Tuesday, November 5, 2013

We're All in This Together!

I meet the nicest people when I'm out and about. My nature activities give me the opportunity to interact with the public, both as a participant in a group and also as a leader. Sometimes I get to pass on my collected wisdom, such as when I lead wildflower walks or make classroom presentations, or in this blog. And sometimes I'm on the receiving end. And in many situations it goes both ways. I might have something important to add when I'm participating in a group, or someone in a group I'm leading might give me new or corrected information. In general, I've found that nature lovers are a friendly lot, eager to learn and to share what they know. Sometimes someone notices an error, and for the most part, I've found that people will mention the correction in a gentle, non-agressive way, in order to protect the dignity and the enthusiasm of the person who was in error. It happens to me all the time. I have said over and over that I am not an expert, but I am a nature lover with a growing base of knowledge. I post a lot of photos, either in this blog or on my photo website or Facebook. Sometimes I will misidentify an animal or plant and I have a group of friends who will let me know that I was mistaken. But they will usually take the time to tell me what key points to look for in making the correct ID. They are teaching me, and they're doing it in a way that does not make me feel foolish or inadequate and leaves me with the confidence to go out and try again. I love that about my friends and acquaintances in the nature community.
After I posted this photo on a previous blog, I learned that this is not a Stinkpot Turtle. It is a Striped Mud Turtle. Now I know!
Last year, you may remember, I traveled to Argentina. When we got home I did my best to identify what I saw on that trip, and I entered all of the birds I had photos of on eBird. A few months later I was very surprised to get an email from an eBird representative in Argentina asking for specifics about a Tiger Heron that I'd listed in Iguazu falls. I got nervous and looked over my photo and compared it to the information I could see online and thought I could still be correct, but I sent them my photo anyway. The ebird person wrote right back and thanked me for my photo and said that it was a difficult call, since it was an immature bird, but that she would have the experts look at it and see. The next day, the experts all agreed that I was incorrect. It was a Tiger Heron, but not the species that I had thought. That was ok! I enjoyed the exchange and learned along the way. The person who contacted me made me feel like I was contributing to the science, and could understand how I might make the mistake I did. And my posted photo will now help add to the collective wisdom.
A Rufescent Tiger Heron in Iguazu Falls, Argentina. Not to be confused with the Fasciated Tiger Heron. 
I love the way that nature lovers are so eager to share their new discoveries with each other. Social media has made this very easy, and it is one of the few good reasons that I stay on Facebook. Alachua County Birding recently started a Facebook page that has been bustling with activity as the fall migrants move in and out. Local birders post the location of special and rare birds for everyone to come enjoy. In Gainesville, we also have Rex Rowan's email newsletter that tells us all that and more, with links to photos on a shared Flickr page as well! Wildflower lovers can share photos of "What's In Bloom" from all over the state on the Florida Wildflower Foundation website. I can follow the progress of the Whooping Cranes and the Monarch Butterflies on migration blogs and I get tips about creating good habitat for Native Bees on the Native Bee Nest Site Project Facebook page. Everyone is sharing!
White Topped Aster (Sericocarpus tortifolius) photo that I shared on the Florida Wildflower website. I was contacted by the Broward County chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society for permission to use it in an educational presentation.
I have learned so much by taking informal classes and going on field trips led by knowledgable people. Not all of the people are professional experts or academics, although many are. There are many serious amateur naturalists who are experts in their particular areas and are more than willing to pass along what they know. Birders, botanists, entomologists and naturalists of all types are out there and they have a passion that they love to share. It is a joyful thing indeed to learn from someone who loves something so much. In fact, I have found my own niche by exploring my passion. I love taking photos sharing them with my friends and family. Over the years this has turned into a website and blog, and as a result I've had requests for permission to use some of my photos for articles, websites, advertisements and even seed packages!  It feels good to be contributing to the love and appreciation of nature.
A Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly photo that the City used for an advertisement spotlighting Gainesville's Natural Beauty!
Yes, there are some people who want to keep the good stuff to themselves. There are people who don't have patience for novices. But they are rare (and lonely!). Most people like to share.  Most of us don't have the tools to learn these things on our own. You need the insider scoop to really understand. It really helps to have people there to guide you along the way, to point out the good spots and field marks, and it's also nice to be able to guide someone else! It's a lot more fun being in a community. There are lots of books and classes and resources and the people "in the know" will let you know which ones are best. Basically, we're all in this together, and working together is a great thing. You can see it in the smiling faces of the people who participate in these groups, loaded down with field guides, binoculars and cameras, chattering with the excitement of discovery and sharing.
Happy Birders

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