Incidental Observations

Incidental observations are casual wildlife sightings that happen when you’re outside – hiking, camping, swimming, driving, etc.

Spotting a species in the “right place at the right time” can have a far-reaching effect. Knowing what species are present in different locations helps identify areas that are important (e.g. breeding sites, hibernation sites, migration routes, etc.), which also helps to improve conservation efforts.

Reporting What You Find

Step 1: Take along a few observation data forms (PDF) to note down essential information like:

  • Date and time
  • The species you observed
  • How many animals, eggs or egg masses there were

Step 2: Enter the data online so it can be added to the provincial wildlife database that biologists use to manage wildlife in B.C.

Here are a few tips for recording your observation data.

Indicate the location of the observation according to the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) system – a precise system of world coordinates used by all GIS databases in B.C. Record your UTM coordinates using a zone (7 to 11 for British Columbia), an easting (a 6 digit number), and a northing (a 7-digit number).

Choose one of the following methods to track your coordinates:

  • Set your GPS unit or cell phone with GPS receiver to the UTM system based on North American Datum (NAD) 83 – if you have a UTM in NAD27, indicate this in the “Comments” field of your entry
  • Read your location coordinates off of a topographic map. National topographic maps will indicate in the lower right-hand corner which datum is used – either “North American Datum 1927” or “North American Datum 1983”
  • Select your location using the mapping tool in the incidental observation database remember to note some landmarks to make it easier to find the exact location
  • Find an online tool to convert latitude and longitude coordinates to the UTM system (e.g. Montana State University Data Converter)

Describe the location’s dominant plants or special features. Here are a few examples:

  • Is the site open? Or is it covered in shrubs, herbs, deciduous trees (like maple and oak), coniferous trees (like fir and pine), or invasive weeds?
  • How much of the pond or wetland is covered with vegetation? Is the vegetation below the surface (submergents like bladder wort, millfoil)? Does it float on the surface (like pond lilies, pond shield)? Or does it break the surface (like cattails and bulrushes)?

Start by identifying the amphibian you saw – taking photos from different angles will help. You can get help with this step if you can’t identify the animal:

Once you know your species and you're entering data online, click the “Select” button and enter either a Latin name or a common term like frog, toad, salamander or boa. Choose your species from the list of names displayed.

It can be difficult to determine the sex of an amphibian or reptile without capturing or dissecting it. Here are a few hints that might help:

  • In a few species, males may have  vivid colouring during breeding (e.g. yellow throats on male bullfrogs)
  • Only male frogs and toads call during the breeding season – enter “Adult unknown sex” outside of the breeding season when it’s difficult to determine the sex

Adult or juvenile amphibians and reptiles is generally done based on size. If the animal looks about adult size (based on information in field guides), then assume it is an adult and provide comments about how you assessed this. If you are unsure if it is an adult or juvenile, enter “Unknown age/unknown sex” in the data form and provide an approximate size measurement in the comments field.

Amphibian larval stages are easier to determine because tadpoles look very different from frogs and toads – this could be trickier for salamanders. In most cases, salamanders are in the larval stage if they have bushy gills on either side of their head. However, some species like the Northwestern Salamander reach sexual maturity (adulthood) in the larval form when their gills are still present (this is called paedomorphism).

For amphibian observations, also indicate whether you saw eggs,  egg masses, or egg strings. If there are black dots or wiggling embryos within the jelly layer, then it is an egg mass or string. If possible, enter the approximate number of egg masses or strings observed in the comments column. In some species like Oregon Spotted Frogs and Wood Frogs, multiple egg masses can be laid one over the other in a communal mass, and adult Western Toads can lay tangled strings of eggs.

You can get help with this step if you can’t identify the sex, age, life-stage or eggs:

If possible, record the estimated number of animals or discrete egg masses / strings that you can see in the “Comments" section along with how you estimated the number.

Try doing a count like this:

  • Select a small area
  • Take a photograph of the area
  • Count the number of animals or egg masses / strings in that area (or in the photograph)
  • Estimate the entire area the animals or eggs are found in
  • Multiply the number of animals or eggs counted by the total area

For example, if there were 25 animals in one square meter, and they were spread over a 50 square meter area (5 meters wide by 10 meters long), then there are approximately 1,250 animals.

Indicate animal behavior that was either “Seen” or “Heard.” For example, some amphibians have distinct calls.

If you heard frogs or toads, it is useful to distinguish the call intensity:

  • Individual calls that can be counted
  • Calls not overlapping
  • Some individual calls that can be counted
  • Other calls overlapping
  • A full chorus, calls continuous and overlapping, individuals not distinguishable

Upload photos of the animal or location – include up to four. Formats like jpegs, gifs, bmps, tiffs are all acceptable. Choose a file size that provides enough clarity for identification, but won’t take too long to upload.