Nature Observation Walk

[Ed. note: This article is part of our weekly series of church activities, called Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]

Gather a small group of folks from your church and head out for some backyard eco-tourism!

Explore creation together

A nature observation walk with a group of friends gives us fresh air, fellowship, exercise, and a chance to sharpen our observation skills. It can deepen friendships by getting us out of our usual routines, and bring us closer to God. With this activity, you’ll look a little more closely at your surroundings and have a deeper experience of creation. It can be a short walk in a city park or an all-day event further afield.

Where to go?

Start in your own backyard with a local park or preserve.  Or maybe an undeveloped part of your church’s property. There’s always something new to see in nature if you look. Returning to the same local sanctuary over the years, through the seasons and at different times of day, deepens our sense of place and appreciation for home-grown nature.

If you decide to go farther afield and visit a larger park, Nature Find, a national database of natural areas has lots of ideas. Decide as a group ahead of time how far you’ll walk.  Estimate about 2 miles per hour, a slow pace which allows you to stop and look around. Also, for larger preserves, pick up a map from the park office and follow the signs or blazes. If you have members who use a wheelchair, look for trails with hard surfaces; check out Great Wheelchair Accessible Hikes.

Supplies for each person:

Clipboard
Pencil/pen
Nature Observation Checklist
Camera (optional)
Magnifying Glass (optional)
Binoculars (optional)
Field guide(s) for your area, such as Peterson’s series or National Audubon Society’s regional guide for your area. (optional)
Picnic or snacks & water
Sensible shoes
Sunscreen

Try to have at least one person with a camera who will share the photos afterwards.

The nature observation checklist for each person was created by the National Wildlife Federation and is aimed at kids, but it works great for adults too. Try testing each other to come up with precise definitions of each category!

Somebody was here before you

Start walking and looking actively for things on the checklist. Make sure to record the date, time and weather conditions. See if folks can try to get at least one item in every category. Remember that this activity includes signs of animals, so nests, tracks, feathers, shed skins, droppings, etc. all count too.

Points to remember

Look closely to observe field marks

  • You’ll see more wildlife if you move quietly through the area.
  • Don’t be in too much of a hurry. If you just march along without stopping you won’t see as much as if you pause to really look closely.
  • Take photos of the examples you find. For small objects like leaves and bugs, get as close as possible to capture the details. This helps with identification.
  • Natural objects should be put back in their original spot after you look at them.
  • Keep an eye out for poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac.

At some point stop and do a listening exercise where everybody stays silent for a minute or two and lists the sounds they hear, whether wind in the trees, an airplane overhead, birdsong, distant cars, or tumbling water. It’s another way of observing what’s present that you might otherwise miss. Many animals, especially birds and frogs, can best be identified by their call, although that takes some training and practice!

You might want to find a peaceful spot somewhere on your walk to stop and give thanks to God together for the beauty of what is around you.

Afterwards, get together around a picnic table and compare notes. Discuss any of the following questions:

  • What was each person’s favorite sight, sound or experience?
  • What was the most surprising observation?
  • How many animals or signs of animals did each person observe? How many did the group observe as a whole? Was it more than expected or somewhat disappointing?
  • Ask if anyone can share a story of a favorite natural place they loved as a child.
  • If you have field guides, spend some more time trying to identify what you saw.
  • Make a list of what you might do differently if you try this activity again. More time? More food? Drawing materials?

Related posts:

Ditch the Stores and Get Outdoors!

Comments

  1. Santosh Kumar Sahoo says:

    Great to know about your church activity on Nature Observation Walk to better understand God’s wonderful creation of nature even in our immediate surrounding.

    I am a Christian wildlife conservationist. I personnally appreciate your church’s activity for the nature appreciation exercise through Nature Observation Walk. It’s indeed encouraging for a healthy spiritual growth for all-age group folks of any church.

    Regards

    Santosh Kumar Sahoo
    Chairman
    Conservation Himalayas
    Chandigarh, India

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