What Is Nature Journaling?


Have you seen “Second Sunday Scribblers” listed in our upcoming programs and wondered what it’s all about? Friends of Rogers is starting a Nature Journaling Club (The Second Sunday Scribblers) and it is open to anyone who likes to spend time outdoors observing nature and recording their observations.

If you do a quick search online about nature journaling, you will come across many websites that show gorgeous illustrations and page layouts that look they were done by professional artists. And in truth, many of them were, but don’t let that be what stops you from joining us! Nature journaling is not about drawing a pretty picture.

I’ve been keeping a nature journal in one form or another for most of my life, and if you were to look at my journals, you would see that they are 99% writing. I sit outside and record my observations in words because writing comes easily to me. Once in a while I add a doodle in an attempt to illustrate my subject matter, because sometimes words just can’t quite capture my subject.

Like many of you, I have claimed that “I can’t draw,” and in truth, drawing is a real struggle for me, but I am here to tell you that it can be learned if you are willing to put in the time and it is something you want to do. Over the last couple of years, I have worked at adding illustrations to my journal entries – and while they are far from a “pretty picture,” they get the job done. And that is just fine, because the point of my journal illustrations is to remind me of what I saw, perhaps highlighting a particular trait that will help with ID later on.

For example, 20-some-odd years ago I was up in Canada, out on the prairie, and had a hawk land at a pond near me to take a bath. I had no idea what kind of hawk it was – it was not a species I’d ever seen before. I did a quick doodle in my journal, and used my cheap watercolor kit to make note of the color of its feathers. This faceless doodle with its buff-colored breast was enough for me to later identify the bird as a Swainson’s hawk…and that was all that mattered.

On the other hand, perhaps writing is not your strong suit – that is fine, too. You might rely more on illustrations to record your observations of the natural world. No worries.

They say the best nature journals combine three elements: writing, illustration, and numbers. Writing strengthens our thinking; drawing helps us really observe and improves memory; and numbers can reveal patterns.

The Second Sundays Scribblers meet once a month (on the second Sunday) at 1:00 PM. We will spend the next two hours, usually outdoors, observing the natural world and recording our observations in our journals. Sometimes we will learn a new skill or technique, and at the end of each session we will share our entries with each other. How delightful it is to see how everyone observes the same subject differently – no two journals are ever the same!

What do you need to keep a nature journal – is it expensive? It can go one of two ways. You can keep it simple and have no more than a blank book and a pen/pencil, or you can go “whole hog” and bring rulers, watercolors, inks, paint brushes, charcoal, smudging sticks…just remember, you have to carry it all with you! If you have a hand lens or a set of binoculars, those can be useful tools, as can something to sit on (especially in the winter). For beginners, I recommend a blank spiral notebook, a pencil (and eraser), something to sit on, an insulated water bottle (so you don’t dehydrate and your water doesn’t freeze) and a backpack to carry it all in.

If you’d like more information or you want to join us, give us a call (607-674-4733) or send an email (ellen@friendsofrogers.org). We hope to see you there!

Cartoons are another great way to record your observations of what’s happening in nature!