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St. Albert joins City Nature Challenge

The event challenges citizens to identify all plants and animals they can in a set time period to enhance knowledge of urban biodiversity, with cities encouraged to compete for bragging rights.
COUNT ME! — A red-winged blackbird stretches its wings as it fishes seeds out of a crack at the John E. Poole Wetland boardwalk April 14, 2024. St. Albert residents have been asked to document sightings of living creatures such as this one later this month for the 2024 City Nature Challenge. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

Nature lovers will have their cameras at the ready later this month as St. Albert joins an international citizen science challenge.

St. Albert is one of the roughly 38 Canadian cities taking part in the 2024 City Nature Challenge. It’s the first time that the city has officially taken part in the event.

The City Nature Challenge is a citizen science event that started in in 2016 to celebrate Citizen Science Day in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the event’s official website reports. The event spread throughout the U.S. in 2017 and went international in 2018.

The event challenges citizens to identify all plants and animals they can in a set time period to enhance knowledge of urban biodiversity, with cities encouraged to compete for bragging rights.

St. Albert is one of four Alberta cities taking part in this year’s challenge, alongside Edmonton, Calgary, and Lethbridge.

The challenge asks residents to use the iNaturalist app to photograph or record the sound of any living wild plant or animal they can find in a participating city between April 26 to 29, said Dan Belland, City Nature Challenge co-ordinator for the Edmonton region.

“The goal is to find as many different things as we can,” he said.

iNaturalist users will then have from April 30 to May 5 to identify the life forms spotted during the challenge. Whichever city gets the most identified observations gets to brag about it. Data collected will be used by researchers to track global biodiversity.

Belland said the challenge was a great way to get out and learn more about the natural world.

“The more I try and notice things around me, the more I get appreciation for what’s out there.”

In an email, City of St. Albert environment co-ordinator Payton Homeak said the City Nature Challenge should help foster environmental stewardship in the community and help the city monitor, protect, and enhance its natural features.

Nature spotted

Some 3,728 Canadians identified 4,433 species in last year’s challenge, reports the Canadian Wildlife Federation, which co-ordinates the City Nature Challenge in Canada. The top five species identified in Canada in last year’s challenge were the mallard, Canada goose, American robin, red-winged blackbird, and prairie pasqueflower (AKA the prairie crocus, which is the official flower of Manitoba).

The City Nature Challenge will happen in the midst of the spring migration, so there will be plenty of birds to spot in St. Albert, noted local birder Percy Zalasky. Tens of thousands of sandhill cranes will flying over this city in the next few weeks, as well as a fair number of snow geese. Red-winged blackbirds and song sparrows have started singing around the John E. Poole Wetland, with more song birds expected to arrive in the weeks ahead. Hang around the Sturgeon River, and you will likely spot moose, beavers, muskrats, and coyotes.

“Every day brings something new,” Zalasky said.

Visit for details on the challenge.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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