How to Observe Wildlife without Leaving Home
While lumbering herds of elephants and stalking Bengal tigers
capture the imagination of most animal lovers, we often neglect
the nature closest to us. Sometimes we need a reminder that we are
part of a habitat, and that the miracle of life exists under our
very noses. Educator and naturalist Carolyn Duckworth has said,
“If you want to understand and become connected to your environment,
keeping a field journal is one of the fastest ways to accomplish
Studies have found that children today consider nature to be somewhere
else—on TV, videos, in the National Geographic only. But in reality,
a genuine connection to wildlife around the globe is only an extension
of a connection to the earth right where you stand. Good naturalists
don’t gain their knowledge from formal schooling, they get it in
the field, by direct observation. And this observation can start
right in your backyard or at the park down the street.
This article will offer pointers for keeping a nature journal.
It draws heavily on the program laid out in the book Keeping a Nature
Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You
by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth.
The tools needed to start nature journaling are simple and inexpensive.
One needs a notebook and something to write with. Experimentation
will reveal your personal preferences for lined or clear paper,
binding type, size, and lead or ink. As you gain experience you
may add a small set of watercolor paints or colored pencils. If
you use pencils you may need a sharpener, or you can use mechanical
pencils, which yield more technical-looking drawings. You may also
use a collecting bag for objects that you want to draw and study
indoors. (Although you should collect only fallen objects, where
permission is given).
There are no hard and fast rules for nature journaling, although
entering observations using a heading is good practice. For your
heading you may include your name, the date and time (it doesn’t
have to be an accurate clock time), the place, weather conditions,
your first impressions, wind direction (use a compass for this),
and cloud patterns and cloud cover.
To get started you may find this sequence of observations helpful,
as it gets you in the habit of observing all around you:
- Start by looking at the ground. Get a close up view of individual
objects. Try to draw one or more in your journal, labeling each
item. Take no more than five minutes per object, and give size
measurements (you don’t need a ruler, just estimate.) For further
learning, try writing at least one question about each object.
- Now stand up and draw what comes into view at eye level.
Label the object and describe what it’s doing, or what it is
- Look up from where you are standing. Record what you see
above, and how it makes you feel.
Nature journals are not just for artists. Don’t worry if your renderings
look like scribbles. The point is that you are connecting to your
Some questions you may use to direct your journaling, and deepen
your connection to the life around you are:
- What are the trees in my neighborhood? When do they bloom?
What do their fruits and seeds look like? What insects use the
trees? When do they shed their leaves? How do their seeds get
to new sites to grow?
- What birds live in my neighborhood? What is their activity
at various times of the day? How do different species of birds
interact with each other?
- What kinds of insects gather around the light at my doorway
each night throughout the year?
- When and where do mushroom species appear in my neighborhood?
Using questions like these you may find yourself discovering both
the landscape you live on, and the landscape that lives in you.
Those who keep a journal know that journaling is a form of journeying,
and a well-kept journal can become a treasured record of where we
have been, what we have seen, and what we have felt as we’ve interacted
with the world.
You don’t have to visit the glaciers of Alaska, or India’s jungles,
or the savannahs in Africa to connect to Mother Earth, although
who of us wouldn’t jump at the chance? Start by putting roots down
right where you stand.
“It seems only natural that we should value most what we are
in contact with everyday…yet the reverse is often true. We appear
to place a higher value on rare animals and plants and spectacular
views and far-flung places. Of course both are important because
they fulfill different needs. But the every day places desperately
need our attention—partly because they are changing so fast, and
not always for the better, and also because tremendous benefit is
to be gained from a personal involvement with your own locality.”
~The Parish Maps Project, London, England, 1987
About the Author
Emma Snow has always adored wild animals. Emma provides content
for Wildlife Animals http://www.wildlife-animals.com
and Riding Stable http://www.riding-stable.com.