Engaging with nature – the challenge of finding resources online

In my post On danger in nature, I mentioned some factors that I think affect engagement with the natural world. One of these is the ease of finding sources of information about nature which are both reliable and pitched at the appropriate level. This is very broad but examples might be seeing a butterfly and not knowing its name, finding a snake and not knowing if it’s venomous, coming across an injured wild animal and not knowing what to do, seeing a plant and not knowing whether it might be poisonous.

Thinking about my situation here in Brazil, I have advantages and disadvantages as a learner.

My chief disadvantage is that I am a foreigner who has lived here for only five years, and only a year and a half in a rural setting.

My advantage is that I have lots of experience finding information online, am able to read in more than one language, and I already have a good framework of the workings of the natural world which helps me search for information more effectively and efficiently.

When I think about teenagers I know (those I am actively attempting to interest in their local wildlife and environment), I am reminded that they haven’t been taught how to find information online and they don’t have a framework or critical skills to help them. So if information isn’t readily available to them, in language they understand and presented in a way that is accessible, they will never find it.

I am naturally curious about nature (in large part because of my parents’ worldview – more on worldview here) and therefore far more likely to keep searching for information until I find it. For teenagers who are not naturally interested in nature (due to their parents’ worldview), who lack advanced literacy skills and who prefer gaming to going for a walk, there is no incentive to find information online.

Recently I was struck by the realisation that my learning about nature in Brazil is very uneven. I would guess that I could identify around 100 Brazilian birds, perhaps more, and I know the names of maybe 200. But I think the number of trees I could name with confidence is probably around 20, and those would be mainly fruit trees and (apart from mango and guava) mostly only when covered with fruit.

A pink bell flower from the Atlantic Rainforest. I don’t know its name.

I would say that my specific interest in birds, and wildlife more generally, is not shared by anyone I know here, family or otherwise, so I have for the most part been searching for information online.

These are some online resources I have found helpful:

WikiAves – This is my go-to website for all Brazilian birds. It is searchable by bird name in Portuguese, Spanish, English and by scientific name with all other text in Portuguese. Features include birdsong samples, photos of male, female and juvenile birds, nest, predators, with plenty of information about behaviour, regional names, feeding and reproductive habits as well as a map to show distribution of the birds. Also shows birds typically found in each region (and municipality) in Brazil. There is often an extensive photo bank for each bird which is helpful for specific comparisons (flight, feeding, groups, pairs).

Aves de Rapina Brasil (Portuguese) – This is a great site for identifying birds of prey in Brazil. The photos of birds in flight section is particularly helpful for demonstrating shape differences between birds.

AvesBrazil Instagram account seems to be inactive, however, it still serves as a photo bank for Brazilian birds. It is not searchable by name, but having excellent quality photos side by side makes a great starting point for bird recognition. Brazilian name is provided for each bird under the individual photo.

Catálogo de Borboletas da Mata Atlântica (Catalogue of Butterflies of the Atlantic Rainforest) is a pdf document of photos of butterflies accompanied by their scientific name and arranged within their family and subfamily groups.Since this document is periodically updated, it is available on request by email to Carlos Eduardo Zikan (carloszikan@yahoo.com.br). Email addresses are recorded and updated versions of the catalogue are automatically sent after each revision.

Each person requesting the catalogue also receives the following documents: Diferenças entre Borboletas e Mariposas (Differences Between Butterflies and Moths), Identificação de Famílias das Borboletas (Identification of Families of Butterflies) and Curso Básico de Fotografia de Borboletas (Course in Basic Butterfly Photography).

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you have any favourite online resources for identifying wildlife or plantlife in your region?

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