Families are staying home but this weekend will give them a great opportunity to discover wildlife.

They can do it right in their own back yard, says Laurel Ladwig, an orginizer of City Nature Challenge ABQ 2020. Ladwig is a graduate teaching assistant in the UNM Department of Geography and Environmental Studies and vice president of the Student Association of Geography and Environmental Studies. Ladwig will be graduating in May with her master’s degree.

“This is a great opportunity to get to know the wildlife all around us and gather data that will help us find ways to make Albuquerque more wildlife-friendly.” –Laurel Ladwig

Residents of Bernalillo County are invited to the City Nature Challenge ABQ 2020, which is available through the free iNaturalist app. Android or iPhone users can download the and start observing nature in their yards Friday to Monday, April 24-27. Sign up for the project to get updates. Right now the challenge is for residents of Bernalillo County but Ladwig said anyone can download the app. She hopes the challenge will open up to other areas next year.

“All observations made from Friday to 11:59 p.m. Monday are included. You can continue to upload observations that were made during that time period for the rest of the week,” she noted.

Cities all over the world are cooperating to document as much nature as possible over this four-day period, while staying safely socially distanced. The organizers say participants will find some great urban nature and help scientists collect data on the biodiversity of the region.

Nature doesn’t necessarily mean bears and other furry critters in the wild. The ubiquitous urban pigeon is wildlife too.

During her thesis research, Ladwig discovered the “pigeon paradox” – the theory that conservation depends on the relationship urban residents have with wildlife, or the phenomenon in which urban animals, like the pigeon, are key to getting the public to connect to and conserve nature.

“My thesis is based on the Friends of Valle de Oro’s ABQ Backyard Refuge Program as an urban land ethic in practice,” she noted.

According to the organization’s website, “Even in urban areas, we can make changes that allow other species to flourish with us… From a large, one-acre lot that can host numerous different trees, shrubs and flowers to a deck or balcony large enough for just a small container garden, everyone can contribute by making an effort to garden for wildlife and landscape for conservation.”

Ladwig quoted ecologist and conservationist Aldo Leopold, “The weeds in a city lot convey the same lesson as the redwoods” from his book A Sand County Almanac.

Among the wildlife the challenge is looking for this weekend are any plant, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, fish, fungi, slime mold; or evidence of life, such as scat, fur, tracks, shells; or carcasses in Bernalillo County. Participants must simply take a photo of what they find, and where they find it.

“There is a focus on wildlife, but document every living thing you find. Mark cultivated plants as such, but for biodiversity mapping we need to know the locations of introduced plants as well to know what wildlife are using those plants,” Ladwig said.

Participants can also help idenfity bugs, birds, plants, or other organisms that other people found and uploaded to the app.

Pre-COVID-19 shutdown, participants had identification parties at the Draft and Table in the UNM SUB.

“This year we’re going to have identification Zoom meetings so that people who want to know more can team up with experts. Join the project on the website for updates,” Ladwig said.

Ladwig noted there are many sponsors for the event: The Nature Conservancy of New Mexico, UNM Geography & Environmental Studies, CABQ Parks & Rec, CABQ Open Space Division, Bernalillo County Open Space, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions, ABQ BioPark, The Nature Conservancy, Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP), Open Space Alliance, New Mexico Herpetological Society, Valle de Oro NWR, Friends of Valle de Oro NWR, Sandia Mountain Natural History Center (NMMNHS), NM MESA, Bosque Education Guide, Bernalillo County Master Naturalists, Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, Bachechi Open Space, ABQ Urban Bird Coalition, ABQ Backyard Refuge Program, NM EPSCoR.

“This is a great opportunity to get to know the wildlife all around us and gather data that will help us find ways to make Albuquerque more wildlife-friendly,” Ladwig enthused.