Moving away as a naturalist

I am considering moving a far distance from my current home sometime in the next few years, potentially across international borders. Have any other long-term iNatters here had a similar experience, and if so, what preparations did you make in regards to iNatting? Did you study local species first or go in completely blind? What did you prioritize researching if so? Did you familiarize yourself with the local area through things like maps or figure things out at your own pace when you got there? Did you take any other notable steps when approaching the change?


I’ve always been more of a “jump in first and look things up later” kind of person, so I’d usually just try to get outside and photograph everything in sight. In hindsight there are some things I wish I’d researched though, just because my time in that location ended up being more limited than I’d anticipated, and if I’d been more organized about it I’d have gotten to see some more cool stuff before I left again. But it was also fun to just explore and run into things completely unexpectedly.

When I’m just visiting somewhere and know I’ll be short for time, I’ll usually research a handful of “goal” organisms to track down, and then just see what surprises I find along the way.


Something of a regular occurrence for me. Grew up moving a lot, and in my adult life I’ve lived in at least 5 countries, worked in another 4, and spent a good bit of time in another 20 or so countries.

I generally dig up nature literature, field guides, and maps (lots of maps) before I go and read up on natural history, culture, general history, etc. It’s much easier to find good info now than it ever used to be, so I don’t really find that there is much reason not to accumulate information and resources.

I generally start with whatever catches my interest. I find that the starting point doesn’t really matter so much, what does is that it sparks your interest and encourages you to learn more. Eventually it’ll mesh with your other interests.

Always maps though. I do some GIS stuff for fun and for part of my work, so I often wind up hunting down ecological information and making my own maps of particular areas to give me a better idea of them. Geology, vegetation height, Köppen climate classifications, elevation, roads, airports, cities and towns, urbanized areas (different from the former), Landsat and Sentinel images of various years, watercourses, flood and storm risk, volcanoes, meteor impacts, fault zones, ocean currents, etc all eventually wind up on one map or another.

In any event, even if you don’t use the resources you gather right away, it’s useful to have them around for when you do want them.

As I can’t keep a lot of physicals possessions with this lifestyle a lot of my resources are digital at the moment (I do have lots of books and such too, but they’re in storage). I tend to keep most of these resources online in DropBox folders so that they’re accessible on my laptop, tablet, or phone as needed.

Where are you going? Depending on where it is I may have some useful resources I can share.


It would be useful to check species you haven’t met (e.g. on a life list page), to know which species are the common ones and see how many of one genus are found at this new spot, that means you will be ready to know that there’s one new species of a kind or two, it can be hard to distinguish new taxa, so knowing about that beforehand will save you time. But is you’re moving there to live, it means you can spend less time preparing with more opportunities for “mistakes” that you can fix later.

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The first thing I’d say is just take your time. If you think you’ll spend at least a few years in the new place, you’ll have tons of time to discover what’s there.

Having said that a good place to start would be local field guides for the things you’re interested in, to learn about the types of species you might encounter. Check iNat to see what others have found. Study maps and learn about local hiking trails. See if there are local naturalist or conservation groups that you could get involved with.

Most of all just relax and soak in the experience of living in a new place.


Get books of the new area, then just go for it.
Exploring a new area is great fun!

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Or try the iNat way in.
Start identifying Unknowns from the new place. If only to become aware of what you might see there.
Follow active and knowledgeable iNatters who are based there.
Once you arrive you will have a flying start to keep learning and exploring.

Yesterday a woman from Belarus was iNatting on Table Mountain. It is refreshing for me to see - oh wow what is that - for my familiar plants and …


iNaturalist is such a wonderful community – you could also reach out to some of the big iNat users in the area where you are going! It’s fun to correspond with them and learn some of the cool spots in your new neighborhood.


My approach is pretty much the same. I love the surprise of the unexpected, and I find without seeing things in person it’s hard to wrap your head around them. Also, if I over-prepare I get a bit tunnel-visioned. I end up just looking for a certain bird or whatever and being disappointed that I didn’t find it, instead of appreciating all the amazing little things I saw.
Good luck for your big move! It sounds so exciting!

Preparation on Inat, I think this is a great way to slowly become familiar with a place you haven’t visited yet:

-On the right side of the home page there is a field called “Subscriptions”, and lower you can click on “Subscribe to a place”.
-Enter the place you plan to move to, and if necessary enter a taxon you want to focus on.
-Now all new (taxon if you chose one) observations from that place will appear on your home page.


Up to you! For me the best part of moving is all the new organisms you encounter. Its pretty mind blowing to see everywhere things you didnt know existed.

But if you think you will enjoy it more planning in advance, then go for it.

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Not to be a downer, but you should probably research organisms that can hurt you in your new location. That way, you’ll know not to touch or eat the poisonous plants, get too close to the venomous snakes, insects, scorpions, etc. Most governments will have educational materials on these topics.


I’ve done this. It’s not that different from making observations while traveling. You’ll learn, learn, learn!

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Try to find local naturalists in the new area. There may be a birding, mushrooming, native plant, lepidopterist, or even garden club that offers field trips. It’s also a great way to make new friends.


I think naturalists have a much greater connection to place than average folks. It seems most Americans tend to move all over the country multiple times in their lives, so when I talk to most people regarding my hesitation to move, they don’t seem to get where I’m coming from. Most Americans can name more African safari animals than species that might be found in their own backyard. As a naturalist, I know individual trees, flower patches, and other habitats like old friends. I don’t understand how that has become so rare nowadays. I’m sure that must’ve been the norm for most of human history. My advice, say goodbye to your natural friends as you would your human ones and dive in headfirst to your new location but without much preparation. You’ll get to experience the blissful ignorance of not being aware of what that area has lost and just appreciate what is still there.


Well, I haven’t moved away, but get into foreign countries for holidays.
Riding on bicycle thru a rubber plantation, I suddenly saw a beautiful snake sun bathing inmidst of the road. Stopped immediately, and took my camera, approached the snake while taking photos, but the snake just snaked away.
Inatters were able to identify it immediately: a Naja sumatrensis. Highly venomenous, can spit its venom with high precision into your eyes…
But it prefered to calmly slither into the shrubs.
Snakes are only dangerous when you did not see them and you step on them.


Open the “identify page”, select the region, and make sure that you see evrything (i.e. including observation which have already been id’d to RG). And try to help with identifications. You’ll learn a lot, even if you can currently get to family level or similar only.

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I get it. Totally.

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Once my husband and I were chatting and walking noisily along a path near a beach in South Western Australia when a slight movement on the ground in front of him caught my eye and I pulled him towards me - a tiger snake! He was centimetres away from putting his foot on it. It obviously wasn’t keen to move but did so without any harm coming to any of us. I was thrilled to see such an incredible creature up close, but my husband almost required new underwear :laughing:


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