e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,

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Nature Learning 101c Setting Goals

Aside from small children (who do exactly this) almost no one wakes up one morning wanting to know everything about everything right now.   We get interested in nature for a reason...we have some kind of goal in mind when we first wonder "What's that?"  (If we have a toddler, the goal may be to retain our sanity while the young explorer is demanding to know everything about everything right now.)

It helps to write goals down--not to feel guilty about if you don't achieve them, but to make them "real" to yourself.  Set your first goals modestly--don't try too much too fast.  For instance, if you start out knowing nothing about the native plants and animals of your area, you might decide to learn to recognize at sight five common local trees, five common local birds, five common local wildflowers,  five common local butterflies within the next year. 

Or, if trees or birds are your main interest, you might decide to learn to recognize all the common local birds, or all the common local trees (but if you're in a tree-rich or bird-rich area, give  yourself more than one year to learn them!)

Or you might decide to learn to recognize the different groups of insects common to your area--to know beetles from true bugs, bees & wasps from flies, butterflies from moths, etc. 

You might decide to keep a record of everything you see on a daily walk, or what's in the park across the street, or what's in your own yard, or birds seen on a trip. 

Goals can also include (should also include) learning more about the plants and animals you've learned to name and how they interact.  Why are some trees full of birds' nests and others aren't?  Why do certain plants grow only in lowlands or uplands or rocky soils or sandy soils?  What does this bird/animal/insect eat?   The more you learn, the more questions you will come up with--new goals for your studies--and the more you will find to notice and enjoy wherever you are and wherever you travel.  

If you're new to learning nature, I'd urge you to learn a few things in a number of different areas: some grasses, some trees, some shrubs, some wildflowers, some birds, some mammals, some butterflies, some dragonflies, and so on.  Then, if one area hooks you more strongly, go more deeply into that. 

I'd also urge you, though you start with simple field guides and common names, to learn (at least write down, in your record of what you see and learn) the scientific names, and to learn a little about classification.   If you know, for instance, what "nightshade-like" flowers look like, then you'll find it easier to look up a new wildflower that's closely related.   You'll know that the mysterious little gray and yellowish bird is some kind of warbler, that the little brown butterfly is some kind of skipper.

Goals can help a lot.  When I realized that we had a lot of native sparrows spending the winter on  our land--and I had thought all sparrows were just "little streaky brown birds"--I decided to spend one winter concentrating on the sparrows, nothing else.  Day after day, with binoculars, camera, and field guides...and gradually the "little streaky brown birds" came clear to my eyes, my mind, and my memory, so that now I can recognize them at a distance, even without binoculars much of the time (and given my eyesight, that's a miracle!)  When a new sparrow shows up (as has happened a few times since) I immediately know it's not one of the usuals...which means less work figuring out what it is.

My long-range goal is to identify "everything" that lives on our place.  That isn't going to be possible in my lifetime, most likely, but it's worthwhile  to try (over 700 species and still counting...)
Tags: nature study

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