City Nature Challenge shows Mother Nature isn’t camera shy

Ranger Andrew Petite de Mange shows young naturalists the Puff Mushroom.

By Karen Buck

The Malden River showed off its natural attributes on April 29 as Malden and Medford residents took on the worldwide City Nature Challenge, a citizen-scientist contest that included 65 participating cities in 17 countries and five continents. The Friends of the Malden River were joined by National Park Service Ranger Andrew Petite de Manage, a naturalist with a background in urban planning and a ranger on the Boston Harbor Island, to document plants, animals and birds found in our area.

Shad of Medford identifying a plant at the Gateway Park in Everett

As part of the City Nature Challenge from April 27- April 30, urban residents photographed wildlife in their surroundings.  Yes, our urban environments are full of wildlife and all kind of surprises that show biodiversity. They used iNaturalist, a free application for cell phones, which uses photo recognition software to identify what they discovered. If the subject can’t be identifed, it will be reviewed by one of the thousands of naturalists who work with the application.

This information is entered into a database which is used by scientists around the world to determine the status of species in our neighborhoods. One surprise this year: a new species of fungi was found at Worlds End in Hingham, which is part  of the Boston Harbor Islands National & State Park.

As our world becomes more urbanized, it is important to study the effects on the local biodiversity. We need to know how local species are affected by  warming temperatures, invasive or non-native species, and urban development.

Our Malden group first explored wetlands reestablished in 2016 at the confluence of Little Creek and the Malden River. At this waterway intersection, 1,220 square feet of wetland habitat was restored and 1,200 square feet of degraded river bank was stabilized through a project overseen by the Mystic Valley Development Commission. The funds were awarded by Massachusetts Department of Environment through a settlement with Hallmark Health System, Inc. funded from financial penalties from  a fuel oil spill into the lower Mystic River from the Lawrence Memorial Hospital site in Medford.

Then we journeyed across the Malden River to the Everett Gateway Park. This  site is located on filled tidelands and is therefore subject to  Chapter 91 jurisdiction. In 2001, Gateway DDR obtained a Waterways license, allowing construction of large retail buildings (e.g. Costco) with conditions for construction of a 23.5 acre waterfront park.  The Chapter 91 license mandates public access to the waterfront, including pathways and amenities, bike paths for connection to other areas, and public water access.

Family Day on the Malden River

The National Park Service has recently expanded its ongoing mission of public outreach,” Petite de Manage said.  “It is called the Urban Agenda.  It is trying to connect the parks with communities that are often not touched by the parks.  One of the pieces of this agenda is to bring park staff outside of the park boundaries, connecting them with communities, and helping communities along the way with ongoing projects.”

The NPS is using  expertise in natural and cultural resources to support neighborhood level initiatives to create more open space in their areas, and better interpret and understand their natural and cultural histories of neighborhoods all around the country and especially those connected to or nearby national parks like the three here in Boston: The Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, Boston National Historic Park, Boston African American National Historic Site, Petite de Manage said.


Boston City Nature Challenge results were:

  • Observations: 16,551 — Metro Boston was ranked 11th worldwide
  • Species: 1,410 — ranked 14th worldwide
  • Identifiers: 412
  • Observers: 992 — 3rd place in overall results worldwide

Worldwide City Nature Challenge results:

  • Observations: 423,850
  • Species: 18,097
  • Identifiers: 3,746
  • Observers: 16,368

In the United States, can you guess what was the most photographed plant?*  And the most photographed bird? ** And the most photographed mammal? *** See answers below.

Jaime Warton of Malden after seeing a Kingfisher
Naomi Kahn enjoying her duck walk at Little Creek.

There are continuous 22 specific data quests monitored by iNaturalist. These scavenger hunts will use the species identification to help protect the creatures with specific conservation needs.  For example, there is a “Early Flyers” data quest that focuses on nine early flying species of insects, including butterflies, moths, and bumblebees. You can join data quests at any time. Zoo New England is sponsoring the data quests and provides educational tools for all ages. This data combined with weather data will assist the study of how nature’s calendar is changing due to a warming climate.

The Boston City Nature Challenge was organized by a consortium of organizations, including Earthwatch Institute, Encyclopedia of Life, Environmental Studies Program Brandeis University, MassAudubon, MIT Senseable City Lab, New England Ocean Science Education Collaborative,University of Massachusetts Boston, and Zoo New England.

*Common Dandelion

**Mallard Duck

***Eastern Grey Squirrel

You may wish to  explore our Malden River with your camera this summer. This year, there will be boat rentals at the Blessing of the Bay in Somerville. You can rent boats through Paddle Boston.  This boathouse is less than a mile paddle to the Malden River, where it meets the Mystic River.

About karenbuckmalden 16 Articles
Karen Buck is a resident of Malden, an environmental activist and a contributing reporter Neighborhood View. Currently, she is the President of the Friends of the Malden River and the environmental advocate for Malden River Works

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