The Los Angeles City Nature Challenge is here! Every spring, Angelenos have the chance to become neighborhood naturalists during the City Nature Challenge, organized by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and California Academy of Sciences. During the Challenge, Angelenos take pictures and make observations about the animals, insects, and plants around them, and then upload them to the iNaturalist app. Developed by the California Academy of Sciences, iNaturalist is a network that helps to identify the plants and animals around you. It also connects with a large body of scientists and naturalists. Sharing your observations helps create quality data for them. This year the Challenge is running from April 30 to May 3. You can read all about the City Nature Challenge here.
To get started, just download the iNaturalist app on your smartphone. Then you can start taking photos of wild plants and animals and share them right on the app. You’ll get suggestions right away that will help you identify your find. “That’s great,” you may say, “but I don’t see interesting wild animals in my neighborhood.” The fact is, every time you go out in your backyard or go for a walk around the neighborhood, you’re likely to see one or more of our wild Los Angeles residents. Birds, plants (weeds count), lizards, and insects are all great subjects for your nature photoshoots. If you don’t have a backyard, head out to a local park. Los Angeles is teeming with urban and suburban wildlife and there are many animals you likely see every day and simply don’t give them another thought. For example, that brown squirrel up on the telephone wire? It’s very likely an Eastern Fox Squirrel, the largest species of tree squirrel native to North America. You may hear them making “chucking” noises at each other—or at the dog looking up and barking at them. A few of the other small mammals commonly seen in Los Angeles include rabbits, raccoons, opossums, and skunks. The latter three are best spotted at dawn or dusk.
Wildlife does not just mean mammals, however. Don’t forget to look for reptiles, insects, and birds. You’re likely to encounter the Western Fence Lizard basking on a wall on a sunny day. As to our insect and arachnid friends, some common insects you can spot are the Western Honeybee, the Gray Bird Grasshopper, or the Argentine Ant. And don’t forget to look up on your walks and observe the birds. On a typical Los Angeles day, you’re likely to see house sparrows, crows, mourning doves, and perhaps a hummingbird or two in the garden. Pigeons and house sparrows may even be found in unexpected places, such as inside your local Home Depot.
Here are a few suburban friends I encountered on my own walk, and in my backyard:
A terrific resource to check out for the City Nature Challenge (or any time if you’re interested in local wildlife) is Wild L.A.: Explore the Amazing Nature In and Around Los Angeles. Entertainingly written, it has great photos and descriptions of L.A. wildlife, and ideas for attracting wildlife such as birds to your backyard. There are also more ideas on how to get involved in community science. The City Nature Challenge isn’t the only time of year you can participate as a citizen naturalist. You can upload photos any time of the year into the iNaturalist app. Next time you’re out walking, take a look at the flora and fauna around you and see what you can find. You might decide to become a city naturalist year-round!