Sunday, September 30, 2012

NatureWatch NZ Intro on YouTube

The fine media people over at Landcare Research were so impressed with NatureWatch NZ that they put together a nice video introduction to what we do. The piece stars Landcare Research ecologist and natural historian, Colin Meurk, who is one of the founders and current chair of the NZBRN Trust which produces NatureWatch NZ.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Add a little NatureWatch NZ action to your website

One of the neat new features of NatureWatch NZ is its widgets. These are little snippets of website code (HTML) that you can add to any other website to display live content from NatureWatch NZ. You can see it in action down the right side of this blog (if you're viewing the big computer format and not the teeny mobile screen format).

There's a widget for your Observations. You can use this to display your latest observations on your own website. It includes links back to NatureWatch NZ that your website visitors can follow to see more.

There's a widget for any Taxon. In other words, you can get a widget for any species or higher level taxa, e.g., Animals. This lets you highlight the new observations being made of your favourite living things.

There's also a widget for Projects (e.g., NZ Butterflies). This lets your organisation or institution make a project and display all the latest observations on your website.

There's not much to it. Just select what you want from the NatureWatch NZ settings, copy the provided HTML code, and paste it into the code running your website.

If you know about such HTML-type things, you can further customise the formatting to your liking (just don't mess with the line beginning with <script). We've done a little tinkering like this on the right column of our blog to make a widget that jointly displays the latest observations of animals, plants, and fungi.

Here's how to make a widget for a project, using the NZ Butterflies project as an example.

Here's the resulting widget, displaying live from the NZ Butterflies project:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It's colouring in time at NatureWatch NZ

In our last blog post, we introduced some of the many ways you can edit the content of NatureWatch NZ. Not only can you add your observations, but you can add places, projects, common names of species, new links about species, and more. Here's another one. From today, you can select the colours found on any species in NatureWatch NZ.

Why would you do that? So that people can easily find the species they're trying to identify. Imagine you're looking at a butterfly with blue on its wings. If NatureWatch NZ users have added colours to all the butterflies, then all you need to do is search on "butterfly" in the NatureWatch NZ species search, click "blue", and you'll see a list all the New Zealand butterflies with blue. Handy!

As a demonstration, I've already quickly whizzed through the NZ butterflies, since we don't have many of them, and done exactly that. New Zealand is a big tangle of thousands of other species so the rest is up to all of us.

Below I'll describe just how stupidly easy it is to add colours to a species page. But first, a big tip of the hat goes to Ken-ichi Ueda and the other developers of our parent system, iNaturalist, from which we got the code to do this. And thanks to Patrick Davey of Egressive for getting it working on NatureWatch NZ.

Noting the colours found on a tui on the NatureWatch NZ species page for tui.


To set (or edit) the colours for a species, first go to the NatureWatch NZ species page of your choice. You can do this by clicking on any species name on an observation page, or going to the entry taxa page and searching. Here we'll start with the kahukura (red admiral butterfly) page. The screenshot below shows the area down the left hand side of the page where you can specify colours.

Colouring in a kahukura butterfly, NatureWatch NZ style. Click all the colours found on the species, in this case red, blue, black, white, and brown.

The same area of the species page for the kahukura butterfly now looks like this.

In next to no time, I worked through all of the NZ butterflies and added their colours. Now, when I search on butterfly and select "Insect"under taxonomy (to remove plants like butterfly bush from the list) and select "blue" under colour, I get just eight butterfly taxa with blue on them.

The NatureWatch NZ search page for blue butterflies, built by me in about ten minutes.

So what's your favourite group you want to colour in?

(P.S. Yes, Americans don't know how to spell "colour". We're fixing that ASAP.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

NatureWatch NZ: built by you!

We say on the NatureWatch NZ website that it's built by NZBRN, the New Zealand Bio-Recording Network. In some ways it is. In a lot of ways, it's not: it's built by you. We'd like to take a moment to explain some of the different ways that you can add and edit the content of NatureWatch NZ. For example, did you know that you can add a common name for a species? Or, that you can add a link to an external webpage with more information about a species? Or, add a place to our map?

You can edit all sorts of content on NatureWatch NZ, from common names to species photos to places.


We'll start with some obvious things and ease on into things you might not have noticed yet.

Add observations
This is the obvious one. It's what NatureWatch NZ is all about. You can add observations, comment on and correct the identifications of other users' observations, and add observations to Projects. The more we fill NatureWatch NZ up with observations, the more we learn about New Zealand biodiversity, and the happier everyone is (and wealthier, and better looking too).

Add projects
Projects are places in NatureWatch NZ where like-minded (e.g., equally crazy) people can gather to share observations about just the species or place they most care about. If there's not the Project you want, you can create it. You can also invite other users to join it, and promote other users to administrators to allow them to also edit the Project settings.

Add places
Places in NatureWatch NZ are named areas on our map. From our legacy system we have populated NatureWatch NZ with lots of named points on the map, but since they don't have any area, they cannot generate species lists and observation lists. Only places with an area can contain observations. We're working behind the scenes on uploading lots of places with areas into NatureWatch NZ. However, there's no need to wait, and we're never going to get every one of your special places. That's nothing to worry about because you can create places yourself by drawing a polygon on our map, giving it a name, and saving it.

Every place you make becomes available for everyone else to use, and since it has an area, you'll get a list of all observations available in that place. You can even subscribe to a place (yours or someone elses' place) and get informed of all new observations made in that place. And, if you made a mistake or the place boundaries change, you can edit your place at any time.

I can edit my places whenever I like, or even delete them.

You'll also see that NatureWatch NZ attempts to get photos from Flickr and information from Wikipedia about your place. If there's no information, or you want to add or edit it, you add your photos of the place to Flickr (just be sure to tag them with exactly the same name as you gave your place) and you can log onto Wikipedia to create or edit the page on your place (again, the place name will have to be exactly the same). If there's already a page on Wikipedia with a different name, you can create a new page with your place name and have it re-direct to the existing Wikipedia page. Wikipedia has instructions on how to set up a redirect page here.

All observations listed with Ernle Clark Reserve, a place I created in NatureWatch NZ.

NatureWatch NZ attempts to find Flickr photos and Wikipedia information about your place. If it finds nothing, you can add to Flickr and Wikipedia.

Fill in the Species Page
Now we start getting fancy. Every species in NatureWatch NZ has its own page, which by default contains its taxonomy, a list of recent observations, a distribution map, photos from Flickr tagged with that species' name, and whatever has been entered into Wikipedia about it. Let's go to the species page of your favourite species. Assume for the sake of this demonstration that it's Austrosciapus proximus, a pretty little fly.

Wait, you haven't heard of it? Neither had I until today when user Eve Manning uploaded an observation of it along with some excellent photos.

Perhaps not surprisingly, clicking on the Species Page link for Austrosciapus proximus in NatureWatch NZ didn't give us much, beside the fact that its name is Austrosciapus proximus, it's in the family Dolichopodidae, and it's found in Mount Eden, Auckland (thanks to Eve's observation). If Austrosciapus proximus really was you favourite species, you could add a lot more.

A default NatureWatch NZ species page, in this case for a species without any Creative Commons copyrighted photos on Flickr and no Wikipedia page. It's a bit dull.

For a start, there is no default photo, which means that the little icon next to the species throughout the site will just be our little butterfly icon (since it's an insect). It's better to select a few nice photos of it, the first of which will become the icon for this species across NatureWatch NZ. To do so, just click "Add one" next to "This taxon has no default photo!". (If you don't see this, it means someone has already done this.)

After you're done adding a photo, be sure to click on it and make sure that it has a large size. If you're picking a photo from the Flickr photo browser that pops up, it is possible to pick photos that are too small and don't have a large size in Flickr. We don't want these as the first photo you choose or otherwise there will be an ugly blank photo on the species entry page banner when this species is randomly chosen for display. When choosing a photo from Flickr, it's also best to pop over to Flickr and try to track down photo(s) taken in New Zealand. The easier thing is to choose the best photos from already in NatureWatch NZ, when we have some, which in this case we do.

You can choose photos for the Species page from Flickr, NatureWatch NZ, and EOL (the Encyclopedia of Life).

Here's the same page after we've selected some photos. It looks much more useful already.

Notice that there is also no common name. If you know one, you can add it. You can also specify what language the common name is in, so you can add one or more English and Maori common names for the species. You can also edit any existing common names if there's been a mistake made. Any names you make will be available to everyone when they hit the Lookup button when they make their observations.

Landcare Research has a webpage on the species where they call it the small green long-legged fly. So we can click the "Add a name" link and add the name "small green long-legged fly", say it's a name in English, and press save. I did that earlier today so you'll see it when you visit the page now. This is an Australian fly so won't have an Maori name, but if you knew one, you could add that too.

No common name? There's a link for that!

The NatureWatch NZ page for adding common names. Note that you can also select the language.

There's also no Wikipedia entry on this species. It's free and easy to log into Wikipedia and make the page, if you have the time and know something about the species. In this case, I don't, but all is not lost. I do know that there is a webpage on the species on the Landcare Research website made by Leonie Clunie. I can help other NatureWatch NZ users by adding this link to the Austrosciapus proximus Species Page. Just click "Add a link" and add in the details. Bingo! One new link added to the page. You may notice there's a checkbox called "Show for descendent taxa". Only tick this if you're adding a link to a genus or family or other high level taxon and want the link to be visible on all species that it contains.

If you know of good external webpages on a species, you can add the links to the NatureWatch NZ species page.

Adding a taxon link to the Austrosciapus proximus Species Page.

Here's out new Austrosciapus proximus Species Page, complete with photos, a common name, and a link for more information.

So there you have it. If you see something that's missing or not quite right on NatureWatch NZ, in most cases you can change it yourself. And that's a good thing. NatureWatch NZ will become as good as we can make, and we includes you.

Friday, September 7, 2012

NatureWatch NZ goes mobile

We're excited to announce that the NatureWatch NZ mobile app for iPhones and iPads is now available from Apple's App Store. Click here to see it on the App Store. It's free and it's good and you should use it! (Did we mention we're excited?)

The entry screen for the new NatureWatch NZ iPhone app

You can use it to add observations when you're out and about. Your iPhone will automatically provide the date and location and location accuracy (using its inbuilt GPS). You just need to provide a species name or say "yes" for "Need ID help?". And take a photo (if you like). This works both online and offline. When you're online, you can sync all your iPhone observations with the NatureWatch NZ website. Give it a go. It's all very intuitive.

You can also use the app to add your observations to projects you've joined, or join new projects. Projects in NatureWatch NZ are like villages within our online community, interested to one aspect of NZ nature. For example, there are projects on the biodiversity of local reserves, like the Travis Wetland nature park in Christchurch. Other projects are interested in particular groups of species, like New Zealand butterflies. The app lists all projects near to where you are, and lets you search for and join projects.

Our app, like NatureWatch NZ, is powered by the mighty iNaturalist. Thanks to Dunedin-based developer and amateur mycologist, Kit Randel, for adapting the iNat app for NatureWatch NZ. Being an open-source project, all our modifications and potential improvements to the app will be shared with iNaturalist and vice versa. So, if there's anything else that you'd really like it to do, just let us know.

Now go forth, iPhone toting Nature Watchers, and record!

(For those of you with Android-based smart phones, you're not forgotten. That's our next job.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

ID Please!

One of the great features of the new NatureWatch NZ (which went live last Monday) is its "ID Please" feature. You can upload a photo, or photos, of a species you don't know, tag your observation as "ID Please", and other NatureWatch NZ users will suggest identifications. It's the internet at its finest.

Here's a look at the diversity of species that have been identified already. If there's something you don't know, pop over to NatureWatch NZ and log your observation. It's free. And while you're there, have a browse of the ID Please list to see if there's anything you know that you can help someone identify.

And, of course, if you disagree with any of the identifications made on any observations on NatureWatch NZ, you can sign in and suggest another ID. We're all about getting it right.