We could argue for hours which modern technological tool is most important and useful for the amateur naturalist.
Besides a smart phone full of great field guides, I’d argue it is a good digital point and shoot camera. Most of us have one. They are small enough to slide into a pocket, yet they can capture images in incredible detail. And, most importantly, many of them have a descent zoom and macro lens built in. Why is this such an important tool? Taking photos of something in great detail makes us look closely, well, at details.
And back at home after a field trip, you can continue to look at that great detail and learn even more. Somehow, this visual intimacy with a subject really helps us remember who they are.
Take this fern I studied recently with my camera for example. I switched my camera to the macro mode (this is usually a little flower symbol on most cameras) and I started shooting away.
First the whole plant, then a leaf, then…oh wait… What is that under the leaf? Click, neat little brown dots on the margins of the leaf. Back at home, I studied the photographs and made my own little field guide. Now, I am unlikely to forget how to identify the Marginal Wood Fern I found!
Remember, they don’t have to be perfect photographs. They’re just for you!