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In the Field

Watercolor Brush 19
Types of nature journal sessions


There is not a right or a wrong way to nature journal.

You choose what type of sessions work for you. Sometimes it is possible to record in the moment of observing. Other times you may want to explore recording moments from recent or distant memory.


Here are some possibilities:

From memory or


During an experience

Sit spot - a place that you visit regularly

Inside looking out - in one place, or while travelling

Walks and hikes

- Wonder Walk

- Exploring new places

- Destination walk or hike

During daily life at home, work, school, play, or while socialising 

As part of another activity

- Gardening

- Foraging

- Herding

- Hunting or fishing

- Birding, tree, wild flower, fungi, geology walks

- Conservation activities: habitat management, invasive plant removals

- Bio-blitzes or other citizen science activities


- Seasonal

- Perpetual

- Circular rounds

- Diary

Before you step out the door


Take care of practical matters, so that you are prepared to enjoy and deal with issues that may come up in the field.

  • Things – supplies and kit, appropriate clothing, first aid, food and liquids, bag to keep a nature journal kit within easy reach at all times, packet to collect litter.

  • Information - know where you are going if you are venturing out beyond home ground. How long do you plan to go? What are the predicted weather and other conditions?

  • Safety and re-assurance of others – have emergency contact details, and contact reserve managers if going into a nature reserve or national park.

  • Pause and reflect on your mindset. Is your attitude primed to expect wonder, notice it in the small moments of the unexpected, and connect with nature?

  • Decide on your focus. You can choose to focus on observations that arise. You can choose to record your stream of consciousness.

If nature overwhelms you, choose what to focus on before going outside.

Make a note in your nature journal. This is an anchor for your focus.

If you get excited about something happening while you are out, then give your attention to what is in front of you.

Projects and structured activities are useful ways of to focus your attention.

Examples are listed on “Ideas for a Nature Journal Page”























Home is a place to prepare

Planned or longer outings require more thought and preparation. 

How much additional preparation for planned outings depends on: 

  • How far you will be from home and for how long

  • The place

  • Weather

  • Your personal needs

  • Whether you are going alone or in a group

Make a list of what you need to bring and a list of what you need to do. Consider your comfort, the norms, and conditions of the location. Wear and bring appropriate clothing for season, climate and local conditions and customs. In many places, especially at high altitudes like in the mountains, weather conditions can change rapidly and unpredictably. The appropriate colour of clothing may depend on whether in hunting (bright colours) or non-hunting areas (muted colours).

How will you carry your supplies?

Keep your load as light as possible, but make sure you have the essentials. These will be unique to you. If you use a backpack, carry a separate bag to carry your nature journaling supplies. This way you can have your nature journal supplies out of your backpack and close at hand. If your supplies are in your backpack, they are likely to stay there and remain unused.

Sample To Do List

  • Check your kit for supplies and back-ups: enough pages in your journal, pencils, pencil leads, erasers, sharpener, ink, etc

  • Charge phone, camera and other electronic devices you may be bringing

  • Check for extra memory cards and extra batteries

  • Copy of directions for how to get there and back again

  • Confirm arrangements and back-up plan if meeting others

  • Inform someone of where and when you are going, and how long you expect to be away.

  • Carry relevant emergency numbers

  • Check your nature journal bag – do you have enough supplies for and appropriate to outing?

  • Pack supplies


Sample Packing List

  • Nature Journal Kit

  • Phone and/or camera

  • Hat with a wide brim

  • Scarf or medium size cloth

  • Extra layers – long-sleeve shirt, jacket

  • Waterproof jacket or rain gear

  • Sunglasses

  • Sunscreen

  • Walking stick

  • Cushion or collapsible stool

  • First Aid Kit

  • Any medications you may need

  • Insect repellent

  • Whistle

  • Pepper spray

  • Personal Identification – South African ID, driver’s license or passport are sometimes needed

  • Membership Card if you are a member of a group or programme that might make you eligible for discounts: Botanical Society of South Africa, Birdlife, WESSA (Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa), or Wild Card, Rhino Club.

  • Some places only accept credit cards, others only cash - check before you go. Others use Zapper to encourage visitors to make donations.


Have a process that is fun and assists in

  • Deepening observation

  • Increases curiosity

  • Learning about nature from nature

  • Connecting with nature more deeply

  • Being nurtured by nature, and nurturing nature


If you are going with a buddy or in a group, keep safe and protect others from COVID-19. Here is an example of advice from BirdLife South Africa. These apply to anyone going out in nature. 

"Recommended precautionary procedures for birders during the COVID-19 pandemic"

If you are organising nature journaling activities or leading a group, these guidelines from BirdLife South Africa's document:

"Successful Club Outings: Guidelines for Clubs and Leaders"

When you arrive

If you have a smart phone, take a photo of emergency contact numbers and the rules of the place if these are posted.


Expect Wonder – Be Prepared for the Unplanned

Natural wonders big and small are everywhere. It is useful to be prepared for the unplanned wonders in your daily life. Carry a small notebook and pencil in your handbag or pocket. This will allow you to record any observations or thoughts that you have while out and about.

Mentally arrive
  • Clear your mind of distractions. Note and let go of thoughts that pull your attention away from your surroundings. Relax. Take five breaths. Loosen your shoulders and hands.  

  • Expect to take a few times to find your groove. Know that like any new hobby or sport.

  • Be aware that you will need to get out of your own way. Be prepared to feel like you are making mistakes, or not get the results. Don’t focus on making pretty pictures, or get distracted by spelling,


Put Respect into Practice

What does it mean, to respect nature and the environment? While enjoying nature, it is easy to get caught up in curiosity and wonder. This is especially likely when nature journaling. We need to balance our curiosity with compassion. An excellent example of this balance is from Nature Valleys Trust's locally relevant infographic.






































































The Nature Journaler's Code of Conduct provides guidelines on how to do this while we are outdoors.

It starts with this acknowledgement:

I put nature first, above my wishes.

My experiences are a privilege;

the wellbeing of the wildlife and habitats are essential for the planet.

On Respecting Wildlife and Wildness 

  • I put the health and safety of wildlife first.

  • I observe with minimum interference. When recording observations, I consider how my behaviour may be affecting wildlife and habitat. If in doubt, I err on the side of caution.

  • I learn to recognise when I am unsettling wildlife. I know that my presence is a stress. I learn to recognise and respond to stress behaviours and alarm signals.

  • I observe animals from a distance that is safe for me and for them. I use binoculars, spotting scopes and viewing blinds for a close look.

  • I avoid handling, feeding, engaging, or otherwise interacting with wildlife.

      I do not chase, herd, flush.

      I do not use audio playback, laser pointers, phishing, or

       use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones).

  • I film and photograph wildlife responsibly. I use a telephoto lens from a viewing blind or a vehicle.

  • I minimize risks to wildlife such as: accidental harm; parental desertion of young; attracting predators; diverting energy from survival; disrupting relationships between species, or between wildlife and habitat.

On Respecting the Environment and Habitats

  • I read and follow rules and regulations of places.

  • I stay on trails and roads.

  • I think carefully when choosing a spot to sit and set up when nature journaling, to avoid harm or damage.

  • I leave habitats and natural features as I found them.

  • I leave natural things in their place, such as feathers, abandoned nests, shells, living animals, wildflowers, fruits, seeds, animal remains, etc.

  • I check the spot before I leave for any rubbish or disruption to the space. I collect litter that I come across. 

  • When using my art supplies, I carry out my pencil shavings and other waste from my nature journaling.
  • I am careful about protecting local water. I bring in and carry out water for painting. As an alternative, I use a waterbrush and “wrist-sock”.

  • I never place or pour paints or other art media or supplies into natural water features.

  • I never pour paint rinse water into natural water features or on to land.

  • I limit the environmental harm from my transport by using rideshare, public transport, biking or carpooling.

  • It should not be necessary to say it, but if I find archaeological structures, artifacts or fossils, I do not touch them. I take photographs, note location and report to authorities.

On Respecting Other People

  • I have respect for and am polite to others in my group, and those whose paths I cross.

  • I acknowledge and care for others in my group.

  • I let myself and others focus on the immediate experiences. If talking to myself or others, I speak softly. I avoid singing, humming, or whistling.

  • I use welcoming and inclusive language.

  • I share information, skills and space generously.

  • I actively seek to learn from others, and express my appreciation when I do. What I know may be wrong. I learn and share with humility.

  • When in a group for whom nature journaling is not their purpose, I adapt my recording to keep pace with and respect the purpose of the broader group.

  • I am curious, I ask when I do not understand. I save my questions for appropriate times.

  • I am respectful of differing viewpoints and experiences.

  • I focus on what is best for the nature journaling community.

  • I show empathy towards other nature journaling community members.

On Respecting the Nature Journal Experience

  • I respect other nature journalers, including those who wish to keep their nature journals private. I rightfully expect the same respect.

  • I plan for my comfort, and wellbeing. I bring water, food, walking stick, etc. I wear and bring appropriate clothing for season, climate, local conditions and customs.

  • Comfort - stretch, keep hydrated, eat as I need to, keep my load to a minimum or within my fitness level, use a walking stick.

  • Well-being - know my limits.  If I am with a group, I let the group leader know if I need a rest, or am having difficulties.

  • I take responsibility for my health including any medication I might need I inform someone “.. of any existing medical condition or injury which might affect me on a field excursion.

  • I take precautions against locally prevalent diseases, for example malaria, bilharzia, Weil’s Disease, cholera, etc.

  • I follow public safety and public health rules.

  • Safety - I take appropriate action to reduce the risk of accidents.

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