Ive seen some people where it looks like being an iNaturalist is like a natural thing to them. I was curious if anyone had tips when it came to being good at it. I have like 4 or 5 encyclopedias on insects,plants, and reptiles. Would reading them and using them help me more expand my desire to know more about animals?
Reading them will help you learn about nature. I just love it naturally. I don’t know what else to say expect nature is the best!
I think there are different kinds of “good” in iNaturalist.
First, you have to want to be here. That may sound silly but I introduce students to iNaturalist all the time and while most come to really enjoy iNaturalist there are those that just don’t like the process of making observations. At its very heart that is all it takes to be a good naturalist (or iNaturalist) because the rest of it, the knowledge and the familiarity, will come naturally as an extension of your interest and curiosity.
Second, it takes time. If you have the curiosity and the desire for knowledge then be patient and the knowledge will come. It won’t happen overnight but before you know it you will see things that you have seen before and you will know a great deal more about them then you did before. This is a lesson that even seasoned scientists can struggle with.
Third, don’t be afraid to change how you learn. Maybe reading the encyclopedias will help you at first but you may also find it tedious and not engaging enough. There are so many ways to engage yourself in the natural world and iNaturalist is a great tool for that but it isn’t the only tool. Look for opportunities to get together with other people that have the same interests as you and look for other engaging learning opportunities. Some of the most rewarding and stimulating things I do as a naturalist is with other people.
I think it is important to understand that you don’t have to be an expert at identifying organisms to be a good naturalist. A good naturalist is someone who is observant and is constantly learning more from what they have observed. It is a life-long pursuit.
Does reading a book about a religion make you want to practice that religion? I doubt it.
Even though biology isn’t a religion, reading an encyclopedia will only give you information. Your ‘desire to know more’ is something that everyone has, you just need to know how to use it right. As Curtis said, you need to have motivation to work on learning in order to learn.
I used to say that the great thing about being a naturalist is that every time I would go outdoors I would see Friends and Wonders. Friends being the familiar things I was happy to recognize (especially as the seasons rolled around), and Wonders being the many things I didn’t expect to see but had a chance to notice and be curious about. Friends and Wonders pop up whether you’re in a national park or just staring at a sidewalk crack while waiting to cross the street. iNaturalist is a superb extension of that phenomenon because it lets you archive what you see and effortlessly learn more about it. So you’re always expanding your universe of Friends and Wonders. For free!
Friends and Wonders, I absolutely LOVE this. Another thing is you are never bored. There is always something to look for or at.
Honestly? What helped the most was using iNaturalist!
By taking pictures of everything I saw, and seeing what people IDd them as, I slowly learned my local organisms. Sometimes it took me 40 observations of the same thing before I could remember the name, but I got there eventually. And just scrolling through other people’s observations to see what they’ve found in my area, and what it was identified as.
Encyclopedias are great, and if you want to read them, by all means do. But if you want to learn more about stuff in your immediate area, you can’t beat just going outside and asking “what is this?” about everything you see. And then post it and (hopefully) find out. :)
I agree. For instance, not everyone on iNaturalist takes a lot of pictures to identify organisms. Instead, they just identify organisms from other people’s pictures, like me. The same process for being a “good” iNaturalist still applies either way.
I might have a slightly different view than some people, because to me, being on iNaturalist is as much about places as it is about organisms. I would rather go to a new place and see a “boring” species, than stay in my own town and see rare species. (Of course, no species is “boring”, and going to new places often coincides with seeing new species).
So I use maps a lot — I scan through google maps for places that are new to me, and interesting, and then I often go on the iNaturalist map and see if that area is underreported. Then I go there and see what is different. This can be as small as a city park I haven’t been to before (or even a bridge over a small creek), or as large as a National Wildlife Refuge. To me, going to a new place often opens my eyes—I am alert, and often notice more around me.
So that is one thing I would advise—go to places where you haven’t been before, and see what is there.
Very well said. This is more or less exactly what I had in mind for an answer, so I will just type this reply of commendation instead.
The wonderful thing about iNaturalist is that, collectively, we are extremely knowledgeable about all kinds of things, even though individually we are all limited in our knowledge. If you want to learn more about animals (or any organism) this is a great tool to use.
As for encyclopedias, books, apps, websites, etc., there are many that can help–but reading an encyclopedia start to finish would turn me off nearly any subject! They’re not meant to be used that way. As a reference, however, they can be excellent.
I am not a naturalist but I know a few and they almost always got started by going out and exploring parks and open spaces near them at a young age. (Your profile picture suggests you’re quite young.) First-hand observation of nature is the best way to learn about it; everything else is support for identifying what you see and learning from the observation and experience of others.
My suggestion is to keep iNatting, getting out to photograph (and occasionally make audio recordings) and post here for help in identifying and learning about what you’ve seen. When you see something that interests you, dip into that encyclopedia, do a web search, or take some other action to learn more about it. If you have a museum, nature club, bird-watching group, environmental organization, etc. near you that leads walks or offers programs, that helps a lot. Having a guide who knows the local animals and plants is a wonderful resource and walking in a group is a great help in noticing what’s around you, especially when you’re starting out. (Learning to notice what’s around you is a skill that helps in being a naturalist and other pursuits.)
As you do this you’ll become more knowledgeable and will be able to help others learn, too.
The way I think would be easy would be to pick one type of anything. for example birds in NZ and for about a mouth go through research grade observation of NZ birds and when you think you know enough about them you can start to Identify the needs id observations.
And going to nearby parks and stuff.
Read books about the thing you are studying
Never stop observing
And never be afraid to @ in someone who might know more than yourself.
I don’t know about being a “good” naturalist, but the big thing is being interested and engaged. That can be from spending time outside exploring your surroundings and paying attention to what you see and experience, it can be from academic learning or spending time broadly learning from books, websites, and other media, it can be from travel and working in different areas, it can be from talking with and learning from others with deep knowledge, it can be from hunting, photography, sound recording, or tracking and having to learn about the species you are pursuing, it can be from other fields that overlap, like primitive skills or studying anthropology or traditional medicines, it can come from foraging, it can come from getting interested in a particular branch of life and delving in to that deeply, etc.
In short, there is no one path, there are many paths, but the over-arching principle is that you are interested, engaanged, and make the effort to learn in whatever manner suits you best or is available at the time.
This is exactly how I started!
Reading books just will help you be a knowledgable person, it’s hard to be smart and not read, that’s how humans gather facts they found, it doesn’t depend what you read, but nature books is a good start as well as something that has no seen connection to nature, each new thing you read will help you to be a naturalist, each fact is a little brick of a person. Plus I think every time you read abot biologist you see they read a lot of while they were young.
Yes, if someone tells me what a species is, I rarely remember. But if I work it out myself from books, the names tend to stick in my mind better and I have some idea of why it is that species and not a similar-looking one.
But I don’t want to give the impression I am entirely self-taught. I have had a huge amount of assistance from other naturalists. Going through my old record books recently I realised how much I pestered my colleagues to check my identifications. I was just making the point that if I am going to remember a species name, it helps if I worked it out myself before getting a second opinion.
I can’t say much more than what has already been said. The outdoors was just part of my growing up. I’m also a nosey bugger, and want to know everything I can! How was that rock formation made, why does that plant look that way, how do things survive the winter? And so on. I have read a lot, and still do, and while books were important when I was young, they were motivation so see things in real life. Some of which I have done.
I do have one tip - find out what you like doing and spend time doing that. Although I go outside every day with my camera, I don’t have a lot of observations. Part of that is weather related - 6 to 8 months of cold weather doesn’t make for a lot of observational variety. But also, I just don’t like going out looking for things simply for new observations as much as I like the identification aspect. We all like different things, and finding what you like doing is important to being good.
I subscribe to all answers, but I think that reading is somewhat underlighted.
If you are able to read about different groups of animals and or plants you are more able to see many more conections than just by observing.
There are really good books on specific subjects, well written and fun to read and see through. Odonates, spiders, bugs, flies, grasses, trees, birds, mammals, carnivores, etcetera that go well into the subject for further growth into Inaturalist.
But without this, again, al other answers are very valid.
Keep enjoying nature in any way possible is probably the best you can do.
I agree with so many of the things said above. If you have a curiosity about the natural world, you can learn the rest. One thing you can do to expand your curiosity is to learn to notice the small things. If you’re only looking at the big things like birds, mammals, and trees, you’re missing most of the diversity of a place. Sit down on the ground and look around at the tiny plants, mosses, insects, snails, and all the other small things.
Lots of people think the desert where I live is just nothing but sagebrush, because that’s what they can see from the highway. If you walk around and look at the small things, you’ll find hundreds of species that you can’t see from the car.