Friday, 28 March 2014

On being a naturalist

Perhaps spurred on by the first truly spring-like days of the year, I have been busy planning the season’s walks and trips. As always, I want to visit new places and to see and photography species and habitats that will be new to me. Many of these trips will be local, made within East Anglia, but others will take me further afield. There are, after all, still species of butterfly and dragonfly I have yet to see in the UK, not to mention many hundreds of plants and thousands of insects.

The need to get out and see things is particularly strong this year, no doubt a consequence of having spent much of the last two years head down and writing a book on owls. The process of writing and researching material meant that outdoor opportunities were restricted to the nest monitoring and other bird survey work with which I am involved locally. Trips further afield were a luxury that had to go. With the book done, the time now available means that I can get out and catch up with other wildlife. It feels that it is going to be a good year.

This newly found time means that I will also be able to spend more time on my local patch and be able to get to grips with some of the more challenging species, difficult to find and often hard to identify. Some of these smaller creatures need to be identified under the microscope and with the aid of identification keys. This is often a time-consuming task but it can prove particularly rewarding.

Being a naturalist is all about being out in the countryside and discovering new things. It is about the acquirement of knowledge and the gaining of experience, a process that has echoes of an old-fashioned apprenticeship. There are opportunities to learn in a more formalised manner, such as through the courses hosted by the Field Studies Council and the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society. If I can squeeze in one or two courses this year then this should help my developing interest in some of the invertebrate groups I have yet to tackle. Just thinking of such things makes me look forward with a sense of excitement.

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