Nature Walk at Jemison Park

Lesser Celandine (“Ficaria verna”)

Jemison Park Nature Trail is one of my favorite local spots. This greenway follows Shades Creek and meanders through Mountain Brook. It’s just a hop, skip and jump away from central Birmingham.

I’ve written about iNaturalist on this blog before, and I’m featuring it again in this post about my recent nature walk through Jemison Park. If you’re in the Birmingham area and want to learn about iNaturalist from an expert, I recommend “Introduction to iNaturalist,” presented by Dr. John Friel of the Alabama Museum of Natural History on May 6, 2018, 1-3:30 p.m., at Ruffner Mountain.

I’ve been using the iNaturalist app since attending one of Dr. Friel’s presentations last year. I find it helps me better observe and appreciate the intricacies of nature, which makes spending time outdoors all the more rewarding. I also like recording and identifying plants in natural areas because my hope is to gradually transform our privet-filled wooded backyard into a woodland garden.

Here is what I observed on my walk through Jemison Park:

Lesser Celandine (“Ficaria verna”)

I believe this ground cover (also pictured at the top of this post) is lesser Celandine (“Ficaria verna”). iNaturalist’s photo identification software suggested this ID. I carefully compared the database’s photos against mine. I think it’s a match, but the ID needs confirmation from the iNaturalist online community of citizen scientists. This plant is definitely going on my woodland garden wish list. [Update: Another iNaturalist participant later confirmed this ID!]


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Next is Italian Arum (“Arum italicum”). Once again, iNaturalist software helped me venture a guess on the ID. A fellow user, who happens to be pursuing a doctorate in marine ecology and phycology, agreed. That moved my ID up to research grade. It will stay that way as long as two-thirds of iNaturalist users concur.

I also learned that some gardeners underplant Italian Acum with hostas. When hostas die back in winter, Italian Acum will maintain an attractive ground cover. I already have hostas, so I am definitely going to try this!

Beaked Trout-Lily (“Erythronium rostratum”)

The identification of the Beaked Trout-Lily (“Erythronium rostratum”) above illustrates the combined power of software and collective human brainpower in making sense of the vast numbers of observations uploaded to iNaturalist.

After looking through the software’s suggestions, my best guess at an ID was a Yellow Trout Lily (“Erythronium americanum”). However, another citizen scientist, self-described as a “hobbyist botanist, reasonably well-read on trillium and solidago,” countered that the plant I observed was in fact a Beaked Trout-Lily. His argument: “prominent auricles at the base of the tepals which encircle filaments; tepals not streaked with purple; flower not nodding; petals not sharply reflexed.”

This is a good time to mention another tip about using iNaturalist. Even if you are an amateur, do your best to research and identify your observations starting with kingdom at a minimum, and narrowing down the taxonomy as much as you can. The iNaturalist software and other references can help you do this, as long as you employ common sense and pay attention to the details. The more you can help narrow it down, the more likely someone who actually knows their stuff will look at what you’ve posted. They can then confirm your ID, further narrow it down or correct it if needed.

I’ll close this post with a few more iNaturalist observations from Jemison Park Nature Trail.

Red Buckeye (“Aesculus pavia”)


Little Sweet Betsy (“Trillium cuneatum”), also known as toadshade


My suggested ID, unconfirmed: Common Blue Violet (“Viola sororia”)

Photo of the Day: Taking Flight

Add the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) to the list of butterfly visitors to our zinnias.

When I showed this photo to a co-worker at our frequented “cheap Mexican” lunch place, I learned she grew up calling zinnias “old maids.” It might not be the most PC nickname, but it makes sense. Their blooms last a really long time and even age gracefully, as is the older-but-still-beautiful bloom in this photo. 

Here are a few more pics of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly to show the nuances of its wing pattern.

Happy Saturday.

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Fungus Among Us

Lately, I find myself missing grade school, good old-fashioned K-12. I know there’s a lot of debate today about public education and what’s wrong with it. But as an adult with a job that only uses a narrow scope of knowledge and specialized skill sets, I find myself longing for the brain calisthenics of five to seven subjects a day.

Recently, I discovered a way to work a science fix into my life, as panacea to my decidedly unscientific profession. iNaturalist is a social network of citizen scientists, but it’s not social media in any sense you’re thinking of. It’s nerdy and fantastically free of political bickering and narcissism.  It’s just people, ranging from amateur nature enthusiasts to professional scientists, working together to document and identify species and biodiversity worldwide. If you check out the iNaturalist widget on my blog, you can link to my log of observations in various stages of the identification process.

That brings us to the title of today’s post, “Fungus Among Us.” This spring and summer has brought a lot of rain to Birmingham, Alabama, and the fungi are loving it. This morning I documented all the mushrooms that have popped up in my yard.


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No species IDs have come through on these mushrooms yet, but maybe I’ll eventually learn more about them via other iNaturalist participants.

Last weekend, I had luck with several IDs of my observations. This Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) is one of them. I must admit that before, I would have assumed any orange and black butterfly I spotted was a Monarch. Now I’m paying more attention to the details of the world around me, and it makes life more interesting.


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I get a kick every time there is enough consensus among iNaturalist users and my observations become “research grade,” which means data uploaded by me can be used by professional scientists for all sorts of research projects.

The iNaturalist software identified this Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on the first crack, without human help. However, for this observation to move to research grade, human users had to agree with the ID, which they did. (Warning, the artificial intelligence program used to aid amateurs with making IDs is pretty good, but it also suggested that a photo I uploaded of a pitcher plant was a bird. So a little common sense and the consensus of human users is essential.)


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Being a novice who hasn’t taken a science class since college geology, I didn’t think I would be able to contribute to the identification process; I thought I could only observe.

I learned about iNaturalist at a lecture held at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, taught by Dr. John Friel, director of the Alabama Museum of Natural History. Dr. Friel told the class that part of iNaturalist is giving back to the system/community by helping identify the observations of others. That is to say, uploading and relying on others to ID your observations is “taking” from the system in a sense. Helping identify is “giving back.” iNaturalist only works because of the give and take of many.

I got the concept; I just didn’t think I could be of much help as an identifier. The aforementioned reptilian visitor to my yard changed my mind. Shortly after I learned what he was, I saw a photo of what was unmistakably another Common Five-lined Skink hanging out in the “needs identification” section of iNaturalist. I suggested the ID, and when other users concurred, the observation became research grade. In a very small way, I had helped give back to the system, and, frankly, it was a bit of a thrill.

On a closing note, I will leave you with this Reddish-Brown Stag Beetle hanging out on our window screen, who became a lot less freaky once I knew what he was. Woo-hoo for citizen science!