Saturday, August 18, 2012

Track Your Backyard Part II: Nature's Notebook Mobile

Previously we looked at the Nature's Notebook project from the USA National Phenology Network.  Anyone can participate by finding a plot of land and committing to visiting for a few minutes once a week.  Just record any animal sightings and track any physical changes to local plants.  It's a pretty simple project but it provides a wealth of good date for scientists and is very easy to join.

There was just one little problem.  Everything had to be recorded by hand in a notebook or other method, then separately added onto a pre-loaded form on your computer.  Well now even those steps are gone with the Nature's Notebook mobile app.  This is a very well-designed program that simplifies participation and re-creates many important aspects of the traditional program, but without attempting to do everything.  For example, the vast array of biology education and project tutorials essential to the project are not available on the app...which is just as well since I don't think they would translate easily.  But the pre-loaded forms and site location (aided by GPS) greatly simplify those aspects of the project. 

So I recommend checking out the initial Nature's Notebook program and then adding this mobile app to help you get more from the project.  It's available for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

Getting Started is Easy:
  • Visit the main Nature's Notebook registration page and sign up for an account.  They don't ask for much (User name and password)  but you need to do this off-line before downloading the app or starting anywhere else.
  • Learn about how to pick a site and the basics of observation.  There are some great easy-to-follow instructions, as well as a number of step-by-step video tutorials if you prefer learning that way.
  • Download the Nature's Notebook App from either the Apple App Store or Google Play.
  • Once you are ready to begin your observations head to your site, open the app, and sign in. 
  • The first thing to do is record the location.  Since you are already on-site the GPS location will mark it.  All you have to do is name the location and press "Submit New Site".  In the example below I've pretended we are near the US Naval Observatory (it's actually set at my house, but the naming is just for fun).

  • You will be returned to the main screen hat let's you create new locations, choose a network (probably won't change for you), record a plant observation, or record an animal observation.

  • First let's record a plant observation.  Hit the "Add plant observation" button for the plant identification screen.  I have lots of English Ivy in my yard, so I will use the scroll menu to select it.   I give it a nickname (so I know which plant it is) and am then shown both a picture of the plant and map of it's territory.  This helps confirm that the plant really is what I think it is.  Click "Add this plant" to record it in my notebook. It will then be available for this session and all future observing sessions.

  • Now you just need to observe any changes occurring in the plant.  Each plant brings up a series of custom questions, as shown below, and you can always hit the "?" for a detailed description of what the question is asking.  This way you don't need to be an expert at phenotyping to participate, just an eager observer.  Once you've answered all the questions hit "Submit Observation" to return to the main screen.

  • Now you can record any wildlife you see.  Once returned to the main screen just click "Add animal observation."  You will then go through the same process for this case an American Bullfrog observed in the area.

  • That's all there is to it.  Just repeat these steps for each of the animals and plants you choose to observe.  Everything is uploaded automatically and recorded for the project scientists.  Just keep regular schedule of visiting and observing at the site. 
Hopefully this makes an already simple project to participate in even simpler.  It might even free up your time join even MORE citizen science projects.  If so you can always find other ways to participate, either through other National Phenology Network projects, or on my list of similar nature projects available here.  Just remember to keep having fun!

See More in the Track Your Backyard Series:

  1. Nature's Notebook
  2. Nature's Notebook - Mobile App (Today )
  3. YardMap (Coming Soon)


  1. Fantastic mobile app about Nature's Notebook and have some superb features and programs. Although I have not used yet but hope that I will use it as early as possible through my smartphone. So hope for the best and will come more like this very soon:)

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