Monitoring gardens and spreading the message

A few years ago, I got obsessed with native plants. Then, COVID happened and I had a lot more time for gardening and observing wildlife in the garden. So, I’ve spent a lot of time this year, obsessively stalking insects and cataloguing plants with iNaturalist. My lists include 56 birds, 66 bees, 34 flies, etc on a 1/4 acre lot.

A two part question:

  1. Do you monitor diversity in your garden? How often, how much time do you spend, and what have you found?
  2. How do you spread the message? I have all this diversity in a suburban concrete jungle and I want to encourage friends, neighbors, and strangers to appreciate and promote diversity. I know not everyone will get excited over orbweavers and robber flies, but I think many people are receptive to pollinator habitat (Save the Monarchs!).

List of relevant USA organizations:
National Wildlife Federation https://www.nwf.org/CertifiedWildlifeHabitat
National Audubon Society https://www.audubon.org/plantsforbirds
Xerces Society https://xerces.org/pollinator-resource-center
USDA NRCS https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/pollinate/gardeners
Doug Tallamy https://homegrownnationalpark.org/

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You can create a project and add it to the umbrella for garden projects: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/home-projects-umbrella

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(we/us pronouns)

  1. iNat tells us we have reported about 175 species to our yard. Backing out the 16 birds and then adding in the 94 birds from our Yard List on ebird yields about 253 species. With birds, some of them will have been observed from the yard but the bird was not in the yard. So conservatively, 200-215 species have been reported in our physical yard (just smaller than 1/4 acre). But we have been paying attention to the birds for years, whereas we also started observing non-birds (and joined iNat) once COVID quarantine set in summer of 2020.
  2. We are not evangelizers by nature. While we occasionally run into other birders in the park near our home, we very rarely see anyone else in the park looking for other forms of life. If we happen to see something of interest, and we are with or near an acquaintance, we might gauge their interest. And we do get funny looks from our rare human visitors when we capture spiders and beetles in our house and photograph them before releasing them. When we are on a walk with our Spouse in the extended neighborhood, we see that pollinator gardens are featured in many yards, but we haven’t witnessed anyone investigating their home habitat. If we were to spread the word, we would probably start by telling people that we get up close to observe insects without getting bitten or stung. Maybe someone could contact parks and recreation department of your municipality to see about someone hosting a narrated nature walk geared toward a specific audience (i.e. kids or everyone)? We would not be brave enough to do that, but it could be a way to connect and inspire.
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I have a small garden in suburban Johannesburg, South Africa. My retirement coincided with a strict covid lockdown at the end of March 2020. Since then my garden has become a bit of an obsession. I spend a lot of time there, always with a camera, and post what I see on iNat. I am lucky enough to have a swimming pool and have found so many insects recover after being “rescued” from the pool. The recovery time also gives me an opportunity to study the insect close-up and to take photographs. If I have filtered correctly then my count is 479 observations and 224 species. I am a novice and don’t know if there is more I could do with my observations other than collecting them. It has been fascinating and very satisfying.

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Please encourage your local museums, art galleries, aquaria and sculpture parks to add their grounds and gardens to this global umbrella project, even if it only has a car park and a window box full of plants !
This project is for museum grounds either enormous or miniscule !
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/museum-grounds-and-gardens
contact the project admins to add another project.

Thanks
From Gase Kediseng ( Curator in Serowe Museum, Botswana ) and Tony Benn (aka Botswanabugs and friend of the museum in Serowe)

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Thanks for your very interesting forum about recording the species in our gardens.
Ive been monitoring wildlife, plants weeds and pests in my three gardens in Botswana and another belonging to my daughter in law. Its so interesting and every day something new is discovered. Perhaps not only new to me but also new to science !

Many people in Botswana have 3 or more gardens, One in their village, another at their lands ( maize fields) and another at their cattle post and sometime another in the capital city, where they work and go to college !

I photograph the bugs, beetles and moths attracted to outside houselights and if it is hot and has been raining , these are hundreds every evening. I think here in hot Botswana insects prefer to come out and get active in the relative coolness of the night. Days can be unbearably hot in the summer not only for me but also for insects, perhaps ! So me and my photoprey emerge and get active and busy at night.

Here are my garden projects, though one garden is a building site and literally a concrete jungle with building rubble everywhere, which lizards, spiders, scorpions and toads seem to love.

https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/mmopi-garden-serowe-central-botswana
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/marulamantsi-garden-gaborone-botswana
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/june-s-sedibeng-garden-in-botswana
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/ledumadumane-garden-botswana

I hope other iNat garden observers shall join this wonderful, global umbrella project and start competing and collaborating with Botswana’s gardens !

https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/home-projects-umbrella

I’m so addicted to iNat now and recording garden fauna , that I have no time to drink a beer or shoot heroin ! The bars are closed coz of Covid but my garden is always open !

Im sure my neighbours are watching me with my bright lamps and camera flash going off every minute and wondering what on earth I’m up to. I’m ready and willing to give my neighbours free, fast internet usage in my house if they join me in my nocturnal, garden safaris !

Sadly there are a lot of different insects in gardens but few can be identified to species level. Our Botswana garden insects and spiders need far more qualified experts to identify them from around the world. Thats an appeal !

Tony Benn (aka Botswanabugs)

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In the concrete jungle where I live (Vienna, Austria), I consider an area of about 1/2 hectare (~1.3 acre) my ‘home territory’: a shared backyard but with a small own garden, the flat itself, and the housewalls and pavement few steps out of the door.

Within the 4 1/2 years living there, I managed to enter my 1000th species last week (not counting the 30 or so bird species without photos).

I informed the local government (responsible for the district) and they asked me whether they might distribute this on social media.
I am also dreaming of a scientific publication (several species were new for Austria), but don’t knowif and when I find the time for this.

Shortly after moving in, an adjacent building complex was deconstructed and bulldozed, but after that the site remained untouched for three years, so that I could observe how nature would conquer this urban waste land.

The owner of the building ground was so nice as to even allow access, and while some people only used it for walking the dog, in the last year during the COVID pandemic some artists got permission to create an open air exhibit, building sculptures out of the rubbish, waste, rocks, glass and concrete bricks they found lying around, ending in a two day public event. I decided to work together with them and created a plant teaching path, labelling different herbs with their names and descriptions (such as edible, medicinal, good for bees, invasive etc…). Even school classes came there.

Finally, at the end of last year, when some trees were already 5m high, it came to an end when construction started and now it is already a multistory building (not finished yet).

Still, about 300 different species could be documented there by me.

My feeling is those sites hold a lot of potential for showing the city inhabitants that nature is directly in front of their door steps and the value of some ‘messy’ places in urban areas should be better taught and promoted to the public.



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Here in Botswana I used to despise building sites and rubbish dumps but now ive come to realise they can be havens for biodiversity compared with sterile grass lawns, cattle-overgrazed areas and ploughed fields. Thanks for your very interesting and inspiring article,

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To add, I started a traditional project I would like to have as an a start of an umbrella project about other buildings, it gathers observations of animals met only on the walls of one particular building, so we can learn which types of invertebrates use not just trees or grass around buildings, but walls to live or rest. https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/domosedy-michurina-21
Let me know if you want to create one of your own, so I will create umbrella project.

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Hi @marina_gorbunova
We record insects and spiders coming probably from outside gardens attracted to lights but it is great to have a special project for the bugs and things that live on the wall full time and make use of it for resting, hunting and sex. We shall make some projects for this purpose from Botswana, that if you like, could be added to the umbrella. Our projects wont include temporary light-attracted visitors, there would just be too many of them.

Gase Kediseng ( Curator- Khama III Museum Serowe Botswana
Tony Benn (aka Botswanabugs - Friend of the museum in Serowe)

Thanks for the wonderful idea

Tony Benn ( aka Botswanabugs)

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Sure I’d love to add those, write me their name when you’ll create them.)

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I believe that @finatic, in Southern California, has recorded 1,000 species from the garden of his house there.

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Here is a start from Botswana, for a wall project. Tell me if its OK. Thanks

https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/animals-using-outside-walls-botswana

Perhaps it can be added to the your Walls umbrella project, melodi_96.

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I’m so pleased to have found out about this umbrella project. Most of my iNat observations are from my garden - especially the spiders, insects and other wildlife. I live on a hectare plot but we are surrounded by agriculture in the form of vineyards, olive groves, wheat fields, canola fields as well as sheep and cattle.

For the past 17 years that I have lived here in Riebeek Kasteel, Western Cape, South Africa, I have planted indigenous plants, mostly from the area. It was only when I started posting observations to iNat that I realised the huge variety of life in the garden. And I am absolutely thrilled. Reading previous posts, I can identify walking around the garden hunting under bushes, lifting up logs and peering into the nooks and crannies. My camera is always ready with battery charged and within easy reach. My main interest is (was) birds, and I do some of my best birding hanging out the washing. So now my camera joins me as I hang out the washing. You just have to look up and there is something to see.

Where does all this wildlife come from? How did they find their way to my garden? Given the sterility of mono-cultures, does my garden (and my neighbour’s similar garden) stand out like a beacon?

So again, this is great news! And from now on there’s even more incentive to get out into the garden and make even more of a contribution.

Best regards
Fiona Hellmann @fionahellmann

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I added it, if somebody else wants to join, here’s the main project: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/walls-inhabitants

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I wonder the same thing. When I planted squash for the first time, squash bees and bugs showed up that year. I planted globemallow and Macrotera arrived out of nowhere. Native wildlife is incredibly resilient!

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Here is an interesting project about plants growing on walls.

https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/climbing-the-walls-cbea27a6-9158-4804-8078-2d6da3a6f4ab

Hi - during lockdown we had a nature group spin off from a Whatsapp group that was set up for mutual support by our local community (just a few streets). In March this year we set up an iNat place and traditional project. We have also been seeking some external ids from other experts that people know. Last week we had a talk and walk from the local bat group, borrowing detectors owned by the local cemetery group - amazing what’s possible in a big city. Anyway - experience is that people are keen to share their observations with one another the Whatsapp group, and even if they don’t personally get round to joining iNat there’s some extra interest in nature sparked in what was already fertile ground.

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Should have added, this is https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/the-groves-sheffield .Its interesting to note there are many more people in the local group than have joined the project.

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The yard that came with my house was pretty much all lawn with one traditional flower bed between the front of the house and walkway to the entrance. I’ve been working on converting it into a native plant butterfly and pollinator garden for several years by planting more flowers around the perimeter of the property and not mowing a part of the front yard and letting it turn into a meadow. There is so much more diversity now both in terms of plants volunteering (I was thrilled to see two orchid species pop up on their own this year) and all sorts of animals making their home here or visiting. I try to record as much as I can but mostly sticking to wild observations (I’ve used PlantsMap.com for my cultivated plants). It seems I’m at 249 species now (in order of diversity, 124 insects, 54 “weeds” in addition to cultivated plants/seeds, 27 birds, 15 mammals, 14 arachnids, 10 herps). The top five most commonly observed appear to be monarchs (I planted a Monarch Waystation, which has been way more successful than I expected), cardinals (they breed around here), groundhogs (they’ve been wintering under my shed), Chinese mantis (where there is plenty of prey, there are predators), and song sparrows (they stay all winter and appreciate the feeder).

I also got involved with the local Native Plant Society and had my yard certified as a butterfly garden. Both of those things have opened up avenues for outreach and opportunities for talks and events. We don’t just spread the word but also organize seed exchanges and plant sales, which have been hugely successful particularly during the pandemic year as a lot of people were turning to gardening to spend time outdoors at home. We gave away over 1,200 seed packets and info how to grow native plants through a local seed library box this past winter and spring, most of which were native plant seeds collected in my yard.

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