Nature Journaling


We are so lucky as a city to have incredible natural spaces to spend time in, but these places are still inaccessible for many people. After a recent move, I found myself far from a high-quality natural area. This made me feel disconnected and unhappy. To try to reconnect to my new home, I started a Nature Journal.

Nature Journaling is a loose concept, and there is no right way to do it. Generally, the purpose is to pay attention to and record the more-than-human world around you. It is fun for people of all ages and usually blends art (drawing, writing, poetry, collage) with citizen science (data collection, observation, meticulous note-taking, asking questions). You will find that most of the formal guides emphasize scientific techniques, but that is certainly not the only approach. I know people whose journals are entirely creative writing and others who emphasize science.

Since nature journaling is a broad concept, I recommend setting some goals and a frequency for yourself. I wanted to focus on observation, connecting to a new place, a chance to practice drawing, and mindfulness. I decided to keep a daily journal, but a few times a month is more common. My journal consists of a few components: a record of the species I saw, the weather conditions, the date and time, and something creative. Including my walk, the whole thing takes about an hour, and sometimes I use my trip to the grocery store as my “walk” if I am feeling rushed.

Nature journaling is not an expensive hobby. For example, I only bring my phone to take photos on most days. At home, I use a few pencil crayons, an eraser and a mechanical pencil. I also have a rain gauge and thermometer that I check for my observations. I draw with pencil crayons and a mechanical pencil. Of course, it can be more simple or complex. Watercolour is very popular, and once I finish my current journal, I plan to buy a watercolour sketchbook to have more flexibility.  

Leaves – here is an example of a full page with a leaf collage to give you an idea of my journal. I have omitted some lines because they include addresses.

The naturalist community has a long-running debate about whether people should keep nature collections. It appears to have fallen out of favour over time. Good etiquette is not to gather materials from protected areas, parks, sensitive habitats, rare plants, or someone else’s property without permission. It is best not to walk off a path since it compacts the soil and crushes plants. I will occasionally collect leaves from boulevards, which will get raked up in a few days. I personally do not think this is harmful, but some would disagree with me.

I love nature journaling, and it has become one of the best parts of my day. Over time I have become very familiar with my walking route, and I love to share the little insights I have learned from watching a place change over time.

– Adrian Werner

Great Grey Owl – sometimes I spend a few weeks working on a single drawing for a few minutes every day.

Juncos – I spent 15 minutes a day drawing Juncos at my bird feeder during a storm. I learned a lot about Junco behaviour.

10 Nature Journal Prompts

  1. What flowers are blooming right now?
  2. Pick a tree species and count how many you see.
  3. Follow an individual creature’s activity for as long as you can. What did they do?
  4. Describe (or draw) your favourite spot
  5. Pay attention to smell today
  6. Try to notice something that you have not seen before. Why didn’t you notice it?
  7. Stay in one place and pay attention to what happens while you are there. Pay attention to animals, plants, insects, clouds. Try to record in your journal what that place was like.
  8. Notice something you do not know, ask questions about it, and try to find the answer. For example, what do we know about the different sounds a chickadee can make? Next time you walk, add to this observation by recording how many calls you heard.
  9. Go looking for a specific species. This works best if you choose a fairly common one, like a ladybug in mid-summer or bohemian waxwings in early spring. Where are you most likely to find them?
  10. Pay attention to the ground, the dirt, rocks, roots, and leaf litter you see. Then, record the experience in your nature journal.