Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Use iNaturalist to explore the natural world

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Looking for an interactive way to learn more about the wild plants and animals in Massachusetts? MassWildlife may have just the thing.

Join iNaturalist — a worldwide, online community of naturalists working together to learn more about the natural world. The website connects you to a community of naturalists of all skill levels who are helping each other correctly identify wildlife and plants they have observed.

Using the camera on your mobile phone, you can post your observations to iNaturalist and get help with identification. You can also explore the species that others have observed in a particular location. Join MassWildlife's iNaturalist project. It's free, it's fun, and you can help the agency discover and track what plants, animals, fungi, and other species are inhabiting some of our Wildlife Management Areas across the state.

To sign up, go to inaturalist.org, pick a username and answer a few questions to complete your profile. Next, visit the getting started section to learn about using the website. The short video tutorials are particularly useful to get you started. iNaturalist contains a lot of features that you don't have to master all at once.

MassWildlife believes that you can learn so much from using iNaturalist — and it is fun. You're sure to make some mistakes, but you'll learn from them. Here are some additional tips for using iNaturalist, per MassWildlife:

"Like anything, iNaturalist gets easier the more you use it. Take your phone or camera with you every time you take a hike, and try to post a few photos every week. Take good photos. They don't have to be perfect, but they should show the species you've observed as best as you can. Follow other people who make lots of observations, and see what they find. Feel free to follow them on iNaturalist; their username is MassWildlife. If you're going somewhere new, zoom to that spot in iNaturalist and see what other people have found there. Please document both common and exotic species, because, over the years, the ranges of these species are likely to shift and iNaturalist is one way to track those shifts. Join a project, such as MassWildlife's All Wildlife Biodiversity Project, which is targeting the biodiversity of 15 Wildlife Management Areas across the state."

The picture seen round the world

Readers may recall that a group of us local fly fishermen (Allen Gray of Pittsfield, Paul Knauth and Craig Smith of Hinsdale, Michael Shepard of Dalton and I) traveled to Yellowstone National Park in Montana and Wyoming last year. Readers may recall that Shepard and Smith hired a guide one day to float fish the Yellowstone River near Livingstone. Shepard had caught a large native brown trout which weighed 7 pounds and was 27 inches on his fly rod. The battle with that fish, as he described it, was epic, something akin to the taking of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. Anyway, he landed the fish and released it to fight another day.

Fast-foward to last week. Smith was looking to book another trip this year with the same outfitter and look what he saw on the guide's web page: None other than our own Mike Shepard shown with the guide and that big fish! Apparently, that picture is being used to advertise the guide service and is probably seen around the world.

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Perhaps because of some harmless jealousy, Mike took a ribbing from the other guys when they found out about the picture. Some thought it was someone else who caught the fish, some said the fish was photo shopped enhanced, some said that the guide caught it, some said that it wasn't even Mike in that picture with the guide and one said it was fake news. Hey, what are friends for!

All kidding aside, Shepard caught that fish and it was a great accomplishment, otherwise the guide wouldn't use the picture for advertising.

Alice Christman, Youth Angler of the Year

As remarkable as Shepard's accomplishment was, young Alice Christman of Pittsfield topped it. I wrote about her in this column earlier this year. She is the youngster who caught all of those gold pin fish last year. You may recall that she caught the largest fish in eight categories of the Commonwealth, in the Freshwater Sportfishing Awards Program, Youth Division. She caught the largest brown trout, bullhead, carp, northern pike, sunfish, white perch and yellow perch.

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She ended up getting 8 gold pins and plaques and 7 bronze pins out of the 22 species of fish included in the program. For her accomplishments, she was named Angler of the Year in the Youth Division.

Well, recently, she received all of her plaques and gold pins. The accompanying photo is her surrounded by all of the plaques and holding the large trophy.

You are encouraged to explore fishing opportunities

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos recently announced a Free Fishing Weekend for June 27-28. The event is the second of six Free Fishing Days offered in New York State every year.

"This free fishing weekend could not have come at a better time," Commissioner Seggos said in a release. "Amid the uncertainty of these challenging times, being home together has allowed many families to get outdoors and experience new activities. Free fishing days provide the perfect opportunity for all New Yorkers-from Brooklyn to Buffalo and from Montauk to Mt. Marcy-to try fishing for the first time and encourage those who have fished before to dust off their fishing rods and get outside."

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DEC encourages all anglers, new and experienced, to recreate locally and seek out fishing opportunities close to home. DEC's Places to Fish webpages are a reliable source for those ready to plan their next fishing trip. For beginning anglers interested in getting started, the I FISH NY Beginners' Guide to Freshwater Fishing provides information on everything from rigging up a fishing rod, to identifying your catch, and understanding fishing regulations.

Additional Free Fishing Days in 2020/2021 include: National Hunting and Fishing Day (Sept. 26); Veterans Day (Nov. 11); and President's Day Weekend (Feb. 13-14). During these designated free fishing days, New York residents and non-residents are permitted to fish for free without a fishing license. Free fishing day participants are reminded that although the requirement for a fishing license is waived during free fishing days, all other fishing regulations remain in effect.

Sign up for an online introductory fishing class

Looking for a way to enjoy the outdoors this summer? Join MassWildlife for a free online introductory fishing class! This beginner's class will teach you all the basics including what gear you'll need and how to use it, rigging up your rod, where to find fishing spots, fish ID and anatomy, as well as the basic rules and regulations. Class times and dates are Tuesday from 4-6 p.m., Thursday from 5-7, and Friday from 3-5. Registration is required, space is limited to 50 people per class.

No equipment? No problem! All participants who are residents of Massachusetts and have a freshwater fishing license will be able to borrow a spin-casting rod for the summer. Class graduates will receive instructions on how to pick up the rods. Note: While fishing licenses are only required for those 15 and over, each household must have at least one licensed adult to borrow fishing rods; there will be a two rod per family maximum.

MassWildlife also has a Fishing Gear Loaner Program for groups who want to drop a line but don't have equipment. You can borrow rods, reels, and tackle, and get instructional handouts.

One last note: Happy Father's Day!

Gene Chague can be reached at berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com or 413-637-1818.


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