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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Tips for Budding Naturalists

By Susie Spikol

Are you an animal person? Do you find bears, butterflies, or turtles more interesting than people? If holding a frog, humming to a snail, following a fox track, or hooting to an owl are things you’d like to do, you’ve come to the right place. Read on and discover secret tried-and-true steps to uncovering the world of the everyday wild creatures in your own neighborhood. No matter where you live, animals live there too, and you only need to know a few simple things to start exploring.


Pay attention! Wild animals are all around us. Slowing down, tuning in, and being quiet will help you notice them. Don’t forget the tiny things, like the red velvet mite, who is even smaller than the head of a pin, or the jewel-like hummingbirds of your world. Every animal is someone to meet.

Practice kindness. Animals are living, breathing creatures, just like you. When you have the chance to be up close and connect with them, be just as kind and friendly as you would if you were meeting a person. 

Safety first. Your animal adventures will have you exploring at dawn, dusk, and night. No matter where or when you are going, always let a grown-up know. If you go on a night adventure, bring along a grown-up. Also, practice personal safety by paying attention to your surroundings and making sure the animals you are searching for aren’t a danger to you. 

Leave it better than you found it. Keep the natural world full of nature, not your trash or food. If an animal visited your house, you wouldn’t want them to trash it, right? So, treat wherever you go with the same respect.

Gear up. This won’t require fancy equipment, but it helps to have a few essentials things in a backpack, ready to go when you hear that a snake has been spotted in your neighborhood or an owl is hooting out your door. 

Top 10 Things to Have in Your Pack

1. Binoculars (purchased or DIY)

2. Your field journal*

3. 1–2 pencils

4. Ruler

5. Magnifying lens

6. Plastic bags for collecting things like fur, bones, and poop

7. Rubber, latex, or plastic gloves

8. Flashlight

9. Field guides for your area on topics like birds, animal tracks, and amphibians and reptiles

10. Camera (optional)

*Note: Your field journal doesn’t need to be fancy—just a notebook where you can write down your observations, record your findings, and map and sketch what you see. 

DIY Tube Binoculars

Binoculars are a great tool for watching animals, from birds and butterflies to chipmunks and whales, because they let you see what is far away and help your eyes focus on the animal. If you have a pair, that’s great! If you don’t, you can make your own. Even though they won’t make the faraway creatures look closer, these simple tube binoculars will really help your eyes focus on the animals you see.

Things You’ll Need

2 cardboard tubes or
toilet paper rolls

Duct tape, any color 

Stickers (optional)

Hole punch

Ribbon, string, or yarn

1. Line up the tubes next to each other lengthwise and wrap the duct tape around the tubes to form a binocular shape.

2. Decorate them with stickers to give them your own style, if you want.

3. Punch a hole on the outside edge of each tube. 

4. Tie a strand of ribbon, string, or yarn through the punched holes to make a loop big enough to fit over your head. The binoculars should hang down to the middle of your chest. 

5. Try them out!

Excerpted, with permission, from The Animal Adventurer’s Guide: How to Prowl for an Owl, Make Snail Slime, and Catch a Frog Bare-Handed by Susie Spikol and illustrated by Becca Hall (Roost Books, 2022),

If you ask Susie Spikol her favorite animal, she will not be able to choose. As a naturalist and the author of The Animal Adventurer’s Guide, she helps people of all ages fall in love with and connect with the natural world. Find her at