Using iNat is bringing comfort to this new naturalist during COVID lockdown—what about you?

I’m very new to the iNaturalist community (and to naturalism in general) but I’m very excited to be here. I’m getting a thrill out of identifying trees, specifically, though I have never paid them nearly so much attention in the past. I think there is one main reason for this:

I moved with my husband and baby to a new city just before the lockdown and it’s difficult to get to know the place or its people in these circumstances. I’m lonely. Getting to know the trees is providing some much-needed acquaintanceship, in a way, which I never would have expected.

I’m really curious to hear from others about whether you’re having a similar experience right now—whether new to iNat or a longtime user/observer. Is the process of observing and documenting your natural observations providing a new type of comfort for you right now? Is there something else that has changed in your interaction with iNat that could be tied to the lockdown?

I’m thinking about trying to write a short essay about this experience. I think it would be a lot more interesting if experiences beyond mine were included. I wouldn’t mention you or include your words without your permission, of course.

Thanks, everyone. So glad to be here.


I’m new to the community too, only started using the site in March. I didn’t pay a lot of attention before and now I’m seeing wildflowers everywhere, and learning how to tell bumble bees apart, and all sorts of things. It is a comfort in the current circumstances, and it’s getting me outdoors a lot more than I otherwise would too, which has to be good for my health.


I do find that iNaturalist is bringing me comfort and community during this crisis. I’ve made friends and gained mentors in the year I’ve been here, and I find keeping in touch with them to be a great pleasure.

Interestingly, I first picked up iNaturalist during a more personal time of isolation. I’d just completed my military service, and was living with a bad injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Having a mental health problem can be incredibly isolating, and as all my friends at the time were army friends, they were all far away, on base or scattered around the country. I wasn’t alone, per se, but the loss of belonging and purpose you get from being part of a military unit compounded the other issues.
I found iNaturalist to be the perfect way to remember to look outside of myself and connect with others. I knew I was contributing something significant by contributing to research, and I began to familiarize myself with the local flora and fauna. I’ve compared walking around outside when you know the names of the trees and flowers and birds, etc., to be like attending a party where you actually know everyone – hey look, it’s my friend Melia azedarach! And there’s Acridotheres tristis, the rascal! Every ID I got was a small connection with someone else, who had taken the time to pay attention to my observation, and help me learn a little more about nature. Soon I began to recognize individual names of people who frequently identified my observations, and I joined the forum. iNat quickly became my primary social outlet as I met more people. The feelings of isolation and loneliness faded.
My situation nowadays is much better – the injury healed and the PTSD is more or less medicated – but I still love iNat for the blessing it was when I needed a way to assuage my loneliness.

Sorry if that was a bit personal… I’ve been thinking of writing an essay of my own. It’s something I’ve wanted off my chest for a while…


Definitely helping with the feeling of isolation. INaturalist has given me “purpose” for lack of a better word. I feel like I am contributing something, even if in a small way, it makes me get out every day (as I try to find something new each day if I can), and I notice more of what’s around me. On the community side, I’ve found projects to join, especially the bioblitzes, that give me something to look forward to


On the contrary, I have liked iNaturalist less during lockdown, because it makes me miss my “normal” life more. Before mid-March I worked outdoors 40 hours a week and spent my weekends hiking. I’m in the urban sprawl of Southern California, but there are little places to hike, provided I drive 20-30 minutes to them. I had panic attacks from being in my apartment when I was first furloughed from my job and instructed not to visit parks, beaches and trails. Our COVID stay-at-home rules are vague, unenforced, and varied from city to city, which somehow only made/makes me feel more guilty about the whole business. The general consensus (at least up until three days ago) seemed to be, don’t drive anywhere for recreation; even though some parks/trails might not be hard-line closed, you should only walk there if you happen to live next to them… Oh, well that’s great for all the people who can afford to live next to them! We were told to go walking on our own block, but iNat is no help for that because it frowns upon cultivated plants, and I pretty quickly exhausted the 50 or so local species of weeds I see walking the same 3 or so mile radius every day. Is it wrong of me to drive a few miles just to walk in some other neighborhood I haven’t memorized yet? Am I being a terrible person if I intentionally look for trails that aren’t closed and drive to them? Normally I’m a huge iNat identifier too, but I hardly have the heart for it these days. Looking at other people’s photos just makes me feel more trapped and conflicted/guilty for wanting to go out. Three days ago the county re-opened parking lots for parks and trails, which seems to imply driving to them is now okay, but I’ve looked at the COVID case numbers and I know they aren’t really going down. I did drive to a park yesterday, but I feel badly about doing so.


We call this “plant blindness.” Many people either don’t notice plants at all or everything is lumped into “trees” and “bushes” and “grass.” I live in the desert and many people drive past the expanses of sagebrush and say “oh, there’s nothing here, it just a wasteland.” If you walk around in the sagebrush and really look at the smaller plants you can find hundreds of different species of wildflowers with their attendant pollinators.

As someone who was stuck in bed the entire month of April due to a non-covid medical issue, iNat provided a much needed outlet when I couldn’t go outside.


Admittedly slurping up fresh research data from the many weeds (and weed-parasitic fungi) in the area (California weeds and the associated fungs are understudied for some reason) was kind of fun, but like the other person said there are only so many weeds in a small confined space.

Local microinsects, mosses, pollutionloving dot lichens, and microsnails (which make up most biodiversity in degraded lawn-filled urban gardens) are a different problem altogether, their taxonomy is exceedingly painful and since the experts can’t accept preserved samples (due to lockdown of course) mailing them out to get IDs is not an option either.

At least now I am somewhat fluent in lawn plants?


I was becoming pretty awful under confinement. I feel lucky to live within walking distance to a couple small “semi-natural” settings, but I got tired of them. I miss hiking with my friends. However, because I am not interacting with them, I spend more time noticing the natural features of the trail. Now that we are allowed to venture a bit further for outdoor activities, we can drive to nearby Open Spaces and county parks. Although some areas are now too crowded on weekends for safe social distancing, it seems safe enough on weekdays. I’ve discovered I really cherish those ventures out to observe nature and I enjoy taking photos of plants and animals in the foothills. I try to maximize that experience when I return home by spending more time thinking about the natural world with iNaturalist. I feel like my emotional health has improved from the time spent immersed in nature.


I too long to be allowed back on the mountain, or walking along the beach.
But we are at that point where case numbers are starting to climb.

Poor park rangers get abused by people desperate to Get Back on My Mountain Already!!

Still working on IDs here so I will recognise familiar flowers when I eventually see them again. And hugely grateful that my home comes with a small walkable garden. Furloughed in an apartment sounds daunting.


Oh, I do have a new love of field madder and it is fun to spot it in lawns. So that is happy!


Oh, I do have a new love of field madder and it is fun to spot it in lawns. So that is happy! > Blockquote

Lol! Likewise!
I developed an enthusiasm for Bird’s Foot Trefoil (not sure the name is right but I know it when I see it; I learned to call it Lotus.)

During the drought, these are the only green in a dead lawn:

I wondered why it isn’t cultivated as a drought tolerant ground cover - it’s green with profuse flowers when everything else is dry and browned.


Hi all,
Really appreciate this post and feel awful for those of you confined in a small space with limited access to outdoors. I’m lucky enough to have a nice size yard with a good amount of wildlife passing through. I almost started a new post, but thought this would apply here.

Since our stay at home orders, like everyone, I’m striving to be out in the yard as much as possible and I’ve noticed a few unusual bird visitors. Specifically, a pair of European starlings and, this morning, a pair of brown-headed cowbirds. What strikes me as unusual is not that they are uncommon, rather they are most often seen in parks and store parking lots, not in suburban yards. I’m wondering if the lower number of people frequenting parks and stores now leads to fewer food tidbits to scavenge and the birds are looking elsewhere. Anyone care to weigh in here?


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