Identifying wildlife accurately in nature is an important element of outdoor enjoyment.  Some groups make identification the focus like “birders” who spend millions of dollars and travel millions of miles to catch a glimpse of a special bird species.  Many first-time visitors to national parks don’t know the difference between a moose and an elk, since they’ve never seen either species.

Knowledge Enhances Enjoyment

Can you tell the difference between whitetail deer and mule deer?

Formal nature hikes are always fun in parks and other wild places with a guide that can identify plants and animals.  The concept is not unlike your favorite sports team.  If you know the players by name, who has done the most of what, and how they interact with other teams and players, you get excited.  Knowledge builds increased understanding and a better experience.

Identification is Important

For campers and hikers, identifying specific plants and animals is important for health reasons.  The three distinct leaves of poison ivy should be on every outdoor person’s list of skills.  Knowing the difference between poisonous plants and Virginia creeper, for example, gives a sense of knowledge and power in the outdoors.  The feeling of, “I know danger and I can avoid it.”  Snake identification is equally important in some areas, although most just avoid snakes in general.

Identifying birds is a thrill for millions.

A Muskrat or Beaver?

Keith Crowley give a thoughtful look at informed nature in this post from Sporting Classics Daily.

The great naturalist and outdoor philosopher Aldo Leopold once wrote, “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” To that I might add that the third is supposing that muskrats are actually little beavers.

While I didn’t grow up on a farm, I did spend my formative years in a town of 4,000, where our playgrounds were the potato fields and creek bottoms of farmland Minnesota. As kids we spent most of our summer days outside, where we chased a wide variety of critters, including each other, all over hill and dale. And we were endlessly bringing home frogs and turtles and various other wondrous creatures we knew would make our mothers squirm.