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Striving to be a better student of nature

For the last couple of columns, I have discussed how computers, online resources and social media affect our ability to be better naturalists. So far, I’ve discussed some resources available and how reliable and trustworthy they are. I have also advised how we must each strive to learn and not just rely on others to tell us what we are seeing, if we hope to be better students of nature.

Now I want to focus a bit on other apps I have found and mention a few Facebook pages I find particularly helpful and reliable. One free app I like is Seek. This general identification app relies on photos being submitted with geographic tags, so the species options can be narrowed down. It is very similar to iNaturalist, but I find it faster and more accurate.

For birdwatchers, eBird is an amazing worldwide free app which allows you to enter sightings and track places you’ve been and what you’ve seen. The beauty of it is, when you start a list, it automatically knows your location and generates a list of likely species you could encounter where you are. If you are trying to report a rarity, it asks you to confirm what you saw, and provide details as to why you thought it was that species. This is a great challenge, because it makes you think about and confirm the sighting. Don’t be offended if challenged, it is run by experts who understand people make mistakes but can still find great things.

If you are into plants, try PlantSnap, a free app which, as the name implies, helps you identify your plants. Other good apps I have found are the Tree Identification Field Guide app, the Audubon Bird Guide app, Audubon Society Native Plants Database and Picture Insect: Bug Identifier. Many of the better bird guides have their own apps as well which come in ‘lite’ or ‘full’ formats. The lite formats are usually free but have little value in my opinion. I recommend spending the money and buying the full app, if it suits your fancy.

A few of my favourite Facebook pages are Ontario Birds, Advanced Birding in Ontario, Ontario Bird Education & Conservation, Ontario Butterflies, Dragonflies and Moths, Mammals of Canada, Wildflowers of North Durham, Insects and Arachnids of Ontario and Field Botanists of Ontario. I’m sure there are more, but these will keep you busy!

I have several friends who are retired, or soon will be, and the study and enjoyment of nature, at whatever level, is gratifying and fulfilling. Whether you study birds, plants, mammals or insects or just want to enjoy them, this is a pastime that will carry you through life. Imagine the joy you bring to your grandkids when they ask Granny or Grandpa, “What is that bird? And what is it doing?” and you know the answer! So, as you can see there are lots of resources out there for you.

Let’s summarize where we are in this discussion. Social Media and online resources are a great source of information, but use caution and make sure they are proven resources. An individual (including some bloggers) is not an expert simply because he or she says they are. Try to find out who and what is trustworthy and then rely on that as a guide, not a definitive answer. Always challenge the information, until you know it’s correct. No one can do the thinking for you, that’s your job. Don’t be lazy! Use these resources to guide you and teach you, but also be your own teacher through research and effort. You may find, soon you become the resource others will look to. Spend the time to improve, it takes a lifetime to learn about nature. You don’t have to know everything, but the more you know the more fulsome your life will become.

Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff online on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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