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City Nature Challenge invites Calgarians to find the natural in the urban

Starting this Friday, the City Nature Challenge is back, encouraging Calgarians to collect as many observations of flora and fauna as possible all while taking in some of the unseen natural gems of the city.

Like last year, Calgarians will be competing with other North American cities like Toronto and Montreal to have the highest number of observations and to see if they can identify the greatest number of species.

Beyond being an excellent excuse to take in the outdoors over what promises to be a very sunny weekend, the observations help scientists, nature advocates, and city planners to make smart decisions about the future of urban development.

“We’ve got beautiful weather this year, and it looks like it’s going to be probably the best we’ve had the past five years,” said City Nature Challenge YYC founder Matt Wallace.

“All of our migratory birds are back, we’ve got tons of spring flowers popping up, and I think we’ve got a lot of excitement within the community.”

Anyone can take part in the challenge by downloading the iNaturalist app for their smartphone, and then joining City Nature Challenge 2023: Calgary Metropolitan Region in the projects tab.

Users can then upload photos of plants and animals they observe using the iNaturalist app, which will be collected towards Calgary’s total for this year.

“It doesn’t matter where you are within the Calgary metro region. You can participate,” said Wallace.

“You can do it in your backyard, in your neighborhood, at the mall. You know, wherever you see life, we want that shared.”

The challenge runs from April 28 through May 1, and more details on how the challenge works and previous years results are available at citynatureyyc.ca.

Groups holding nature walks new for 2023

Due to the pandemic, for the past several years the City Nature Challenge has been largely a solitary or small-group activity.

New for this year’s challenge is a large number of local groups who are organizing challenge walks and nature tours as part of the event.

“I think that this is kind of the premier event of the year for people to engage with nature, and I think that we try and host events in places that people normally wouldn’t think to go to experience nature,” said Wallace.

“The main thing is how do we build a much larger appreciation for nature within our city so that perhaps we can evoke positive change down the line.”

Among those events that are happening are walks along Nose Creek in Calgary and Airdrie, searching for fungi and mosses in the Weaselhead, walking the wetlands of 68 Street SE, and tiger lily trail and pond dipping at Glenbow Ranch.

Andrew Yule, founder of nature advocacy group Save Nose Creek, is one of the organizers for the walks this year.

He said that he knows with the Calgary Expo going on, it might be a challenge to get people out, but he issued his own call to take in a different sort of marvel.

“In our own right, we can be heroes out on the wetlands and green spaces, but with great power comes great responsibility and we got to get in there to start building some data,” Yule said.

The power to educate and inform

Yule said that prior to starting Save Nose Creek, he wasn’t aware of the number of species that lived in the Nose Creek Valley like porcupines and mink.

He said that collecting data through iNaturalist helps to inform decision-makers about the types of impact they could potentially have through the development of natural areas.

“This platform is used by all sorts of different government agencies and scientific research. And so the more posts that you can get on there, the more data that scientists have to kind of make assumptions, and make reports about the area for developers,” he said.

“In cases like ours for Nose Creek, when we first started this advocacy there was very little posted in the area. So more people are now using it in the area to capture the things we have.”

He said that even includes rare species like the Pronghorn, which was observed using Nose Creek as a migratory pathway.

The Calgary Nose Creek tour is happening on April 29, at 1 p.m. Attendees are asked to pre-register if possible at www.savenosecreek.com/news-events/2023-04-29, but are welcome to just show up at Mollie’s Market on 11 Street NE.

Yule said that interest has been good so far in the tour, and the same has been for other nature tours at wetland sites in the city for this weekend.

“I think there’s been a renewed interest in wetlands and, and green spaces like with our advocacy and the north central, and with Ricardo Ranch down in the south,” he said.

“It’s really getting the word of mouth out there that using this platform iNaturalist will have huge, not just for this challenge, but just have a huge impact on what we learn about a city and surrounding area.”