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7 Steps to Becoming a Backyard Naturalist

Have you noticed an interesting animal or plant near your home? There is no better time than now to become a Backyard Naturalist. A Naturalist is someone who is knowledgeable about the natural world including animals, plants and the habitats in which they are found.

Whether you have a patch of lawn, a balcony, or an expansive forest behind your home, you can become a nature expert. It is easy to be intimidated by the work of famous Naturalists such as Rachel Carson or John James Audubon. But anyone can become a Naturalist! Here’s how you can start.

1. Narrow Your Focus. In Connecticut alone there are at least 1400 species of plants, 335 species of birds, and 84 species of mammals. It is a lofty goal to learn them all, and the best way to avoid overwhelm is to start small. Pick one topic that interests you, such as backyard birds, and learn as much as you can. As you learn about your topic of interest, you will naturally branch out to other topics. Everything is connected!    

2. Get Outdoors in All Seasons. Experiencing nature on a regular basis is a vital part of being a Naturalist. If it is hard for you to find the time, include nature observation in your everyday life. For example, listen for bird song while you get the mail, or spend family time taking a hike.

3. Practice Your Observation Skills. Being a Naturalist is all about noticing your surroundings. We notice more if we slow our minds and use our senses. Observe nature quietly by visiting a special outdoor spot regularly. This will help you to notice more and is also a great way to decompress after a long day.    

4. Cultivate Curiosity. A good Naturalist observes, asks questions, and finds the answers to those questions. In this way, the learning never stops. A good exercise for cultivating curiosity is to start a “question journal”. Every day, write down one question about something that you have observed.   

5. Track Your Observations. It can be easy to forget the name of a plant you saw three months ago. Recording information is vital for Naturalists to help them keep track of observations and notice patterns over time. Tracking annual seasonal indicators, such as the date of the first frog call in the spring, can tell a very important story of how our environment is adapting to climate change.

6. Use Helpful Tools. Luckily, there are many fun and easy to use tools out there to help you observe and identify nature. These include field guides, apps, binoculars, scopes, loupes, nets, and more. For a comprehensive list of tools and how to use them, check out this Backyard Naturalist Webinar.

7. Connect with Community Resources. There are great programs out there that can help you learn more while interacting with other Naturalists. Check out Goodwin Conservation Center’s Master Naturalist program as well as the resources list on this Backyard Naturalist Webinar. If you are looking for more, check out Goodwin's Exploring Nature series. 

Becoming a Backyard Naturalist is an exciting life-long journey! Once you have fine-tuned your Naturalist skills, remember to share what you have learned with others, and take steps to make a difference for the forests, parks, and wildlife in your community.  Have fun!