Taking the next step - how to identify plants and animals

Emma Swann

So you’ve started your Nature Journal adventure - hurray!

Before long, you’ll probably want to know more about the animals and plants that you are journaling about. But with so many of them, where to start?

While it’d be nice to have a wise naturalist with you on your nature journaling adventures who could tell you everything you wanted to know about every plant or animal you saw, most of us don’t know anyone like this. What we do have though is access to written knowledge from people who have spent sometimes years of their lives observing and studying that plant or animal. The depth of information available on many plants and animals is astonishing. The key to unlocking this incredible knowledge is knowing the name of the species you are journaling about.

But how to find out the name?!

Smartphones have made this as easy as it will ever be - here are some free, simple to-use apps to get you started:

iNaturalist - iNaturalist is a social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe. Take photos of anything in nature - a plant, animal or insect and identify it with the help of the community and AI- informed suggestions. 

Museum Victoria Field Guide to Victorian Fauna - this free app has over 950 species, including birds, mammals, fishes, reptiles, frogs and invertebrates from terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments. There is a Field Guide app for each state and territory in Australia on the Field Guide apps to Australian Fauna page.

Google Lense - this free app allows you to take a photo from your phone, and then Google will compare it to anything similar it has in Google Images. Especially good for plants and slow moving insects.

Further down the track, you may want field guides or apps that specialise just in birds, or frogs, or eucalyptus trees. Here are some of our favourites:


Merlin ID by Cornell Lab (app)

If you want to go more in depth with birds this free app is indispensable. Download the Australian bird pack and you’ll have most of the birds of Australia. If you travel outside of Australia, download a bird pack for the area you’re travelling to. An advantage of apps over field guide books is that the birds’ song is also recorded which is helpful when you hear the bird more than you see it.

The Australian Bird Guide (book)

The 'bees knees' of bird field guides in Australia. this book is all you'll ever need to identify any bird in Australia.


 Frog ID (app)

FrogID is a national citizen science project that is helping us learn more about what is happening to Australia’s frogs. Anyone can download the app and record frog calls from their phone. When you do this, you provide a unique, time-stamped and geo-referenced audio recording which is invaluable for scientists. And the best bit for you is that an expert listens to your recording and identifies the frog species for you! It’s a win-win. 


Cronin's Key Guide Australian Mammals (Leonard Cronin)

An easily accessible, illustrated guide to Australia's unique monotremes, marsupials and placental mammals. Includes information on identification, habitat, range map, behaviour, diet and traces.

Tracks, Scats and Other Traces A Field Guide to Australian Mammals (Barbara Triggs)

This is a must have for any budding trackers or mammal enthusiasts. More often than not, what we see of a mammal is its tracks, its droppings (scat) or it skeletal remains. This book will help you identify which Australian mammal left that trace you've found.


Trees of Victoria and Adjoining Areas (Leo Costermans, 6th Edition)

This pocket-sized book is a gem. It has clear illustrations and accurate descriptions of some 250 trees and tall shrubs - almost all are native to Victoria, southern NSW (including the ACT) and South Australia eastward from Adelaide.


The Weed Foragers Handbook - A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds in Australia (Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland)

Such a useful book. Pocket-sized, it covers the most common weeds with nutritional and/or medicinal properties found in Australia. After reading this your nature strip or an abandoned lot will instantly transform into a supermarket and chemist!

There are so many more great apps and field guides out there, and we will keep adding to this list. If you have any favourite field guides or apps for identifying Australian fauna or flora, let us know and we'll add them in here.

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