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5 ways to learn more about nature

Even if you live in the middle of the city, nature is all around you. All you need is a smart phone, a curious mind and a social media account to teach yourself more about the incredible diversity of wildlife in South Africa. After all, we live in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Here are a few ways to get you started on your quest.

1. There's an app for that

When I wake up very early in the morning, I like to lie quietly for a moment as I listen to the birds calling outside and most often it’s the gentle “chewy-chewy- chewy” call of the olive thrush that I hear first. The easiest way to learn more about your local birds and their calls is to download a birding app onto your phone. There are several to choose from – some with a free lite version and others that are more advanced, with many bells and whistles. I have invested in the comprehensive Roberts Birds app which I can access on my phone anywhere and at any time to help me with my identifications.

© David Cook @Flickr
The olive thrush is a garden bird found in many parts of South Africa.
2. Facebook is your friend (really)

It’s amazing how many nature lovers are willing to share their knowledge on social media platforms. Ask an honest question, illustrate it with a picture taken on your cell phone and you will probably get the answer within minutes of your upload. It’s easy to join one of the many Facebook groups dedicated to South African flora and fauna and start learning from others. One of my favourite groups is SA Butterflies, Bugs, Bees and other small things which always delivers a quick answer and turns up some fascinating observations.

3. Join the club

In this pandemic era, meeting real people has become something of a rarity but hopefully this won’t last forever. A good way to expand your social life and your natural knowledge is to join a club where you can go on outings and meet like-minded people. Whether it’s botany, birding, astronomy or hiking – consider signing up with a local club to join virtual or real outdoor outings. A bonus is that you should also receive regular newsletters with interesting information about what is going on in your area.

© WWF South Africa
Many nature clubs arrange outings for their members which is a great way to meet new people.
4. Become a citizen scientist

Once you have started noticing the birds, bees and plants around you it is probably just a matter of time before you discover iNaturalist (or iNat for short). This is an app which allows you to upload your geo-based observations to an international community of observers.  You first need to register, and then you can start to upload your observations in the form of pictures of what you saw with details of where and when you saw it. Soon you will be interacting with other enthusiasts. A cool feature of iNat is the facility to create your own research project on a topic and area of your choice.

© Andrea Weiss
iNaturalist can be used to help you identify plants like this mielie heath, a species of Erika which is endangered due to coastal development and invasive aliens.
5. And then there’s the old-fashioned way

What with all the technology around, one might think that there would no longer be a need for the old-fashioned field guide, but I would beg to differ. Browsing through a book on plants, birds, snakes or butterflies is one of the best ways to expand your knowledge and to cross-reference information. You can start with used guides from second-hand book shops but be aware that scientific names and details have changed over the years. For more up-to-date guides, take a look at the Struik Nature Club which has the widest selection of field guides in the country.

© Andrea Weiss
Build up a collection of field guides to help you in your quest to learn more.
Andrea Weiss Photo
Andrea Weiss, Media Manager, WWF South Africa

Andrea would like to everyone to tune into the wonders of our natural world and to do their bit for nature.

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