Journal What You Notice in Nature

Keeping a nature journal encourages you to slow down and really see — not just look at — the natural world going on around you.

I suspect that if you’re a regular visitor to Garden Style San Antonio, you may already be attuned to and enthusiastic about the natural world.

Maybe you love seeing the first hummingbird of the spring season. Or you anticipate the Texas mountain laurel’s bloom and aroma of grape Kool-Aid wafting in the early March air. And you probably notice the owl hooting at night year after year, but aren’t quite certain if it’s in fall or winter.

Whatever your current observation skills are you can improve them — and become a closer observer of the natural world around you — by starting a nature journal.

Our own busy worlds are filled with responsibilities, technology, commutes and unexpected activities. But nature gives a reassuring dose of consistency with patterns that unfold season to season, year to year, and decade to decade. And a nature journal allows you to record these natural patterns and reflect on them. It’s a way to give yourself the gift of time outdoors and observing things around you: date, time of day, weather, smells, sites, sounds and feelings you experience in that moment.

Keeping a nature journal is simple really. While you walk your trash or recycle bin to the curb, pause to take in your surroundings. Notice what is growing, blooming or buzzing. Listen for birds. Feel and smell the wind. Is it cool or warm? Do you hear a bird song you aren’t familiar with? Then spend a moment writing down what you experienced.

Before you turn in for the night, step outside to observe the nocturnal world awakening. Owls, raccoons, fireflies or moths are a few of the creatures that stir while we slumber. If you find a subject that sparks your interest, lean into it: wildflower identification, bird migration times, fall color changes, or the wren nest in your hanging basket and the days it takes for her brood to go from egg to fledgling.

Record dates, observations and feelings you experienced. In the following years, find out if things happen at the same time of year, maybe even the same day of the year. Want to learn even more? Look it up, ask an expert, or find a group that is involved in that topic.

A nature journal can be whatever you prefer, whether it’s store bought, handmade, a daily planner or spiral notebook. What matters is the content. I create a five-year calendar-journal for recording observations to see a year-to-year comparison. You can create the style you like, and start your journey of seeing your backyard in a whole new way.

Enjoyment awaits and surprises are sure to unfold once you start looking at nature around you with purpose. The more you document what you see, the more you’ll know about and love your own backyard — and grow a deeper relationship with Mother Earth.

Picture of Gail Dugelby
Gail Dugelby
Gail Dugelby is a SAWS conservation consultant with deep roots in San Antonio and the Hill Country. She spent her youth climbing trees, playing in the Guadalupe River, and exploring the outdoors. This drives her passion for nature and our diverse environment, especially our most precious natural resource — water. Given the choice, she would be outside all the time.
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