An Accidental Naturalist

A Cooper's Hawk in her nest, Albuquerque, April 2020
A Cooper's Hawk in her nest, Albuquerque, April 2020

 

Like many hikers, I take photos, but at first my pictures featured the hike or the people I was hiking with. Still, sometimes the wildflowers were too gorgeous to pass up. It struck me that my photos could help others identify flowers they come across. I added the “Nature” tab to this web site. My presentation wasn’t systematic but I had so few images to share, it wouldn’t be a challenge to look through all of them.

 

And I kept taking pictures. Mostly of wildflowers but increasingly of birds, butterflies, and other moving targets. I added web pages. All of the yellow flowers went on one page, for example. For a while it seemed like enough.

 

My haphazard approach broke down in the spring of 2020—because of the Covid-19 pandemic, of all things. New Mexico’s stay-at-home order allowed an exception for neighborhood walks, and on most mornings I ventured out. As explored my neighborhood on foot, I realized how many wild species live with me. To help keep myself busy, I began to document those species with my camera. In June 2020 I began paying more attention to formal taxonomy. The reorganization is something I do in spare moments, so it’s likely to take months.

 

I never intended to take so many nature photos, or to learn so much about New Mexico’s wild species. I was a hiker, not a natural history buff. I told myself that I could be pleased by the beauty of a flower without knowing its name. But having dabbled in natural history, I’m hooked. I enjoy learning more about how my favorite planet actually works. I hope I can help a few people with their efforts to do the same.

 

The revised nature photo pages will reflect three of my preferences. 

 

  • When it’s time to ID a species, I like to begin with a quick scan of similar-looking items (yellow wildflowers, for example). Then I like to dive deeper. That’s how the wildflower photographs are organized, and the birds are next. 
  • I find that multiple photographs of a species are far better than carefully selected single images. For example, seeing a wildflower from different angles, can help me clinch an ID. 
  • Published guides often show carefully selected ideal images, such as unblemished flowers in idyllic settings. I want to show what the species often look like: bug-chewed flowers on a water-hungry plant, for example. Nature doesn’t have to be perfect for us to love it and want to protect it.

I hope you enjoy the nature photos I post, and learn from them. I also hope that if you spot a mistake, you’ll let me know. I’m learning as I go, and I can use all the help anyone cares to provide.