My children are still a bit young for this, but one of my own favourite things about nature study is the hunt for the name of whatever mushroom, wildflower, insect, tree, or animal I've spotted. In doing this, I've found the community over at Project Noah to be invaluable help.
Backed by National Geographic, Project Noah (Networked Organisms And Habitats) is a community of citizen scientists around the world. Anyone can join and add their photos or their expertise. My favourite part? If you don't know what species your picture is of, you can click "Help me ID this species," and your pictures will be displayed for anyone to see. If your pictures are reasonably clear, and you include some details, you are likely to get some helpful suggestions.
For example, I took a picture of a dragonfly at Mooney's Pond last month.
meadowhawk, but you would be amazed at the number of bright red species of meadowhawks there are. There are the red-veined meadowhawk, the ruby meadowhawk, the cherry-faced meadowhawk, the white-faced meadowhawk, and more. Suffice it to say that I spent quite a bit of time sifting through a bewildering array of possibilities, but none were exactly right. Either the face colour wasn't quite right, or there was too much black on the body, or the legs were the wrong colour. Then I put the picture up on project Noah, and within a day or so someone suggested the Autumn Meadowhawk, which I had never even come across in all my searching. It was a perfect match, as far as I could tell. (By the way, we saw another one yesterday again! I was surprised, because it was cloudy and threatening to rain, and I thought dragonflies were mostly sunny-weather insects. However, there were quite a few mosquitos out, so maybe it was looking for a meal.)
Identifications are not always this clear-cut, though. I have to keep in mind that many of the people helping me out are amateurs (like myself!). I'm still trying to figure out exactly what this tall plant is (taller than myself!):
Someone suggested that it might be Cow Parsnip. I looked it up, and it seemed right...very tall, similar flowers, but when I got to the leaves, they were completely different. I think it might be water hemlock, but other pictures I've seen of water hemlock don't have the vivid purple stems.
For me, Project Noah has many benefits beyond the identification of species that stump me.
- A network of people who are actually interested in my photos of bugs and plants.
- Motivation to improve my photography (it helps in getting things identified!)
- A new appreciation for how fascinating even the most common and abundant species are. I appreciate the pictures of the different plants and wildlife in other places, and I imagine people on the other side of the world just as interested in mine.
- A fresh eye for detail, as I realize that even the tiniest detail could mean a completely different species.
- Preparation for the day one of my children jumps up and down with excitement saying, "Mama! Mama! A red dragonfly!" And I will be able to naturally say, "Oh wow! That's an autumn meadowhawk!"
I highly recommend Project Noah to anyone who is interested in nature study. If you have more questions about the nature and purpose of Project Noah, you can find the answers here.
I am linking up with Nature Study Monday at Fisher Academy.