Nature observation is one of my oldest hobbies. I started at a very young age with guidance from my father and an uncle. Often the instruction happened during camping trips or treks around my uncle’s farm. The idea was to remain aware of the world around us and to enjoy the sights. As I aged, some of the information was geared toward hunting but not always, and not all of it. Sometimes it was enough only to see something very rare or outside our normal experience.

As a youngster, I enjoyed reading and studying (at least those things where I had an interest), in addition to being outside. I was able to read and study an old (early 1950’s) Boy Scout Manual, with information about nature observation and many other outdoor topics. Before long, I stumbled on a book at the local library that really pushed my outdoor interests. A Field Guide to Animal Tracks by Olaus J. Murie (which eventually was brought into the Peterson Field Guide Series) was first published in 1954 and was written by one of the leading mammal experts of the day. This book gave me some valuable guidance in different methods of observing nature through tracks and sign.

Nature observation is not always a solitary pursuit.

The next book that I remember in my study was Skills for Taming the Wilds by Bradford Angier. This book went well beyond discussing tracks and trail with chapters on weather, route-finding, and foraging (plus much more). All were topics that interested me and added to my base of knowledge. Mr. Angier may have been the most published general outdoorsman of the 1960’s and 1970’s. His books were well written and clearly laid out the information he wanted to convey.

The first outdoor- oriented book that I remember purchasing myself was Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking. Over time I acquired all of the books in Mr. Brown’s Field Guide Series as each one was aimed at developing different skills. This book was instrumental in helping me develop the use of more of my senses in the outdoors beyond only my eyes. Movement, awareness, and natural camouflage were all skills that I could utilize in my quest to experience as much of the natural world as possible.

Over time I have built quite a personal library of outdoor skills books. I have been able to augment some of my “wild child” experiences with deeper information that comes from research in both books and in the field. But you don’t need to go deep into the wilderness to observe nature. Even the largest cities have parks where one can find all kinds of mammals, birds, and even insects to observe. And within a short drive of the most urban areas one can find many acres of farmland, succession forest, and even some true wilderness if you so choose. Locations to visit for nature observation are relatively easy to find, no matter where one lives.

Time spent observing the natural world may be one of the most inexpensive hobbies. Very little equipment is needed, other than weather appropriate clothing. Many guidebooks are available to borrow from libraries, and there are many free or very low cost apps for phones (for example, one of the best apps for birds is Merlin from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and it’s free). A minor investment in an acceptable pair of binoculars can be useful, especially to see what is visible at a distance. One can often observe much more at long range before attempting to stalk closer for more intensive observation.

Consider trying some nature observation to sharpen your senses, to cultivate some relaxation time, and to connect with the world around you. You never know where it could lead you.