No PhD required: Citizen Science on 20th Street

We are here to update all you green-lovers on the springtime madness currently blossoming on the 20th street corridor! Ellen has been watching carefully over the streets to brighten up your strolls to and from the NTRG eateries.

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You don’t need an advanced degree to contribute meaningfully to the collective knowledge bank. Citizen science involves volunteers with little to no scientific training in observing and recording information to contribute to active science programs. Examples include SETI@home (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count. Wherever your interest lies, there’s probably a citizen science project that could use your help.

Designed right here in the Bay Area, the iNaturalist app ( allows you to contribute your observations of the natural world for a variety of projects anywhere. Using a smartphone, take a picture of a plant or animal, or record a birdcall, then upload your observation to iNaturalist with location and any relevant notes. If you can’t identify the species, you can ask for help from other members.

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The 20th Street Corridor was designed to support wildlife, so it’s only fitting that this location be part of a citizen science initiative spearheaded by Friends of the Urban Forest ( Although FUF is known for planting sidewalk trees, they have also been creating sidewalk gardens for several years. As we all know, opening up the sidewalk and adding plants has a variety of benefits, including support for local birds and insects.

The sidewalk landscaping staff at FUF has been chosen to speak to regional tree experts in late April at the annual conference of the Western Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture in Yosemite National Park ( They will be presenting about the wildlife diversity of our local sidewalk gardens, including data gathered by local citizens using the iNaturalist app.

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Although the 20th Street Corridor was not planted through FUF, the size and age of this garden makes it a great location to find creatures such as birds, butterflies, bees and more.  To assist with the FUF project, Ellen has been uploading observations of plants, birds, insects and even fungi found on 20th Street for the past 20 months during her monthly garden maintenance visits.

FUF volunteers also added their observations on a March 15th Bioblitz event in the Mission/Bernal area.) A bioblitz is an attempt to record as many species as possible in a certain area in a limited amount of time.) Volunteers canvassed several sidewalk gardens, including the 20th Street garden, focusing on insects and birds. In just a few hours 12 people uploaded 198 observations to iNaturalist, with 29 different species identified.

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In addition to the FUF project, the San Francisco Biodiversity Project wants your observations to catalog the vast kaleidoscope of life in our city. ( Since February of 2013, 82 members have added nearly 4000 observations to this ongoing database.  There are many undiscovered corners yet to be explored. You can add your observations to more than one project at the same time through iNaturalist. No matter where you are, take a few minutes to see what’s around you and record an observation. Spring bird nesting season is just beginning, and the warm weather means lots of insects are active. Don’t worry if you don’t know what you are observing –many amazing and knowledgeable folks are tuned into iNaturalist and happy to help with identification. (Tip: have location services enabled and take your photo via the iNaturalist app, not your phone’s camera app, so that time, date and location are automatically recorded).

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You love living here for a variety of reasons – now add to the list the amazing capacity for life here in our unique ecosystem. Get out there and meet some of your fellow citizens – human and otherwise…

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Save the date – April 19th, 10 am to noon! The 20th Street Garden will be featured on a bicycle tour showcasing the street trees and sidewalk gardens of the Mission District. This free tour is organized by Friends of the Urban Forest and led by Ellyn Shea, Certified Arborist, garden consultant and gardener of the 20th Street corridor. All bike riding levels welcome for this flat and leisurely ride. Visit to RSVP.


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