Becoming an urban field naturalist is simple

Do you live in an urban area? Have you ever noticed a huntsman spider killinga cockroach? What about a food fight between native birds? Or two lizardsmating? Stepped on wombat poo?

This World Environment Day researchers are inviting you to slow down, sip yourmorning coffee and stare at the world around you. You may spot somethingamazing.

If you do, take a photo or make a sketch and head over to The Urban FieldNaturalist Project, where ordinary citizens are sharing stories of the wildthings they see in their back yards, on their balcony, or on the footpathwaiting for the bus. The project is a collaboration between University ofSydney, Taronga Zoo and University of Technology Sydney.

“Some of the best scientific observations have come from the work of amateurscientists or casual observations from the public,” said Associate ProfessorThom van Dooren, a philosopher at University of Sydney, who has a passion forobserving snails and crows.

“For this project, we aren’t really looking for data, we are asking people toget immersed in a sense of wonder,” said Associate Professor van Dooren.

Professor Dieter Hochuli, who is an expert in insects, spiders and birds, saidthe fundamental starting point of science is to make observations. Hepersonally enjoys watching ants.

“Did you know all worker ants you see cleaning things up are female?” he said.“I like the brutality of nature, too. Nature is relentless, things get eatenall the time. I’m also a sucker for moths and caterpillars, I love learningabout the things they do to avoid being eaten.”

The Urban Field Naturalist Project is like a Choose Your Own Adventure,Professor Hochuli said. “In Mexico, people started noticing birds werecollecting cigarette butts and putting them in their nests. Why would they dothat? Turns out the nicotine in the butts were acting as a natural parasitekiller. We know so little about so much that lives in and around our cities.”

“Go out there and stare at stuff!” said Professor Hochuli. “Ask why is thatcreature doing that? How do we know that? What will they do next? We mightlearn something new and we might all gain a deeper appreciation of ourenvironment.

Five simple steps to get involved:

  1. Slow down

There is a world of activity going on all around us. Slow down and notice thesmall things beneath your feet, really pay attention to any sounds, take timeto watch a slow-motion process unfold.

  1. Observe

Use all your senses. Watch for tiny movements in leaves. Listen to a birdcall. Smell the scents on the wind. Touch and taste the world around you(don’t go tasting mysterious plants.)

  1. Record and collect

Write down what you see, do a drawing. Take a photo, video or audio recording.Make a note of where and when you noticed it.

  1. Ask questions

Cultivate curiosity about why things are the way they are. Move beyond thefacts. Why are some animals out at a certain time of day? Why do some plantsthrive in cities? Ask yourself, what is that and why is it doing that?

  1. Share

Lots of people are interested in nature so make sure you share your storiesand photos. Your observation might be invaluable to someone else.

Image: Food fight! A cockatoo and a lorikeet captured in suburban Rosemeadowby Lyn Forbes

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