Top Observers On The Site

You call people recorders, that they don’t do iNatting the supposed way, making RG observations easy as that, but somehow still we have a tiny proportion of people who actually have 100+k records, or 500 a day, so maybe it’s not that easy after all?

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I don’t understand what you’re arguing against. Surely you must agree that people who know more about about nature make better nature recorders?

iNaturalist makes it easy for people with no experience whatsoever to make useful observations. And that is a good thing, because it allows them to engage with nature in a positive way without any prior knowledge. But photographing a butterfly and using the CV to find out what species it is won’t make you an expert identifier, no matter how many times you do it. At some point, you need to start reading books and learning from other people if you want to deepen your knowledge. Recording data is just one part of what we do. There’s much more to being a naturalist than that.


But they’re observers, not iders. If the tool is here so you can skip routine that not everyone likes, why not use it? You can appreciate nature and not know how to separate two similar species. We talk about top contributors, not new users.

As a newish user here (introduced via a local Bioblitz) I have learned much about what it takes to document an organism. As long-time user of eBird user (online only until Merlin was released) this is a very different experience. Birders are only required to record observations as a “witness” but without photo or audio. eBird includes a self-report “experience/knowledge level” when signing up.

What isn’t clear to newbies outside their expertise, like me, is what it takes to get a firm ID for which organism. It may be that DNA is necessary so that might be useful to know when posting. Some sort of red flag might pop up for the most difficult. But for plants, a flower is often helpful but flower plus leaves plus stem and maybe root may be necessary. That takes time and experience to know how deep to go.


I think a couple of keys for getting large numbers of observations are these: 1) Use a dedicated camera along with geotagging software on your smartphone. This is much faster than using the iNaturalist smartphone app. 2) Be an expert on the taxa you are observing. For example, if you are well versed in botany, it is super easy to find large numbers of species at just about any roadside or other site and you’ll be able to determine quickly which species are there. 3) Be aware of all different taxa and make observations of things that you are not targeting. For example, if you are targeting plants, and you see interesting insects, spiders, fungus, animal tracks, etc, make observations of them as well.


Use a camera with GPS and whilst out - if you see something you know then photograph it; but if you see something you do not know - then also photograph it - a very good way of learning new species.


Because it often doesn’t work, and when it does, you can’t learn much from it.

That seems self-contradictory. If you can’t recognise the differences between things, what is there to appreciate? One of the greatest pleasures of engaging with nature is developing a deeper appreciation of its amazing diversity. It seems to me that you are at risk of dumbing things down to the point where it’s becoming almost condescending. In my experience, people genuinely like learning about nature, and it really bothers them if they don’t know how to identify what they’ve found.

Everyone has to start somewhere. What was the journey that took them from zero observations to becoming “top” contributors? Did it really differ significantly from everyone else’s journey, and if so, how? That is what we are talking about.

Photo plants! They’re important, probably under-reported, very vulnerable to climate change, abundant, and diverse. I go out to photo plants, plus any animals that stay still enough for me to photo. I’ll never get on the leaderboard, but 500 observations so far this month isn’t shabby, either.

I download from my camera to my computer. There I crop photos, throw out the worst ones, label, and upload. A camera with GPS would really help! However, I’m OK with selecting all and picking a central location with a large enough “accuracy” to include all the observations. Or sometimes I map the observations individually. Depends on how I feel and what I’m trying to do. (Sometimes I want to record everything in a small park, for example.)

I find that I usually have to spend as much time processing and uploading as I did in the field, sometimes more. Wish it were otherwise, but there it is. (Right now I still have lots of photos to upload from four days in the field last week.)

Being mostly retired gives me time to work on this, but some of the people I do ID’s for are working on grants to record the biodiversity of an area, so they post a huge amount. Leaderboard amounts.

I like to see and post good quality photos, for sure! (Who doesn’t?) However, anything identifiable is good enough, and sometimes I’ve posted some pretty terrible but marginally identifiable photos. The observations that make me want to reach through the internet and shake the person are lovely, artistic photos of a flower, nothing else. Couldn’t you post at least one leaf, so I could actually ID this to species???


Like @cmcheatle says, do what makes you happy and what you find fulfilling. We really want iNat to be enjoyable, first and foremost. Would you be happier if you were at the top of the leaderboard?


Well, you can look at and appreciate mountains or waterfall, or beautiful flower, no matter how thay’re named. I never can remember exact differences between Sonchus species, but I still like them and observe a lot, and I liked plants before I learned anything about them, I never learned many names before university classes, even when using a book for flowers id, but still everything I saw was quite exiting and if iNat existed back then I’d take thousands of observations (as iNat changed quite a lot in my photography perception).
Maybe it’s just I never met a big observer who doesn’t like learning? I saw at least one who could use cv less, but I don’t know motivation behind it, so I genuinely feel like regular iNat users do learn things eventually.


Haven’t you ever seen a child a few months old in awe of a flower or a duck or a butterfly? The child can’t name anything at all, but is certainly appreciating nature.


Thanks for the suggestion! I tried that, but my phone GPS doesn’t give very accurate coordinates for photos for some reason, so when I load them into iNat, they are sometimes incorrect. Again, hardware.

Quality, not quantity. Seconded!

Thanks for the replies everyone!

I was really just wondering about what methods the power observers use to get their numbers. It’s not really a personal goal for me to try to achieve, although I suppose I could try doing this one day to spice up an outing.


Btw with regard to streamlining workflow, I remembered I posted about this before and got some overview of different practices.

Would be interesting to document the time involved in a few different approaches to get a sense for how it could be streamlined. I could imagine a Hackathon-style competition around streamlining workflow could be a practical way to find optimal approaches if methods were shared. One could compete within a very limited set of parameters, for it to be more meaningful - e.g. time taken to document and upload 100 obs, min/max 3 images per obs, etc

This thread also discusses methods for increasing the efficiency of observing:


another factor:

there are tons of autistic people on iNat and we do a thing called hyperfocus where we can do a tremendous amount of …stuff… in a relatively short amount of time. I am not claiming any power user other than myself as autistic but a bunch of us are. Autistic hyperfocus and related infodumping are, in my experience, NOT competitive in nature and not poorly thought out or done on a whim. The hyperfocus-created data is if anything going to be of higher quality than other data, not worse quality. Some of us don’t care about taking pretty photos, only capturing diagnostic features, but this is an appropriate use of iNat.

yeah see, to an autistic person with this as their special interest, it isn’t crushingly boring, it actually feels really good. the chain of motivations for neurodivergent people is just different.

If i were not constrained by parenting, work (i’m an ecologist but don’t get to just do inaturalist all day), hardware, phone battery, financial concerns, and such, i would probably be generating several thousand observations every month easily and probably would have been doing so since i started in 2011. It’s just how my brain works :)


I’m on the spectrum myself, so it would seem neurodivergent people are perhaps … more diverse than you seem to be suggesting here. I would find it boring because it wouldn’t scratch any of my specific obsessional itches. For me, quality is just much more important than quantity. I fixate on single subjects, and enjoy getting lost in the moment and savouring the process for it’s own sake. I often unwittingly take large numbers of redundant photos, almost all of which I will later delete because they don’t fulfill my idiosyncratic criteria for what “looks right”. I never worry about how many observations I might have at the end of all this, though. Ten good quality observations will always be worth more to me than a thousand mediocre ones. That’s just how my brain works ;-)


Oh sorry, i don’t mean to suggest that all autistic people would want to spend time generating several thousands of observations i am just saying someone might do so if they are for instance hyperfocusing on the microhabitat requirements of a specific goldenrod species or something. And yes i too get super focused on if something is wrong or poor quality data (in my case often with mapping as much as anything) so I totally get that too. Apologies if it seemed i was assuming you were not n/d though. I guess my broader point is, there are lots of reasons someone might make observations that seem useless or boring to other users. One of those reasons could be leaderboards or observation count but i think this other reason may be a common one on iNat too.


This is why I have so few observations – and why I have done many IDs of taxa for which I have zero observations. I could have taken a different approach and had a lot more observations, but chose to do it the way I do.

And mine, too. I do not think I have ever uploaded every picture I take on a given outing; not that they don’t meet iNat’s criteria, but that they don’t meet my idiosyncratic ones. They’re not redundant, and I don’t delete most of them; I just keep them in my own files to enjoy looking at and upload a selection of a few.