On May 26th, I (Michelle) was able to join a guided walk through the fields and forests of the Peelrandbreuk near Uden (NL). This tour was organised by a regional society for field biology and open to the public. I initially participated to learn more about the Peelrandbreuk land phenomenon and its distinct biodiversity, but I was also able to learn a lot about participants' usage of mobile applications for species identification and the use of automated image recognition.
Once we gathered together at the starting point of our tour, I clearly stood out from the rest of the group due to my younger age and especially because of my lack of semi-professional binoculars. Other participants were clearly very experienced at local biodiversity walks.
"Are you interested in bird or plants?", another participant asked. "Uhm, both, I guess? Though I am not so knowledgeable about either, probably", I replied.
Friendly small talk followed, and I briefly shared that I am a researcher with an interest in learning more about the distinct biodiversity of the Peelrandbreuk, as well as my community research project with the eco village. We didn't further discuss the topics of digital technology in this project, as the conversation moved into other directions.
This later turned out to be helpful, as I was able to observe participants' interactions with mobile species identification technologies without deliberately steering or encouraging user engagements.
As a technology, binoculars are already closely tied to the human biodiversity observer. Especially for those with an interest in watching and identifying birds, walking through the forests is done with binoculars at the ready, safely tied around one's neck, to 'capture' all bird-like movements in the skies and trees. Collective walks such as this one elicit a shared excitement every time a new bird is spotted. Participants join together to share the exact location of a possible-new-bird on the horizon:
"left of the three bushes in the middle of the field, about halfway the small tree, on the branch sticking out... could that be a Kieviet [Lapwing, in English]?".
A discussion on the different possibilities regarding the species identity of the bird follows. Often an agreement is reached, but sometimes the final conclusion is left in the middle. Such conversations involve wonder, shared excitement, and knowledge sharing.