The EwA Plant Visitor Survey

Field Protocol

Community-based Citizen Science in Massachusetts Parks & Reservations

This program is an Earthwise Aware (EwA) citizen science initiative an adult learning experience paired with a direct participation in scientific research. That is, the program educates the public about citizen science, ecology essential knowledge, while directly helping global science and local scientists with the gathering of ethical science-relevant data about the arthropods (insects, spiders, etc.) of our parks and reserves.

This document describes the program and details the collection protocol for formal communication with various institutions and experts engaged in this program. It also serves the purpose of teaching scientific documentation methods to EwA’s citizen scientists.

EwA is focused on ecological ethics and reducing the human ecological footprint. Consequently we ask our citizen scientists to follow ethics rules that are stronger than those listed in most guides & recommendations. As a result, our citizen science projects have a lower environmental impact than any recreation activity usually taking place in those parks and reserves.

Also of important for EwA: Nationally standardized protocols that can be harmonized internationally, open science and global data. That is, we make sure that data are recorded on platforms that are scientifically relevant, providing usable (comparable) data that are accessible to scientists nationally and globally. Data following obscured protocols that can’t be used nationally and globally, or that remain in local spreadsheets are of no relevant use anymore (and are ethically questionable). There is a global effort to improve field study protocols (transparency, ethics, rigor, relevance and comparability), and we support this effort.

To our citizen science leaders: please make sure to have read this document prior to going “in the field” with your group. Thanks.

Project & Protocol Details

Project Description        2

Impact & Deliverables        2

Public Literacy Impact        2

Science Impact & Deliverables        2

Conservation Impact        3

Partners        3

Expert Partners        3

Conservation Partners (& Sites)        3

Project Logistic        4

Project Timeline        4

Collection Protocol        5

Equipment        5

Data Collection Method        5

General Day Protocol        5

Site Specific Protocol        8

Middlesex Fells Reservation (99 mm site)        8

Fresh Pond Reservation (Lusitania Meadow)        9

Habitat (Lower and Upper Meadows, and Garden)        9

Data Recording & Visualization Platforms        10

Data Sheets, References & Further Reading        11

Data & Field Sheets        11

Help & Tool Documentation        11

Project Specific        11

Guides        11

Protocols        12

General        13

Appendix: More About Butterflies...        13

Project Description

Impact & Deliverables

Public Literacy Impact

This project educates the public about:

Science Impact & Deliverables

This project directly helps science and scientists, gathering data for (non-exhaustive list):

Deliverables will be in the form of:

Conservation Impact

2 critical impacts on the advancement of nature conservation:


Expert Partners

Conservation Partners (& Sites)

This an Earthwise Aware initiative. Crash courses, lectures, on site + online trainings, data recording on global open platforms, and public events are organized and run by the EwA staff & its citizen scientists in collaboration with our conservation partners, and helped by our expert partners.

The project sites & partners are:


Managed by


EwA Parent Program

EwA Leaders

Middlesex Fells Reservation



Friends of the Fells

EwA at the Fells

Claire + Laura

Fresh Pond Reservoir

Cambridge Water Department

Cambridge Water Department

EwA at Fresh Pond

Claire + Tim + Alexis

(+ Teá on night collections)

Mass Audubon



EwA at Habitat

Claire + Roger (+ Teá on night collections)

Project Logistic

  1. Brief chat about Biodiversity & Climate change challenges
  2. Intro to Citizen Science: why, how
  3. Training on the project protocol & tools
  4. Data recording practice

Project Timeline

See: EwA Plant Visitor Survey Timeline 🗓️ for details about the phases of the study.

Collection Protocol


Day-- time activities: Camera, notepad + field data sheet 🗒️ (for side notes), pen & pencils. Field guides and/or common species groups info sheet.  Make sure that what you use to take a picture has its GPS location tracking ‘on’. We’ll show citizen scientists how to do that during our training/field events.


Night time activities (under the supervision of Teá Kesting-Handly): Same as above +160W Mercury Vapor lights and several 12W Ultraviolet lights. Teá will supply these as well as some collecting equipment (for dissection and ID) for the parts she helps with. Other than that, people should bring cameras/pencils.

Recording activities: Our main data recording platform will be the iNaturalist platform (a.k.a. iNat). The data will be pulled automatically in the respective iNaturalist site projects (resp. EwA at the Fells, EwA at Fresh Pond and EwA at Habitat). Recording can be done directly from a phone & tablet. However, we experience that it’s easier to take pictures (often of better quality than when taken with a phone), and then upload and annotate them directly from a desktop (the iNaturalist desktop User Interface is more detailed and its tools are simpler, faster and more precise). We will train our citizen scientists on both how to take clear, and scientifically relevant visual records, and how to record their data on iNaturalist. It’s fun, it’s social, and of incredible value to science.

Data Collection Method

If you need clarifications or have any difficulty, please do not hesitate to contact us ( and we’ll be glad to help you in any way we can. 

General Day Protocol

Notes: At first we’ll run habitat assessments to get familiarized with the sites and to refine the protocol based on what we find. We’ll pair this with what is also referred to as randomized infinite point counts along specific transect lines. We’ll probably move later to strip transects methods (Hill, 2005).

Note that at this time, we’ll annotate iNat observations with count as we are still looking for a good public global platform (GBIF-linked) to record arthropod counts specifically.

More details »  EwA Plant Visitor Survey Timeline 🗓️ for details about the phases of the study.

Survey Conditions (Ref): Surveys should be done between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm on dry days without excessive wind. Specifically, assessment should not be made when the temperature is below 13°C (55.4°F); from 13°C  to 17°C (62.6°F) there must be a minimum of 60% sunshine; above 17°C, the weather can be cloudy so long as it is not raining. The wind speed should not be above 5 on the Beaufort Scale.

Ideally surveying should be done multiple times per visit. Morning activity for Lepidoptera is usually between 9am-12pm, and afternoon activity is usually in the 2-5pm range.

At the start of the survey, write down the date, time, weather (cloudy, rainy, sunny, windy) and approximate temperature.

Follow the pre-designed transects (see § Site Specific Protocol). If you can, survey them all in one visit. At a minimum, survey a complete transect.

Pick 3-5 random spots along the transect to stop and make observations. Make sure to actively observe all flowering plants for flower-visitors. Consider (i.e., snap & count) any arthropod that lands or rest directly on a flower or plant to be of interest. Be sure to check ALL flowers, even “weed” species such as dandelions and clovers.

 Observe only what you can see from one angle, taking photos of any insect, bug, and spider that you might see right nearby. Generally, when you see an arthropod on a flower, take a photo of it on the flower right away. Consider it your “safety” photo in case it flies away before you can get a better one. When you can, try to take more than one picture to increase your chances of getting a closer/better image. Several pictures from different angles might give critical identification keys for that species. If the critter flies off before you can get any photo of it, make a note of what it was to the best of your knowledge (“bee”, “fly”, or even “unknown insect”). If there are multiple individuals of the same species on the same flowering plant (which happens with social bees for example) you can just take an image of one individual but note the count (which will become an annotation in the iNat observation). However, if you see individuals of the same species on two separate plants, take an image of it on both plants, as we need to know which plants insect species are using. If there are several species on a single plant (and captured on a single image), you can copy the image, crop on each species, and record observations separately. We’ll also show you how to duplicate a record and how to annotate your picture so as to focus the reviewer to the species you’re targeting in that record.

Often times insects are flying high, or too far away to get a good photo unless you have a zoom lens. You can use your field guides, our common species groups info sheet, Teá’s Butterfly Info Sheet and record the species you see in the field data sheet 🗒️. If you don’t know the species, it’s fine, just indicate what you think it is (e.g., a bee, a wasp, a moth vs. a butterfly, a spider, a dragonfly vs. a damselfly…)

Tip for ID Photography

Often you only need one pic of each arthropod you surveyed, but there are cases where several pics are better than one, as some key details might be critical to differentiate 2 close species.


For detailed recommendations about how to photograph for identification, please visit The EwA Guide to Getting Good Pictures for Identification.

Here is an example of a good set of pictures of a yellow jacket showing face, side and top/aerial view:

 © Claire O’Neill - Common Aerial Yellowjacket (Dolichovespula arenaria) 🔎 iNat observation Research Grade

For most lepidoptera, a simple dorsal shot (open wings) and ventral shot  (underside of wings) will suffice. If you cannot get both, always get a dorsal shot (open wings). This type of photography will allow you to identify the insect in question almost every time. As stated above, a photo of the wings open is often a lot more valuable than the bottom side of the wings. This is because most of the important markings are found on the top side. Some species do have markings that make it identifiable on the bottom sides of the wings. A few species will very rarely open their wings to show the dorsal portion (sulphurs, whites, coppers, blues), for these a ventral shot is often ok as they are IDable.

Here are examples of good pictures of butterflies (dorsal on the left, ventral on the right):

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) 

© Teá Kesting-Handly

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

 © Teá Kesting-Handly

Again, don’t worry if you only take one pic that can lead to identification: a pic is still better than none!

Record all your data into iNaturalist. Send us the field data sheet 🗒️, for any other information that you have collected, or leave it at the visitor desk (Habitat and Fresh Pond Reservoir).

Once you complete the survey, you will need to upload the info and photos you took to iNaturalist.

Here is the EwA iNat Essentials to get you started. The platform is very intuitive and fun. And during our training/field events, we’ll also show you all the tricks so that you can upload efficiently (that’s STEM coaching right there). When you upload in bulk, you can also annotate in bulk, which makes it easy to input the common kind of information to all records during a session such as the temperature and weather information recorded at the beginning of each survey. By annotation of your observation, we mean entering a description for the observation (example). You can record any of the information that you wrote for a species, in the iNaturalist description of the observation.

Site Specific Protocol

Notes: All transects below will be refined/revised over the course of the first full recording cycle.

Middlesex Fells Reservation (99 mm site)

Site Topography (Study site denoted in pink)

Aerial Site (Transects 🚧)

Transect Details 🚧

Field PIC 🚧

Transect 1

Field PIC 🚧

Transect 2

Field PIC 🚧

Transect 3

For all transects: You should follow the entire path from edge to edge, stopping 3-5 times to record data.

The transects will be defined on the first visit (Wed, May 22, 2019).

Fresh Pond Reservation (Lusitania Meadow)

Site Topography (Study site denoted in pink)

Aerial Site

Transect Details 

Field PIC 🚧

Transect 1

Field PIC 🚧

Transect 2

Field PIC 🚧

Transect 3

Transects T1 and T3: These transects follow the edge of the Lusitania meadow. You should follow the entire path from edge to edge, stopping 2-3 times per transect to record data.

About Transect T2 specifically: This transect runs through the middle of the meadow off the path, and might be hard to access in its mature phase. When accessible, you should follow the entire transect, edge to edge, stopping 1-3  times only to record data as it is a small transect.

Habitat (Lower and Upper Meadows, and Garden)

Site Topography (Study site denoted in pink)

Aerial Site

Transect Details 

Field PIC 🚧

Transect 1

Field PIC 🚧

Transect 2

Field PIC 🚧

Transect 3

For all transects: You should follow the entire path from edge to edge, stopping 3-5 times to record data.

Transect T1: This transect runs through the middle of the meadow on a path.

Transect T2: This transect runs through the middle of the meadow on a path bisecting T1.

Transect T3: This transect runs through the gardens. This path is a little difficult, but it circulates you through the gardens.

Data Recording & Visualization Platforms

We will use the iNaturalist platform to record data. iNaturalist is an online social network of people sharing biodiversity observations. It’s also a crowdsourced species identification system and an organism occurrence recording tool. [More...]

Citizen scientists will need to have an iNaturalist account (it’s free and very easy to set up a profile). They will communicate their iNaturalist profile name to us so that we can add them as members of our dedicated data projects (and citizen scientists community).

Why iNaturalist?

  1. Ease of use (to get you started with iNaturalist see EwA iNat Essentials).
  2. Observation record transparency, still with the capability to obscure location (to the public) for protecting species at risk – iNat automatically obscures the geolocation of any vulnerable and endangered species.
  3. Standardized records & centralized data.
  4. International access for the global scientific community: vetted records are uploaded to a global database accessible to scientists worldwide.
  5. Data visualization capabilities: iNaturalist provides tools (APIs) to extract data in a systematic manner, which allows targeted & elaborate user data visualizations.
  6. Great features to create easily high quality targeted Nature guides to help users and our citizen scientists.
  7. An engaging social platform for nature enthusiasts, which offer incredible learning features.

We will ask volunteers to complete the upload of their visit records on that the iNaturalist platform shortly after each visit.

We will train attendees and volunteers, so that they can do it efficiently, and at minimum time-cost.  

We have dedicated iNaturalist Projects (3 total / one per site) under our umbrella project ‘EwA Biodiversity Projects (EwA at the Fells, EwA at Fresh Pond and EwA at Habitat).

These 3 projects automatically pull the data of our citizen scientists for the 3 specific geographical areas of our study sites.

As the project progresses and citizen science leaders emerge, we will also add the recording of phenophases using the open science Nature’s Notebook platform that follows a national standardized protocol. This will supply our existing phenology projects in the region.

Note that we are also looking for a good global & open science platform for recording counts explicitly.

Data Sheets, References & Further Reading

Data & Field Sheets

🗒️ EwA Field Data Sheet – for recording notes and photo-less observations.

EwA iNat Site Projects:

Help & Tool Documentation

Project Specific

🗓️ EwA Plant Visitor Survey Timeline 


EwA Common Species Groups Info Sheet

Teá’s Butterfly Info Sheet

Butterflies and Moths of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States

Butterfly and Moth Taxonomy

Sphingidae ID Site – Profiles for about 70 species of common moths in the U.S. A great identification tool and resource. – Impressive collection of photographs of bugs from the United States and Canada for identification and research. The users’ findings are summarized in guide pages for each order, family, genus, and species.

Insect Identification Org – Another identification site...

Arthropod Identification (American Museum of Natural History)

EwA Guide to Getting Good Pictures for Identification – Photographing for identification requires different skills than art photography. An “all-essentials” about how to snap key features of species for later identification.

EwA iNat Essentials – A short presentation to get you started with iNaturalist (and its identification suggestions).

A few good field guide references:


EwA Conservation Fieldwork Essentials – this guide shares ethical considerations from the Field that benefit the species, the habitats, the local communities, and the science that we do.

Handbook of Biodiversity Methods: Survey, Evaluation and Monitoring by David Hill (Editor), Matthew Fasham (Editor), Graham Tucker (Editor), Michael Shewry (Editor), Philip Shaw (Editor) 2005 – This Handbook provides standard procedures which will enable practitioners to better monitor the condition of the biodiversity resource, resulting in improved data upon which to base future policy decisions and actions. Organized in three parts, the Handbook first addresses planning, covering method selection, experimental design, sampling strategy, and data analysis/evaluation. Parts 2 and 3 then describe detailed methods of survey, evaluation, and monitoring of habitats and species respectively.

The GEO Handbook on Biodiversity Observation Networks by Michele Walters (Editor), Robert J. Scholes (Editor) 2017  – This handbook provides practical guidance to broadly-defined biodiversity observation networks at all scales, but predominantly the national scale and higher. This is a practical how-to book with substantial policy relevance. It will mostly be used by technical specialists with a responsibility for biodiversity monitoring to establish and refine their systems. It is written at a technical level, but one that is not discipline-bound: it should be intelligible to anyone in the broad field with a tertiary education.

Guidelines for Standardised Global Butterfly Monitoring (2015) GEO BON


Parker AJ. 2018. Citizen Scientists Document Geographic Patterns in Pollinator Communities in Journal of Pollination Ecology Vol 23.

Miller JD. 2002. Civic scientific literacy: a necessity in the 21st century. FAS Public Interest Report J Fed Am Sci 55: 3–6.

Slobodkin LB. 2003. A Citizen’s Guide to Ecology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Speth JG. 2004. Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Berkowitz AR, Ford ME, and Brewer CA. 2005. A Framework for Integrating Ecological Literacy, Civics literacy and Environmental Citizenship in Environmental Education. In: Johnson EA and Mappin MJ (Eds). Environmental education or advocacy: perspectives of ecology and education in environmental education. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Jordan R, Singer f, Vaughan J, and Berkowitz a. 2008. What Should Every Citizen Know About Ecology? Front Ecol Environ 2009; 7, doi:10.1890/070113

Appendix: More About Butterflies...

Contrary to most other groups of insects, butterflies are relatively well-documented, easy to recognize and popular with the general public. Butterflies use the landscape at a fine scale and react quickly to changes in management, intensification or abandonment. Furthermore, a sustainable butterfly population relies on a network of breeding habitats scattered over the landscape, where species exist in a metapopulation structure. This makes butterflies especially vulnerable to habitat fragmentation. Moreover, as ectotherm animals, many butterflies are highly sensitive to climate change.

The main objective of butterfly monitoring is to detect changes in population size on an annual basis. For significant trends with good statistical power, this will require the Butterfly Monitoring Scheme to have as many transects counted as possible for as long as possible during the favorable weather conditions.

Monitoring butterflies on transects is only possible when butterflies are active (i.e. during their flight season). Weather is the key factor for deciding on the time of day and the time of the year for monitoring. In general, butterflies are active at temperatures between 13°C (55.4 °F) and 33-35°C (91.4- 95°F), with no rain or strong winds. Between 13°C  (55.4 °F) and 18°C (64.4 °F), sunny conditions are required. When temperatures rise well over 30°C (86 °F) some species will stop their activity, making standardized counts difficult. In very hot weather, counts should preferably be made in the morning before it gets too hot. For a transect count, it is preferable to monitor in good weather (as set out above), while a fruit-bait trap should be set for several days during good weather conditions, where possible. However, the coordinator of a scheme can deviate from these rules according to the optimum situation for their scheme.

The following monitoring techniques can be used to monitor species ranges and species abundances of butterflies:

• Unvalidated, opportunistic data can only be used for coarse distribution maps. Species distribution modeling including habitat and climate variables can be used to refine the species ranges from opportunistic data (Jetz et al. 2012). If the quantity of observations is high enough and the quality of visits can be established, the Frescalo method (Hill 2012) and occupancy modeling can be used to establish distribution trends (Isaac et al. 2014).

• Standardized day-lists can be used for occupancy modeling (van Strien et al. 2011). An advantage of this method is that it can work with covariates (e.g., the Julian date, as butterflies typically have a limited flight period). Occupancy modeling with day-lists also addresses the problem of detection probability. Occupancy modeling can also produce colonization and persistence trends, population parameters that can be very helpful to identify the causes of observed occupancy changes. It is important to note that the statistical methods for occupancy modeling are data and computation intensive.

• Standardized counts* following a protocol is ideal for population abundance monitoring. For instance, although field methods differ to some degree across countries, most counts are conducted along fixed transects of about 1 kilometer, consisting of smaller sections, each with a homogeneous habitat type (van Swaay et al. 2008). Visits are only conducted when weather conditions meet the specified criteria. Site selection varies from random stratified designs (only in a few countries), to grid design, to free observer choice (most countries). Countries often use a software package called TRIM to analyze and supply trend information at the national level. Trend data are then integrated to create population indices for species and multi-species indicators.

(*) Method that we use in the first phase of the survey.

REF: Monitoring Essential Biodiversity Variables at the Species Level in The GEO Handbook on Biodiversity Observation Networks (2017) ✉

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