Get outside and contribute to citizen science this winter
Small mammal tracks in the snow (Photo by NCC)
There is no better time than the new year to learn a new skill and spend more time outdoors! The snowy winters of Alberta create a message board on which wildlife write their stories. With a little patience and practice, anyone can observe winter tracks and begin to read the stories that they tell.
This January 15-31 the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Alberta Region and NatureLynx are challenging Albertans to spend time outside and become winter wildlife detectives. Share your winter wildlife tracking observations to the Hands on Alberta Winter Tracking Mission.
NatureLynx is a free citizen science app developed by the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) to help Albertans learn more about their local biodiversity while contributing to various data collection efforts throughout the province. Users can upload their own photos, recommend species identifications to others, and join existing Alberta-based citizen science projects. They can also create and manage their own groups and missions on the app to collect sightings of particular interest to them!
Joining the mission is easy. You just need to follow these simple steps:
- Download the NatureLynx app onto your smartphone or visit Naturelynx.ca.
- Create an account.
- Search for the mission “2021 Hands on Alberta Winter Tracking” and click “Join mission.”
- Between January 15-31, 2021, get outside, take photos of winter tracks and upload your photos to the NatureLynx app. When you upload, make sure to tag your sightings to the 2021 Hands on Alberta Winter Tracking mission page.
As you head out to make observations, keep the following tips in mind. They will help to ensure you are submitting quality observations and increase the ability of experts to identify the tracks!
- Flex those photography skills. Try to take images in as high resolution as you can and make sure all photos are in focus.
- Scale is important! Try to take one picture of the track with an item that will help illustrate its size. This could be a picture with your hand or common object (e.g. sunglasses) next to the track, or a ruler if you have one on hand.
- Take a few photos. Make sure you are taking photos that clearly show the track but also try to take photos that show the gait and the pattern of movement.
- Look around you! Make a note of any field observations that may help someone identify the track. This could be the weather conditions, features the track is found near, such as a wetland or in an open field, or more.
If this is your first foray into winter tracking, the tips below will help you get started:
- Look for fresh snow. Tracks in fresh snow will be easier to identify. Consider planning your tracking missions around forecasted snowfalls.
- Know the wildlife in your area. Once you have an idea of the critters in your area, it will help you narrow down the list of possible suspects and what their tracks look like.
- Pay attention to how the animal is moving. The pattern of the tracks will help you determine the gait of the animal; an important clue in identifying who’s who!
- Take notes and pictures. As you start out in your tracking journey, documenting the tracks you find in the field will provide you with references to help investigate the track further when you are at home with additional resources to consult.