Learn about the environment

Learning about the local environment can begin with getting to know the different plants and animals that live nearby. What are they, what is their name, where do they occur, what are their needs, how do they interact with others and how does their behaviour change with time of day or season? An understanding of the geology, landforms, soils and waterways in the area can also be useful, as these features can determine the distribution of plant species and animals.

The more we learn about an area; the plants and animals found there and their interactions, the more we start to notice and wonder.

Learn about our local fauna and flora

Living in a biodiversity hotspot means there are a lot of plants and animals to get to know. There are opportunities to learn from local people with expertise on our local flora and fauna by:
Joining an excursion with the local wildflower, birding or naturalist group
Joining a Friends or Community group for a local nature reserve or other bushland area in the area
Obtaining a locally produced reference books
Accessing the many websites and phone apps now available
Participating in a Nature Conservation citizen science project for our threatened fauna.

How to identify a plant or animal

Identifying the group an animal or plant belongs to is frequently needed to narrow down the search to identify the individual species. Understanding how species are grouped together and why can help greatly. Fortunately, some groups will be very familiar or can be easily recognised, once we know what to look for. Similarly, some species may already be known, without knowing what group they belong to!

Reference text books or specialist websites can be used to discover a species name. However these books or websites can often cover the whole of WA or include a large number of species which don’t occur in this area which can make the search a little daunting.

When using text books, don’t be daunted by any technical terms used to describe the different groups of plants and animals. Learn what you can. Ask others for help and remember the great value of photos when trying to identify something!

How plants or animal species are grouped together

Similar plants or animals are grouped together.  Those most similar are included in the same genus – e.g. the genus Eucalyptus groups the eucalypts or gum trees together.  Each species of eucalypt (Eucalyptus) has a species name. e.g. Marri has the species name Eucalyptus calophylla, Karri has the species name Eucalyptus diversifolia and Jarrah the species name Eucalyptus marginata.

Similar genera (plural of genus) are grouped together into Families. For example, the genus Eucalyptus is grouped under the Family Myrtaceae together with genera such as Melaleuca, Kunzea, Verticordia and Agonis (e.g. the Peppermint Tree, Agonis flexuosa). They all have open-cup like disks to their flowers, a pungent aroma when crushing their leaves, often no petals or very few, and lots of stamens.

It is the same for animals. However, for large groups such as insects, it is often easier to start with the Order an insect is within. An Order (often ends in ‘optera’) includes many different Families. e.g. the Order Hymenoptera includes the families for bees, wasps and ants; Coleoptera the beetles and weevils; Hymenoptera the True Bugs; Lepidoptera the butterflies, skippers and moths.

Useful steps to identify a plant or animal you encounter.

  1. The first and most obvious step is to determine whether it is a bird, mammal, reptile, frog, insect, other invertebrate, plant or fungi?
  2. Determine what type of bird, mammal, reptile, insect or plant is it? For example; is it a butterfly or moth, rodent or marsupial, skink or dragon, honeyeater or whistler, acacia or melaleuca, sedge or grass? 
  3. Refer to local references and local species lists whenever you can, to help narrow down the search. Otherwise use reference sources on Western Australia or Australia.
  4. Find out what the distinguishing features are between species for the group you are looking at. Can you pick out which species it might be?
  5. Double-check whether the species you think it is occurs in your local area or region – refer to distribution maps and locations provided for each species within reference sources.
  6. If the species identification still has you stumped then ask a local expert or visit the many online sources such as Bowerbird or iNaturalist. Further details are below.
  7. Once the species has been identified, the records can be reported to the Atlas of Living Australia or other database where they will be available for local, regional and national stakeholders to help make informed decisions. See the Report What You See page for more details.

Local guides:
Monitoring Guide to Flora and Fauna of the Cape to Cape Region
Birdwatching around Augusta & Margaret River – a recently updated local birding guide produced by Cape to Cape Birdlife
Find that Flower. Colour guide to the wildflowers of the Cape to Cape Track and Australia’s South-West corner by Jane Scott (Enlarged and revised edition 2014)
Orchids of Margaret River and Australia’s Southwest Capes by Jane Scott (2015)
Wildflowers of Southwest Australia. Augusta – Margaret River Region by Jane Scott and Patricia Negus (revised edition 2012)

Online help:
There are numerous online sources of information for identifying flora and fauna.
Bowerbird and iNaturalist use a community of users to help identify a species from an uploaded photo. Both sites will upload records onto the Atlas of Living Australia on a regular basis.

The Museum of WA has expert staff to help identify species, whilst other websites such as Birds in Backyards and CSIRO Identifying Eucalypts utilise online keys. Working through these keys should lead to the species identification.

The Atlas of Living Australia have collated a more comprehensive list of websites on their support page, all with the purpose of helping to identify species.