Tracey Fandre of Garland uploaded the most observations for DFW during the recent iNaturalist bioblitz. Photo by Debra Stovall-Tromble.

May 4, 2018

Nature still thrives in the concrete jungle we call the Metroplex –  And so do nature lovers.

That’s what more than 800 North Texas nature enthusiasts proved last weekend, when they descended on backyards, alleys, creekbeds and parks armed with their smart phones and cameras for the global iNaturalist City Nature Challenge.

Passing San Diego County in the final hours, DFW took second place among 70 cities competing worldwide in the bioblitz, overseen by iNaturalist, a crowd-sourcing scientific observation platform.

Southern carpenter beeOver four days, local volunteers gathered more than 34,000 observations of plants, bugs and other critters, documenting more than 2,500 species.

A southern carpenter poses for the camera. Photo by Tracey Fandre.

But unlike last year, when DFW rallied to win, it couldn’t catch the San Francisco Bay Area, home to iNaturalist headquarters at the California Academy of Sciences

“I think they were smacked around too hard last year," joked Sam Kieschnick, urban wildlife biologist in DFW for Texas Parks and Wildlife and organizer for the DFW bioblitz."They had to come back with a vengeance.” 

If you haven’t been converted to iNaturalist yet, anyone can start an account and upload photos via a smart phone app or computer. While the platform is used by researchers and land managers to track species, its stated mission is engaging people with nature.

Top Observer

Tracy Fandre, an amateur naturalist from Garland, is one of hundreds of North Texans who've caught the iNaturalist bug.

“Once I started, I couldn’t stop. It’s like potato chips.” admitted Fandre, who logged in the most observations for DFW - 1,096 - during the contest. 

A jumping spider portrait captures the critter's cuteness. Photo by Tracey Fandre.

Fandre said her interest in nature photography started four years ago when her husband bought her a camera. That led her to noticing and appreciating the world around her.

Fandre said she’d always loved animals but had been afraid of bugs, especially spiders. 

That changed as she begin to notice their beauty and individuality, which she strives to show in her photos.

“Once you get to know them, you cease to fear them,” she said. “I used to squish bugs now I’m just appalled at the idea of anybody squishing something. And snakes, now I think they’re absolutely lovely and wonderful. There’s nothing to be afraid of. They’re more afraid of us.”

Purple Martin by Tracey FandreThis was the second year for Fandre to compete. The 51-year-old, who struggles with fibromyalgia, said she was determined to help DFW win.

A purple martin. Photo by Tracey Fandre.

“I was like a machine,” said Fandre. “I spent morning till night taking photos. I’d sleep a little and get back up to take more pictures.”

For this year’s City Nature Challenge, she decided to stay close to home. Most of the places she went to were within walking distance of her suburban neighborhood. 

“I put in more than 60,000 steps. I wanted to see the things I could see in just the normal places I go.”

Even within a limited range, she found 365 species, including a field copperhead, her first bobcat, a southern carpenter bee and a beetle, Bassareus mammifer, the only one recorded in the Metroplex.

Tracey Fandre spent four days shooting and three days uploading photos to last week.

Most Species Observed

Meanwhile, Kieschnick chalked up the most species in DFW with 540 different critters and plants ID’d.

One of his prized observations was a deer ked, a tiny louse typically found on deer.

“It’s an itty bitty bug that I knew about but I've never seen before.”

Sam Kieschnick, who goes by the screen name sambiology on iNaturalist, discovered the most species during the competition.

He said a lot of people don’t expect to find much life in the urban sprawl, but together the DFW bioblitzers discovered 2,500 species in one extended weekend. Among the most common sightings was the ubiquitous evening primrose, northern cardinal, fox squirrel, seven-spotted lady bug and poison ivy. Two native Texas milkweeds were also in the top ten - green milkweed and antelope horns.

“That’s a lot of diversity,” he said “We’re still finding cool stuff in the Metroplex.”

As head cheerleader for the local bioblitz, who trains people of all ages yearround how to use it, he was thrilled that participation nearly doubled from last year.

“DFW has a tremendous naturalist community. We have a lot of people who care deeply about nature.”

Blacktailed prairie dogsBlacktailed prairie dogs observed in Burleson. Photo by Sam Kieschnick.

He said he will be sharing the iNaturalist stats with local city councils, park boards and public land managers.

“This will show them that we not only have biodiversity in DFW, we have a lot of people who want to go to places with biodiversity.”

He believes iNaturalist has finally found a way to bridge our modern world with the natural one.

“It’s proving there doesn’t have to be this dichtomy between nature and technology. [Technology] is engaging people with nature.”

See complete results of the 2018 City Nature Challenge.


North Texans gearing up for City Nature Challenge

DFW wins nationwide iNaturalist Challenge 

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