Should I post multiple observations of same species or possibly same individuals at same location at different hours or days?

Hello,

Sorry if I missed the answer in the Getting Started or FAQ pages, or in previous forum discussions.

I enjoy iNaturalist a lot. But these days, due to the pandemic (and now, also winter weather), the vast majority of my observations are in my backyard and around my house. Mostly, these are birds that come to our bird-feeders and bird baths. There are also some squirrels and rabbits. (There are also more unusual ones like fox tracks, but they do not raise the same concern for me.)

In fact, we may have some “regulars” - individuals from the same species that come to feed and drink here almost daily. I cannot prove it (except for one squirrel with a distinct characteristic). I like taking and sharing multiple photos of our visitors. I also enjoy looking at multiple photos of the same species. (Then again, how is that different from enjoying watching multiple cat videos online? :-)

My concern is the community or scientific value multiple observations of the same species or even individual at the same place, sometimes on the same day.

It reminds me of the old saying, “the plural of anecdote is not data”. Recording anecdotal observations without any limit on duplication or sample-selection bias does not seem likely to product useful data.

In contrast, Project Feeder Watch says to record only the largest number of individuals of the same species of bird on the same day. This avoids double-counting the same individuals, as they may come to feed repeatedly. It also seems to be focused on abundance data.

The Ontario Breeding Birds Atlas (as I remember it from years ago) was even more structured: you have to go to randomly-determined GPS locations within a geographic rectangle, once for each location, and record all birds observed during a pre-set number of minutes.

These are citizen science projects, and I can see how they would produce scientifically useful data. iNaturalist also looks like it aspires to produce such data (otherwise, why the “Research Grade” labels?). But I am not sure how the data would be useful if I can keep posting the same species (or even individuals), from the same location, even from the same day.

I love sharing observations and exploring those shared by others. But perhaps I should post repetitive observations on a purely enjoyment-oriented site like Flickr, rather than getting these observations posted here and labeled “Research Grade”?

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Hi @longtermist and welcome to the forum. It is perfectly fine to upload multiple photos of what you perceive to be the same individual across multiple encounters. The important thing here is that you group photos that are part of the same encounter. So if you watch your feeder and take 5 shots of an individual bird in a sitting, that should be one observation with all 5 photos attached to it. But if you come back the next day, and take new photos of what you think is probably that same individual again, that should be a new observation: iNat’s definition of an observation is an encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and location. Of course, what constitutes a ‘time’ is up for debate, but as a general rule of thumb 1 encounter per 1 individual per 24 hours is a good rule to follow.

If you see 4 different individuals of a bird species at your feeder, and take photos of all 4 of them, it’s also completely fine to upload these as 4 separate observations (and indeed under a strict interpretation of the above observation you should be uploading them as 4 separate observations; however, this is not a must by any means).

Re your comparisons with Project Feeder Watch + the OBBA, keep in mind that (as you note) they are structured citizen scientists initiatives, i.e. they require certain sampling procedures, standardised data collection etc. Conversely, iNat is a non-structured citizen science project. Combined with the fact that iNat’s main goal is to connect people with nature/instil a greater appreciation of nature in people, don’t feel pressured to make observations with ‘high scientific value’. There are a 101 different use cases for using iNat, so if you wish to upload a lot of photos of cool animals from your backyard, that’s totally fine.

The term ‘Research Grade’ does not necessarily equate to an observation being ‘useful’ to research. It simply means that the observation has at least 2 IDs associated with it, and that more than 2/3rds of these IDs agree (there are of course more caveats/conditions, which you can read about at point 7 here, but those are the basic Research Grade requirements). Once an observation is ‘Research Grade’, it gets piped to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (depending the the copyright license), where it may be used in some kind of research. I emphasise the ‘may’ here because being piped to GBIF does not mean a datapoint is ‘useful’ or will be used in research. Indeed, I have used hundreds of thousands of data points from iNat in my own research that are ‘Needs ID’ or even ‘Casual’ through directly exporting from iNat.

One final point is that scientific usefulness is extremely subjective, and every data point could be useful to someone. There may be a researcher in the future who wants to look at repeat visits of birds to backyards in Ontario; you never know what research may exist now or in the future, so don’t feel pressured to only generate ‘high-quality’ data points.

Ultimately, how you use iNat is entirely up to you; the most important thing is that you enjoy using it!

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The purpose of iNaturalist is to help and encourage people to engage with nature, and that’s clearly what you’re doing. Scientists and others can use the data any way they like; you’re not responsible for second guessing what their requirements might be.

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I tend to do one observation per species/gender/lifestage combo per day unless they’re in different areas or vastly different morphs (I love insects and they can look totally different). I frequently take the same route in my afternoon walks, which means I frequently come across the same animals every day, and no one has yet raised an objection.

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I would suggest that one observation per species per location per day is a good general guideline. A typical exception would be if multiple life stages are present at the same time - for example, a plant that has both flowering and non-flowering individuals at the same time at that location. Two of the more common bad habits I see that should be avoided are:

(1) multiple pictures of the same individual (on same day/time and location) where each pic is uploaded as a separate observation. Multiple pics of an individual are great, especially if they capture various details or profiles (e.g., top view and side view), but they should be combined into one observation to avoid duplication of occurrence data. Similarly, pics and an audio recording of the same individual bird calling (on same date/time and location) should also be combined into one observation.

(2) creating multiple observations of the same species (on same day/time and location). I confess to being guilty of this one when I first started with iNaturalist. If you have ten chickadees at your bird feeder one afternoon, making ten observations for that species isn’t wrong, but it is, for lack of a better term, overkill. Simply make one observation (with or without multiple pics) and include a note or field entry for the number of individuals observed. If you want your data to contribute to a project like an atlas, you will find that this approach is preferred, if not required. Here’s an example: https://inaturalist.ca/observations/2842817.

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I have the same winter dilemma in Winnipeg. I call them “the usual suspects” - Chickadees, Nuthatches, woodpeckers. Often they displace each other quickly on a branch, and I’m never sure I’ve gotten the same individual twice. In that case I may post one photo. Day to day, I may see the same individual or not - I can’t tell. But I do post an observation. However, as has been stated, iNat is for you to do what you want. The research stuff is beside the point!

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I generally try to avoid uploading observations of the same organism twice, although sometimes it might be impossible to avoid sometimes, because I often go for walks in the same places to take pictures of geckos and other lizards.
What I’m not totally sure about is whether it’s okay to upload several observations of the same species (different individuals) made on the same day in the same city/town/village. Just to give you an example, I’ve been traveling around Egypt for a few weeks now and I’ve somehow become the top observer of one of the gecko species by uploading 2-3 observations almost every day. I feel that my observations are of little scientific value because they come from only several cities, but I enjoy searching for geckos every evening and sharing the pictures of these cute creatures :) I hope it’s not a big abuse of inat rules.

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That’s not an abuse of any rules or norms, and is totally OK!

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I think it is absolutely OK. The only problem that may arise is that multiple OBs of the same species (especially a common one) may bore to death the identifiers. and it may become a problem in the case of organisms that have only few identifiers, so they may go unconfirmed. I must admit, that if I see among European observations several in row OBs of Xanthoria parietina or Evernia prunastri (or similar) by the same observer on the same day , I skip them, therefore often they go unconfirmed.When IDing, I also have a right to have fun :-) Solely for this reason I also try not to post same species on same day.

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Geckos are so cool that nobody could possibly object to seeing multiple photos of the same species. In my completey unbiased opinion, of course.

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Thank you for all the replies. I have grouped photos of what is obviously the same individual in a few-minutes interval into one observation from the start. It just made sense.

I am still not seeing agreement about multiple observations of the same individual at different times on the same day. Would leaving this up to each user not skew the data?

It also sounds like actual research scientists ignore the iNat “Research Grade” label (or lack thereof) anyway, vetting each observation themselves. So why not just use “thumbs up/down” counts, like other social media? It would make clear that we are measuring popular opinion, not scientific validity. (A distinction that is under assault these days, I know :-)

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I love geckos, too. That being said, millions of people enjoy sharing and viewing photos of cute animals on Twitter, Flickr, etc… It’s fun, popular, and connects people with nature without any “Research Grade” labels.

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Well, This is the official direction from iNat about such observations; pictures from the same day, same individual are good to post together. If it’s the same individual on a different date, it get’s it’s own observation.

https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/help#observations1

Observations

  1. What is an observation?

Observations are the basic units of iNaturalist. An observation records an encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and location. This includes encounters with signs of organisms like tracks, nests, or things that just died. You should make separate observations for each separate critter you encounter. iNaturalist provides a place to add this information along with associated text, photos, and tags. If you revisit an organism, such as returning to a plant when it’s in bloom for additional photographs, you should make a separate observation because it was observed on a different date.

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Just to reiterate, the data cannot be skewed because iNat is not a structured program, and does not have standardised data collection requirements, so there is no ‘norm’ or standard to skew from.

This is not quite true either; it is an entirely case by case basis. There are many scientists who will exclusively use RG obs, whilst others will expand their datasets to include needs ID and casual. The only consistency is that they check the dataset they download for errors, just like you would for any professionally-collected dataset as well.

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Even if all research grade observations aren’t used for research, the fact that this tiny little action of taking a few pictures may be useful in some way makes me feel like I’m a part of something. Otherwise, I’d just take pictures whenever I encounter something new and never observe that particular species again. But I actually go out of my way to post observations. It gets me out of the house.

Plus, doesn’t it help to improve the AI?

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There are earlier threads about those ‘labels’ - Research Grade versus Casual.

iNat asks if it’s wild, if we say Cultivated, or Captive, iNat translates that to Casual
If two thirds agree, iNat says Research Grade

Upload as many photos of the same species as you want. Sounds like you’re already combining all the photos of one indivdual taken on the same day as one observation – that’s good. We don’t know what researchers are going to want in the future. They can weed out what they don’t want. As to wearing out identifiers, don’t worry about it. (The only ones that wear me out are the times 30 students each upload the same cultivated tree and the same patch of White Clover, same place, same time.)

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lol… you rarely find 100% agreement on anything here that isn’t explicitly spelled out in the guidelines. Even then, I’m betting someone would argue against the guidelines.

my two cents: just the other day, we were driving in a Wildlife Management area and I observed a Rough-tailed Hawk flying/hunting and got a few photos. About 5 minutes later and down the road, I observed a hawk of some sort perched in a tree quite a ways off and got a fairly poor photo of it but thought it might be identifiable by a skilled birder. Then, another 5 minutes later and further down the road, we saw a Rough-tailed Hawk perched near the road in a tree.

I uploaded those into three observations. The Hawk I couldn’t identify was later id-ed as a Rough-legged and it’s likely all of those were the same hawk. But I couldn’t be sure of that. If it had been summer and I’d taken 3 dozen photos, I likely would have only uploaded the sure RLHA and the unsure hawk. But it’s winter. I’m seeing next to nothing that’s worth trying to photograph and identify. So I did all three. But that’s rare.

If I’m going to take more than one photo of a common bird in one day/weekend, I try to make each one ‘different’ somehow, showing different aspects of that bird or its behavior. I commented last April after a bio-blitz: “I personally didn’t want to gather a lot of repeat photos of a particular species for last weekends City Nature Challenge. But I did upload four for American Robin - one female gathering mud for the nest, one male I assume was the mate (nest being built in my backyard), one of the nest, and one more in a nearby park of a female with mud on her breast.”

I started the year actively pursing species I had not yet uploaded to iNat, although I was willing to post yet another photo of a common blue jay every few months and I don’t mind reposting a plant I know I took a photo of last month but I can’t remember the name. If I keep photographing and identifying, I hope the name will start to stick. And, I think having photos of seed heads as well as flowers is valuable.

But I walked by a lot of species with the internal comment, “I got one of those last year. I don’t need a new photo.” Now I regret that. I would like to pursue how many species I can get each year. That isn’t really applicable to your question but it’s related in my own thinking/process so I’ll put it out there.

I know someone who posts LOTS of pictures of common birds taken throughout one day. That’s because they are kind of semi-house bound and that’s what they have to observe. They’ve been ‘told’ in comments they either don’t need to do it and/or shouldn’t do it. But they post all those photos because that’s how they interact with nature and that’s what makes them happy. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. iNat can support one’s love/interaction with nature in many different ways.

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I would also like to add that, to my mind at least, multiple pictures of the same species on a daily basis allows tracking through time. Last winter I took lots of pictures, but this winter, not so many. There appear to be fewer birds around, but until now it has been a fairly warm winter. It may be of no use for research, but the linear observations let me know what’s going on in my little patch of the world!

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“The research stuff is beside the point!”

I have to quite vehemently disagree - I doubt I am alone in considering that “the research stuff” is entirely the point. What is the use of collecting data without at least trying to make it useful? INaturalist is considered to be a tool of Citizen Science … note that word. A proven
protocol such as that used by eBird would clear this up very nicely.

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