Tools of the Naturalist

A naturalist is someone who studies the natural world, who can name all the local plants and animals and insects, and explain ecology.

Online Nature Apps, Communities

  • iNaturalist - Site and community for reporting personal observations of any plant or animal species in the world.
  • Skill Builder: Nature Apps - TPW Magazine
  • Log a Frog, Share a Snake - TPW Magazine article
  • eBird - A real-time, online checklist program, eBird has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds.
  • - an online community of naturalists who enjoy learning about and sharing our observations of insects, spiders, and other related creatures.
  • Herps of Texas iNaturalist page for citizen science observations and occurrences of reptiles and amphibians in Texas.

Naturalists in the FieldThe Wildlife Life List

A Life List is a record of species you have seen and is kept throughout your lifetime. It can be as detailed as you wish it to be. Lots of people keep lists of birds and reptiles but a life list can be for any kind of animal or all of them. Besides recording the first time you see a species, it is important to record when and where you saw it. Some list keepers make a sketch of the animal in their journals. This comes in handy for identifying the species later on because it also forces you to pay particular attention to details that make that animal different from others. Start your own Life List!

The Naturalist's Journal

Most naturalists keep a journal to record their observations. Through history, these journals have proved invaluable in reconstructing the habitats and environments of a time gone by, before modern civilization. It is still important today that the naturalist continue to document what they see and how they see it. Keeping a journal is a good way to jog your memory when you come across a species or event in nature that is new to you. Writing down every detail that you can think of so that you can recall it at a later date for comparison or research. There remain many mysteries in the natural world and sometimes great discoveries are made by the amateur naturalist who is practiced at journaling.

What to record in your journal
You may use any blank book or notebook for your journal - a ring binding makes it easier to make drawings. Start each entry with the date and what time of day it is. Then you can mention the weather and where you are, the neighborhood creek, a friends yard, etc. Be sure to notice any changes in the season and note that as well. Make notes of everything you see. You may also include things you find like feathers or interesting leaves. Let your eyes and your mind wander and write down questions that pop into your head. Be sure to consult with field guides on any wildlife that you see you can't identify. If you have noted enough detail in your journal entry, you will most likely be able to solve the mystery.

Field Guides

Field guides are books that contain lists and images of species (wildlife, fossils, geology, the night sky, etc.) with information that is designed to help the reader identify and understand the differences between similar species. Birding field guides are probably the most popular, but there are also field guides to reptiles, mammals, mushrooms and lots of other things. They are tools of the trade for the naturalist. Every naturalist should have one or two and most have a lot more than that. You can pick them up at secondhand book stores and even at garage sales for a lot less. They can also be found in your local library. There are even on-line field guides on the internet and downloadable mobile apps to help you identify a critter that you saw.

Field Pack

The field pack is the briefcase of the naturalist. It can carry field guides (not too many-they can get heavy) and containers for collecting things, journal, and many things that a naturalist may need on hand in the field. It can be a fanny pack, or a back pack or any other kind of bag that is convenient to carry in the field. Being light and waterproof are pretty important. You probably have something around your house that would work.

What to carry in the field pack

  • field guides
  • journal or notebook and pen or pencil
  • binoculars (if you don't have them around your neck)
  • camera
  • containers - this can be almost anything, empty film canisters, plastic bags, baby food jars (be careful with glass ones) as long as they are small and lightweight.
  • pocket knife
  • tweezers
  • bandana - many uses including for emergency first aid and signaling
  • magnifying glass or loop
  • portable plant press
  • small first aid kit (just in case)
  • butterfly net


These are just some suggestions - and you may think of others on your own. Carry as little or as much as you want.

Tips for using binoculars and spotting scopes (TPW Magazine article)