One aspect of my upbringing for which I am very thankful is that I spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid, especially during the summer. I grew up in a time and place in which we were encouraged and allowed to roam freely, without concern for safety. And I did. Some of my happiest memories are of exploring the woods, fields, and streams around the rural farm town where I grew up. I’ve never lost that sense of wonder, peace, and joy that comes from encountering nature, even though as I grew older, I spent less and less time outdoors.
This is why I enjoy nature photography. Many outdoorsy people like to hunt and fish; I much prefer to photograph flora and fauna rather than kill them. I do enjoy fishing occasionally but practice catch-and-release. It’s also why I’ve come to enjoy birdwatching, although I don’t go crazy over it. It’s sort of like my attitude toward fishing: if I catch something special, great, but if I don’t, at least I’ve been able to spend time outdoors. I don’t obsess over lists, hotspots, or gear.
Something I do obsess a little over, though, is correct identification of the things I see in nature. This is because I want to better understand what I see, whether it is a wildflower, an insect, a tree or plant of some kind, or a bird. I’ve used many different sources for identification over the years and none of them is foolproof, which can be frustrating especially for an amateur. Aside from the usual print books, I also pay attention to various apps for my smartphone that purport to help with identification. But I’ve been fairly disappointed there as well.
More recently, however, I’ve come across a couple of apps that are quite promising. One is called iNaturalist and the other is PlantSnap. Neither app is foolproof, but they are really very good in my experience. I particularly like iNaturalist because it links to a community of hundreds, maybe thousands of other people who are very prompt and helpful at validating observations. In other words, my observations are reviewed by other people, many of whom are smarter and more experienced than I am, thereby increasing the validity of any identification. That is pretty darn cool.