Volunteers visit Museum to participate in Notes from Nature

As we approach the transition to the new Notes from Nature platform, we are preparing to retire the ornithological registers from the project.  But before we do we are keen to get as much of the register transcribed as we can, so we have invited volunteers to the Natural History Museum, London, to give us a hand.

A day at the Museum Visiteering


Visiteering is the newest strand to the volunteer programme at the Natural History Museum, and offers one day volunteering opportunities.  Especially appropriate for people who can’t commit to volunteering over a longer period of time or who may only be in London for a couple of days, it provides the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the Museum’s work through participating in a digital challenge.

Monday 16th May was our first Visiteering day transcribing the Hume collection.  6 volunteers joined myself and Ali Thomas (Volunteers Project Manager) for a day in our Specimen Preparation Area and were presented with the challenge of collectively transcribing 48 pages of the Hume bird register.  After an introduction about Hume and how to complete the transcription task, we all worked together to decipher the handwriting, using online tools to check the species and location names we were struggling to work out.  The volunteers joined us for lunch in the staff restaurant and got a chance to visit our British collections in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity.


Six volunteers joined Jade Lauren Cawthray at the Natural History Museum, to help transcribe the Hume ornithological registers.

The ornithological registers are a particularly challenging task to complete because each page requires the transcription of a large volume of data and because the handwriting is difficult to decipher.  Progress was slow, but we managed to collectively complete 23 pages of the register.  With three more Visiteering days to go (20th, 23rd and 27th May), this puts us on target to complete a quarter of a register, by our last Visiteering day.


Hume’s ornithological register is a record of specimens collected by Allan Octavian Hume in the 1800s, and now housed at the Natural History Museum’s site at Tring.

Despite the difficulty of the challenge the volunteers reported that they enjoyed…

‘Investigating and decoding the handwriting and working as a team to transcribe the register.’

‘Researching something new and discovering a variety of bird species.’

‘Understanding the way the museum works.’


A meaningful contribution to science

Unlocking the data from these registers is of huge value to the Natural History Museum, as it increases scientists’ access to the ornithological data.

We currently have three registers on the Notes from Nature platform, each containing records of the ornithological collection of a man called Allan Octavian Hume.  Hume lived and worked in British India during the 1800s working in a number of senior government positions and having a significant impact on the judicial system, on reforming agriculture across India and founding the Indian National Congress, which played a key part in India gaining independence.  In his spare time Hume made an incredible contribution to the ornithology of the South Asian region, amassing a personal collection of 63,000 bird skins, 500 nests and 18,500 eggs.  These were donated to the British Museum of Natural History (now the Natural History Museum) in 1885.  (For a more detailed account on Hume see our blog A Special Collection of Bird Ledgers’ by Birds Collections Manager, Robert Prys-Jones.)


Pericrocotus brevirostris, Short-billed Minivets, shot by Hume in 1865.

For the past 130 years Hume’s collection has been an essential resource for all research into the taxonomy and distribution of birds across South Asia.  The Museum receives requests for data from this collection on a regular basis, but we are unable to answer some of these queries because we are unable to conduct data searches by location, date, or species.  By digitising the data from these registers, we will be able to respond to many more of these research queries and therefore better support international research into the birds of this region.

A big thank you to Emma, Mitra, Fjolla, Mersije, Sarah and Xiaoyue who gave their time on Monday and made a valuable contribution to the Museum.  We look forward to welcoming our next visiteers on Friday.

There are just a couple more weeks left for you to help us transcribe this important data.  Spare an hour and see what bird species you can find amongst the pages of the Hume register.

Many thanks, Jade (Natural History Museum, London) and NFN team.

Macrofungi complete!

Thanks so much to all Notes from Nature contributors to the Macrofungi interface! We are so very grateful for your work and we hope that doing these transcriptions has piqued your interest about these amazing organisms and maybe you even want to get out in the field and look for some yourself. If so, there is probably a mushroom club in your area where you could learn more about them through walks in the woods or seasonal displays.  Our volunteers from North America can check the website of the North American Mycology Association for more information about local clubs and events.

This set of Macrofungi images dates back to 2013. It was a very large set of images and t is wonderful to have them completed. We are unlikely to post image sets like this in the future. With the launch of the new Notes from Nature, we intend to focus on smaller theme based image sets or expeditions. For example, a new Notes from Nature expedition could represent fungal specimens from a specific geographic area. Our goal is the make the content more meaningful and to complete image sets more quickly.

Thanks again from the NFN team.

Transition Time

As we mentioned a while back, NFN is in the process of transitioning to a new version. Our current target date for the launch is June 15. With that said, we have a lot of work to do before that time so please stay tuned for further updates over the next few weeks. At this time, we are focused on setting up the new transcription workflows, refining tutorials as well as generating new web pages and content.

As our current image sets are completed we will make the corresponding interfaces inactive until we launch the new site. For example, the pinned insect interface (“Calbug”) was taken down about a month ago for this reason.

As of today the herbarium, macrofungi and bird image sets are at 90%, 95% and 69% complete respectively. This means that some of these could be finished within the next few days!

Some of you may be wondering if there will be a gap where NFN will be completely inactive before the new site launches. We intend to minimize any such gap by uploading some small images sets on to the site as needed. Our goal is to make the transition as smooth as possible for our volunteers.

In appreciation,

The NFN Team

Notes From Nature Challenge!

Hi Everyone,

The Notes From Nature project needs your help to digitize the treasure trove of biodiversity data stored in our natural history collections. NFN has some exciting news and a big favor to ask of you, particularly given this is Citizen Science Week, celebrating all the amazing efforts by volunteers here at Zooniverse and around the globe. As part of the events for the week, the project will be featured during the White House Science Fair

As we noted recently (https://blog.notesfromnature.org/2016/01/07/happy-new-year-to-the-notes-from-nature-community/), we will be re-launching with an all-new site and are soon ready to go live! As part of this process, we have set a goal to complete all of the images that remain on the site. This is close to 25,000 transcriptions. We are aiming to complete the remaining transcriptions by end of May, and we need your help to make that goal.

The images that you will find come from different types of museum specimens. Our focus is to finish our current macrofungi (mushrooms!) and herbarium specimens (plants!). Unlocking these data is critical to our understanding of biodiversity and we need your help to do it.

Please head over to Notes From Nature right now to help us complete our challenge at www.notesfromnature.org


Michael and the Notes From Nature Team

An inordinate fondness (and doneness) for (wood-boring) beetles

A few days ago the CalBug Expedition on wood boring beetles was completed. We want to extend a special thanks to all the volunteers that made this happen!  

 We are also excited to announce that this completion also marks the transition to the next phase of NFN. You will notice that there are no longer any pinned specimen images to transcribe on the site. In fact, we won’t be posting any additional pinned insect images until the new NFN site is launched some time during late Spring or early Summer.  We are already in the process of preparing a new set of CalBug expeditions just as cool as the wood-boring beetle effort we just finished.

You might be wondering about this new and shiny NFN 2.0? Our new NFN site is going to have some great enhancements for everyone involved in the process of doing citizen science transcriptions of natural history collections, and we’ll be talking more, right here, about all the neat stuff with NFN 2.0 soon. Stay tuned!

During the next two months we will focus on finishing up (retiring) existing images of bird ledges, macrofungi labels and herbarium specimens. As these current collections finish those interfaces will be temporary closed until the new NFN is launched. When the new version goes live we plan to provide more focused content across all the interfaces. This means that we will have a lot more expeditions for you to take that are geographically and/or taxonomically focused.  Again, more soon as we get all the pieces in place.

In the meantime there are still many ways to help! We still have lots of images available of bird ledges, macrofungi labels and herbarium specimens.  In fact, we need your help especially right now, as we hope to finish up those collection in the next month or so, to time with our relaunch.

In appreciation,

The NFN Team

More progress

Last week another herbarium collection reached 100%! As always we want to thank all the volunteers that helped make this possible. The NFN team is thrilled to see this progress as we move towards launching a new version of NFN this coming spring. Our goal is complete all the current collections before this time.

The collection that was just completed is from the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, however the specimens in these images were originally from the Vanderbilt University herbarium. This collection was housed on the Vanderbilt University campus until it transferred to Texas in 1997. These kinds of transfers between museums happen from time to time, but this one is notable for it’s size (over 350,000 specimens) and historical importance. The Vanderbilt collection is mostly comprised of specimens collected by R. Kral who was a very important collector in the southeastern United States. We will have more specimens from this collection coming in the future.

For those looking for more herbarium specimens, we still have two active collections where you can contribute today.

CalBug complete (again)!

Earlier this week the NFN team realized that we had retired an earlier CalBug collection a bit too early. There were 530 images that still needed to be transcribed. For this reason, this collection was put back up live on the NFN site earlier this week. Late yesterday our volunteers completed this collection. We are really excited to see two collections complete in one week!

The NFN team once again wants to sincerely thank our amazing volunteers (new and veteran!) for their effort!!

Still hungry for more CalBug images to transcribe?! CalBug Expeditions is still active and is 63% complete at the time of this posting.


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