Looking about you and learning about what you see

About a week ago we wrote about our participation in the Nature Conservancy Canada “Bioblitz” during which we recorded all the species we saw in a five day period in our garden and the nearby roads and parks. The total came to 217. We were limited on that occasion by the requirement to submit a photo of every species so birds for example were not well represented. It turned out though that 217 was the sixth highest total from the whole of Canada and as at least the top two places were taken by observers in nature reserves we felt we had done quite well. All the more so for a small suburban environment.

Spurred on by that triumph, if it can be called a triumph, I have been going through our personal records of confirmed species seen anywhere within the boundaries of Baie-D’Urfé.

It comes to a good number – a neat total of 400 species in all. There are undoubtedly more, but these are ones that we have evidence of having seen. The proof that suburbia has more in it than people, dogs, cats and sparrows.

  • Plants 145 (Eastern Burnweed, on the right, was the latest added on the day this was published)
  • Birds 135
  • Insects 8
  • Arachnids 13
  • Fungi 11
  • Mammals 10
  • Molluscs 2 (Milky Slug, Amber Snail)
  • Amphibians 2 (American Toad, Green Frog)
  • Reptiles 1 (Northern Map Turtle)

Total = 400

** In the weeks to come I will write about the different groups listed above to give a wider picture of the neighbours.

“Digitally Collecting” Wildlife – Anyone Can Do it

There is nothing magical or particularly hard about keeping accurate records of species seen in a particular habitat – our patch as such locations are known. Taxonomy – that’s the science of naming and describing species and fitting them into the “tree of life” as it were is an arcane field and most practitioners are the first to tell you they they only really “know” about their own specialist and often tiny field of interest. Being a biologist helps me to know what I don’t know and anyway taxonomy was far from my particular field of expertise even if were I to have a second time around I would consider it as a career choice. Mostly it just means I know where to look for the information I need and how to narrow the options down which is usually half the battle in putting a name to something that interests you. Knowing what you don’t know is key to being a naturalist … and a few other human endeavours besides 🙂

In other words, if birds or flowers or spiders or whatever are something you find interesting then you can start to learn about them too and recording what and where you found each species is actually immensely important to building the information needed to protect them. All the more so in these days of climate change and habitat loss. All the specialist biologists in the world cannot gather the breadth of data that is needed – but citizen scientists like you can contribute by sharing their findings. There are internet tools available to report your observations and I urge everyone to use them. A few even have surprisingly accurate artificial intelligence facilities built in that will assist you in putting a name to what you see. They are not always infallible, but they will usually narrow the field down enough for you to work out the rest for yourself.

Check out some of these:

iNaturalist will keep a record of all the species of all the groups of plants and animals that you encounter and has the AI ability to help with those names. The downside is that you have to submit a photograph for the AI engine to work on so while plants are easy to take a snap of things that move fast such as insects and birds can be more problematic. A nice feature is that once you have reported, let us say a Song Sparrow, other users who are often experts in the field will confirm your identification or gently suggest an alternative so you learn as you proceed.


eBird is the worldwide mega-database for bird records. It doesn’t assist in identification but the quality of data within it is superb and as a user you can use its database to discover what is being seen in your area and where recent observations have been made. So if you are desperate to add a sighting of Spotted Sandpiper to your personal life list this is the place to find out where to go to see one. Birds are relatively easy anyway simply because there is so much easily accessible information on the internet and in pocket field guides. So many birders too who are all lovely people and keen to help a novice.


Merlin Bird ID is a FREE app available for smartphones. It doesn’t keep records for you but it helps you identify birds with ease. You’ll get personalized results of birds to expect based on the time of year and your location or your choice of regions around the world, including a digital field guide with more than 80,000 photos and sounds, plus maps, and ID tips! Merlin is the most fully featured and global bird app available, and the only one enabling both sound and photo identification powered by AI.


iBird PRO is a smartphone bird app (phones are wonderful, no heavy books to carry around with you and always available). It has a lot of information about the different species. This costs $15 but is well worth it. The link is for the Apple version but it’s available for Android as well.


BirdNET is another app from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology that this time helps you identify birds you can’t see just by their songs and calls. The Merlin app above also has this facility.


But there are plenty more – certainly there are tools to help you identify butterflies and moths, spiders and fungi.

So, the challenge. If you live in or visit Baie-D’Urfé can you add species to our personal list? Go out in your garden and have a look.