the different things and helps to keep track about what’s living in an area,” said Emily Ehley, environmental educator at The Nature Institute. “We are encouraging people to get outside, whether here or in their own backyards, and learn a little bit more about all of the things that are living around them that they may not normally have noticed.”
The Nature Institute decided to hold the Backyard Biodiversity Weekend after COVID canceled plans to hold a Bio-Blitz this spring., A Bio-Blitz is where a large group of people come together in one location to find as many different living species as they can in a short time frame.
“This is our way of reconfiguring things so people can do things individually but still be connected to this big picture and getting that data together,” Ehley said. “iNaturalist is a really easy to use platform for gathering data, and scientists actually go in and look at where things are being seen in these areas. They are able to use that data for their own research.”
Ehley said most residents who search for biodiversity are amazed at the number of different migratory birds that frequent the area due to our proximity to the Mississippi River. She also said that people are always surprised at the quantity and variety of non-vertebrate animals that can be found anywhere they look, and to make the point she and education director Ramona Puskar overturned a log and immediately found a Darkling Beetle.
“Looking for little things like insects can be really exciting too,” Puskar said. “We invite people to lift up logs and look under leaves and they are really surprised by how many types of insects and small things are all around them that they wouldn’t necessarily notice if they didn’t go looking for it.”
“We want to encourage people to be excited and curious rather than scared of all the other living things that they have around them,” Puskar said. “Learn a little bit more, rather than just reacting, ‘oh, a spider!’ Instead, think about what kind of spider it is, and where it lives.”
Puskar said that as a complement to the Backyard Biodiversity Weekend, interviews with scientists have been posted on The Nature Institute’s Facebook page and Youtube channel that comment on the wealth of living things to be found in the Riverbend area.
The Nature Institute is a non-profit land conservation and environmental education organization based in Godfrey that hosts field trips and programs and owns and manages more than 450 acres of protected land, including the Olin Nature Preserve, the Mississippi Sanctuary, the Kemp and Cora Hutchinson Bird Sanctuary, and the Heartland Prairie Project at Gordon Moore Park.